As you progress with learning Japanese, you’ll likely encounter Japanese particles relatively early on. They are an essential part of Japanese grammar, after all.
You may not recognize the term “particles” just yet. But you have no doubt encountered these small but important pieces of the Japanese language any time you’ve heard someone speaking a sentence or reading a line of text.
Particles are a critical element of every Japanese sentence, and you can’t put a sentence together without them. They are essential for conveying meaning in a sentence.
Okay, maybe you could whip together a really tiny sentence like “I’m fine” (daijoubu), but that’s a single word, and it might be cheating just a little here.
Japanese has many particles, but you don’t need to stress yourself about learning them all—especially when you’re just starting out.
Instead, focus on the most common Japanese particles that you’ll need to form most sentences, then add more once you start finding that your sentences are lacking some nuance later down the line. With this Japanese particles guide, you'll be able to learn Japanese particles in no time!
By the way, if you want to learn Japanese particles fast and want to have fun while doing it, my top recommendation is Japanese Uncovered which teaches you through StoryLearning®.
With Japanese Uncovered you’ll use my unique StoryLearning® method to learn Japanese naturally through story… not rules. It’s as fun as it is effective.
If you’re ready to get started, click here for a 7-day FREE trial.
What Are English Particles?
For Japanese learners keen to get a grasp of particles, understanding the English equivalent first could help you.
In English, particles are parts of a sentence but not verbs, nouns, or adverbs.
They are often the prepositions you use with other words to give meaning to your sentence. Particles in English are often preposition words such as up, down, in, and off.
You can also use the word to as a particle to describe the infinitive of the verb, for example, “I want to go to the city.”
Another example of particle use in English would be “over” in the sentence “think over,” as it changes the meaning of the verb in the sentence.
In general, though, English explains context with the word order of the sentence rather than with the use of particles.
What Are Japanese Particles?
Particles are the small words and tiny pieces of Japanese speech and writing that indicate how the words of a sentence are related to each other.
You’re probably most familiar with ha—pronounced “wa”—and possibly ka, which ends a sentence and makes that sentence a question. If you know more particles, you’ve already got a head start!
Particles themselves don’t have a meaning. You can’t look them up in a dictionary and see a single word with an English translation for what they mean. Instead, they have more of a feeling or a general indication. Much of their meaning is instead derived from the words that they are joining or relating based on their place in a sentence.
It’ll make more sense when you see it in action.
How Many Japanese Particles Are There?
While there are 188 particles in the Japanese language, sticking with learning Japanese particles that you will use in everyday speech will serve you best. Let's take a look at a list of Japanese particles.
Common Japanese Particles
If you can master the basic particles and some of their most common uses, you'll improve your skills and learn Japanese in no time.
The most common particles in Japanese are:
- ha は
- ga が
- to と
- ka か
- no の
- wo を
- mo も
- ni に
If you put together Japanese sentences, using these particles will be unavoidable. The good news is that these common particles all have very different uses, so it is generally easy to determine which one you should choose for a particular sentence.
As you begin your Japanese learning, it is primarily these particles that you should focus on learning and mastering.
That said, Japanese is full of particles beyond these. As your skill in Japanese grows and you become confident enough to add more flavour to your speech and writing, consider researching more about these less-used particles:
In particular, excursions into further particles after you’ve learned the basics should probably take you to de, he, ya, ne, kara, made, and dake next. These are the next most common and can add new meanings like “only” and “because” to your sentences!
How To Use The 10 Essential Japanese Particles
The easiest way to understand how particles work in Japanese is simply to look at each one and use it. Remember: particles come after the word that they modify.
Likely the most common particle of all, ha (pronounced “wa”) is the particle that indicates the topic of a sentence. It goes after the topic. Just remember that the hiragana for it is always ha (は), but when reading aloud or speaking, it is always pronounced as “wa” and never “ha.”
The reason this happens is because Japanese pronunciation has changed over time. It used to be pronounced as “fa” (since some Japanese “h” sounds are a softer “f”). But it experienced a transition around the 9th century. Despite the change in spoken form, the hiragana never changed!
It is only the particle ha that follows this “wa” pronunciation. Do continue to pronounce all your other ha-containing words as normal!
- I am a student (Watashi ha gakusei desu 私は学生です)
Ha does not necessarily come after the first word. If the topic of a sentence is an entire thought, ha will come after that instead:
- That sleeping dog is cute (Ano neteiru inu ha kawaii desu あの寝ている犬はかわいいです)
In this instance, “that sleeping dog” is the topic, even though it is multiple words, and so ha follows it.
