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Step-13: Japanese “Particles” Discovered

Posted by J. Pierre on September 12, 2011

What are Japanese particles? Why do you need to know about them? Are they some strange new discovery by the worlds’ top scientists? Are they what’s behind the growth of giant lizards that threaten to destroy our world and civilization as we know it!??


In truth, Japanese particles are no more than elements of grammar — but before we start looking at Japanese grammar in a broader scope and build whole sentences, we’re going to take a quick look at exactly what Japanese particles really are . .

Particles are attached at the end of a word and tell us what that word does in a sentence. They come in the form of single hiragana characters such as “は”. Be forewarned however: a few of the particles are pronounced differently from the way they’re written. For this reason, an audio file, proper hiragana pronunciation rules and a romaji version of these pronunciation rules will accompany each particle as it’s introduced.

は Particle: Topic Particle

“は” is pronounced as “わ” or as “wa”.
Listen to a native speakers’ pronunciation: “わ”/Wa” Sound

The ”は” particle is a topic identifier; we can call it the “topic particle”. It can roughly be translated as “of whom/what I speak”. Here’s an example sentence:
Japanese: 私カナダ人です。
English: I[-of whom I speak] Canada-person am.
Implied translation: I am Canadian.

も Particle: The “Also” Particle

“も” is pronounced exactly as it’s written. That means, it sounds like “mo”.
Listen to a native speakers’ pronunciation: “も”/“Mo” Sound

The “も” particle is basically the same thing as the “は” particle, with one essential difference: it can roughly be translated to mean “also”. Here’s an example sentence:
Japanese: エリック大丈夫ですか?
English: Erik[-of whom I speak, also] ok is?
Implied translation: Is Erik also ok?

が Particles: Identifier Particle

The challenge begins when we introduce the “が” particle, because English doesn’t have a clear translation of this particular particle; nor does it have a way of making a clear distinction between “は” and “が”.
Essentially the ”が” particle is used when speaking about something (or someone) unidentified. It can be thought of to mean “this one among many, of which I speak”.

“が” is pronounced exactly as it’s written.
Listen to a native speakers’ pronunciation: “が”/”Ga” Sound
Example sentence: 英語わかりますか?
English: English[-the one language among many, of which I speak] understand?
Implied translation: Do you understand English?

  は Vs. が Particles

Differentiating between the “は” and “が” particles is arguably the hardest aspects of Japanese grammar to learn. That means that once you know the difference between these two guys, you’ll be riding an increasingly smoother ride towards proficiency! The battle rages on with はversus が!


That being said it can be difficult to acquire an intuitive (or even functional) understanding about these particles. The best trick I’ve discovered is much like learning the difference between masculine and feminine nouns in French. That means: listen to native speakers, and follow audio lessons.

To overcome this challenge, I strongly recommend the Pimsleur language program. We’re a serious advantage, as the program used to be quite costly, but has dropped down to less than $10.

Given enough audio exposure and verbal repetition on your part, you won’t have to understand the particles so much as simply create coherent and natural sentences.

Comment if you enjoyed this article! :)

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