Of the introductory Japanese particles, particle ga in Japanese is one of the most challenging for new learners. Just as ha indicates the topic of a sentence, ga points to the subject.
This is where English speakers often get confused, because these appear to be the same thing. And the English grammatical “subject” is usually the first thing in a sentence (where Japanese speakers put ha).
Think of it this way: what is indicated by ha in Japanese is typically not as important as what is marked by ga. The ga in your sentence is what is carrying the very important things you want to convey—in other words, the subject of your conversation.
One of the most common ways you’ll see it used is to convey what you like or dislike:
- I like dogs ([Watashi ha] inu ga suki desu [私は] 犬が好きです)
If you notice the sentence above, you may realize that the part about “watashi” (I) isn’t actually necessary. You can remove it from the sentence in Japanese and it will still make perfect sense. In fact, the lack of “watashi” is likely the preferred way to say this sentence.
The difference between ha and ga can be confusing, so it may also be helpful to remember that due to Japanese sentence ordering, ha typically comes before ga if you’re trying to put a sentence together.
The Japanese to particle is a simple particle. It joins words together like “and” might.
- Dogs and cats (Inu to neko 犬と猫)
However, you cannot join entire sentences with to, because it does not strictly mean “and.” Stick to using to as part of a list or between nouns.
The Japanese ka particle is perhaps the simplest to grasp. Want to make your sentence a question? Simply stick ka on the end. No questions asked, no conjugation—just plop it in there, like a question mark.
The benefit of this method is that unlike in English, where word order changes when you make a question, the only thing keeping you from making your sentence a question in Japanese is a little bit of bravery and whether you’ve added ka.
- Are you happy? (Ureshii desu ka 嬉しいですか)
One convenient thing to note is that you do not also need a question mark if you use ka. Feel free to use a period or exclamation mark depending upon how strongly you want your question to come across.
The no particle in Japanese signifies ownership. It connects an idea or item to someone or something. No goes in between the things it’s connecting, with the “owner” coming first.
- That’s my dog (Are wa watashi no inu desu あれは私の犬です)
Wo (pronounced simply as “o”) is the direct object particle and is used to indicate the object of a sentence. It typically comes between the object and the verb at the end of a sentence.
- I ate sushi (Sushi wo tabemashita 寿司を食べました)
Mo can be taken to mean “also” in a generalized sense.
- Takeshi will also go (Takeshi-san mo ikimasu たけしさんも行きます)
The ni particle indicates direction.
Use the ni particle with verbs of movement like “go” and “come.” Place it after the location that the subject is moving to or toward.
- I want to go to Tokyo (Tokyo ni ikitai desu 東京に行きたいです)
Similar to ni, the next Japanese particle De indicates where an action happens or how it happens.
At first glace, in English, a literal translation could be “in”, “at”, or “on” but don't confuse yourself by trying to translate it. To make your life easier, you should just learn the rules and particles in Japanese.
You can't learn Japanese particles without learning de. The De particle “で” comes after the place and before the verb in a sentence and is one of the most useful and versatile particles.
You can use it to say how you get to a place:
- I go to work by train (Watashi wa densha de shigoto ni ikimasu 私は電車で仕事に行きます)
Or, to talk about where an action takes place:
- I eat at the cafe (Kafe de tabemasu カフェで食べます)
De is different to ni because it talks about where the action takes place, ni is to used to talk about where something exists. So, for some easy wins, add one of the most versatile particles in Japanese to your vocabulary.
The Japanese wa particle denotes the topic of a sentence. The topic is usually the grammatical subject of the sentence but is sometimes the verb.
You can use は Wa to make a complete sentence. You can also use wa to talk about a contrast or as an emphasis of the subject.
- I read that book not this one (Watashi wa kono hon dewa nakuso no hon o yomimashita 私はこの本ではなくその本を読みました)
Learn Japanese Particles
The best way to continue to learn and master particles is simply to practice and, more importantly, to immerse yourself in Japanese, preferably through stories.
The more Japanese learners hear (whether that's Japanese TV shows or Japanese podcasts) and read, the more the brain will be able to provide feedback like “this doesn’t sound right” when you choose a particle that doesn’t fit your sentence.
Japanese particles do follow rules. But since sentences can be as unique and creative as the people who make them, mastering this small but important facet of Japanese grammar takes practice and a lot of exposure to the language itself.
So, don’t give up! The good news about particles is that unlike choosing the wrong vocabulary word for your sentence, most listeners will likely be able to infer your meaning even if you choose the wrong one.
That means you’ve got a great incentive to just get out there and start speaking Japanese and writing as many sentences as possible!