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Japanese Particles

Japanese Particles

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Published by: maresnia on May 17, 2010
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Japanese Particles
Particles in Japanese act like the "cement" of a structure, holding the major componentstogether and serving as indicators for the words they follow or are stuck between. Thereare even times when they have their own meaning, usually as prepositions. They canbe friendly at times and pesky at others, and some can even be omitted in familiarconversation.This is a
general 
guide for using the particles. I trust that it will serve nicely for dailyconversation and writing, but I really must emphasize
general 
here because of the manyexceptions and surprises that do exist. In fact, there are some exceptions that defy allreason. While some particles more or less follow certain rules regarding use, others donot and must be learned "case by case" and remembered as such. I have spent hourswith native speakers trying to get straight, logical answers concerning the strangebehavior of some of the particles, but I often just get blank stares and the "case bycase" answer. I will do my best to point these out, but it will be impossible to covereverything here.One thing that is nice about Japanese is that it's not as "grammatically fussy" asEnglish. If you happen to omit or make a mistake concerning particles, you won't soundas ridiculous or illiterate speaking this "broken Japanese" as you would if you did thesame thing in English. (That's not meant to be an excuse; it's just to assure you that it'sokay to make mistakes along the way.)
 © 2003 - 2008 Tim R. Matheson
Contents
 
Wa 
and
ga 
indicate subjects by coming after them. You could say that
wa 
is the"standard" subject indicator. It indicates the general topic and, if anything, emphasizeswhat comes after it:
Nihon no natsu 
wa 
atsui desu.
(Summers in Japan are hot.)In this example,
wa 
tells us that the topic of conversation is
summers in Japan 
, and thatthe important thing about them is the fact that they are
hot 
.
Kimiko 
wa 
mainichi eigo o benkyou shite imasu.
(Kimiko studies English everyday.)Here we are talking about Kimiko, and want her diligence concerning English studies tobe made known.
Ga 
points to "active" subjects, emphasized subjects, and subjects within a larger topic:
John 
ga 
suru shigoto 
wa 
muzukashii desu.
(The job that John does is difficult.)In this one,
wa 
tells us that we're talking about a job, and that it's a difficult one, and
ga 
tells us that it's not just any job we're talking about, but the job that John does.
Ima Seiko 
ga 
shite imasu.
(Seiko is doing it now.)This one, which is a reply to someone's question, needs to point to Seiko as the persondoing whatever, so
ga 
is used. The thing she is doing is already known, so it needs noemphasis.
Ga 
is used with simple question subjects in many cases:
Dare 
ga 
kono gyuunyuu o koboshita? 
(Who spilled this milk?)
Nani 
ga 
tabetai no? 
(What do you want to eat?)
Itsu 
ga 
ii? 
(When is a good time?)And
ga 
is used to emphasize the answers to those questions:
Tommy 
ga 
yatta.
(Tommy did it.)
Gyouza 
ga 
tabetai.
(I want to eat
gyouza 
.)
Sanji 
ga 
ii.
(Three o'clock's good.)...unless there's something still indefinite about it:
Gyouza 
tabemashou ka.
(Shall we have
gyouza 
?)
Gyouza 
wa 
dou desu ka.
(How about some
gyouza 
?)
Rokuji 
wa 
dou? 
(How about six o'clock?)As you can see, it can really get confusing. More than trying to remember set rules, I'vefound that memorizing "set phrases" is the safest way to go, even though it does takesome time. Here's where learning "case by case" becomes necessary, because theparticle used will sometimes change depending on what is being emphasized, as wellas the verb tense and conjugation used.
 
Ga 
sometimes indicates "but":
Watashitachi wa pikuniku o tanoshimi ni shite ita 
ga 
, ame ga futta.
(We lookedforward to the picnic, but it rained.)Notice how the three
ga 
's are used here:
Keeki 
ga 
tabetakatta 
ga 
, onaka 
ga 
ippai datta.
(I wanted to have some cake, butI was too full.)
Wa 
could replace the third
ga 
here.As a strange particle quirk, subject indicator
wa 
is always written using the
hiragana 
for
ha 
. For reference, please see my
hiragana 
tablehere.Top
Direct object indicator
 o
You could call
a "limited use" particle. Its only job is to show us what the direct objectis:
Jisho 
kashite kureru? 
(Would you please loan me your dictionary?)
Atarashii kamera 
katta.
(I bought a new camera.)
Pizza 
tabemashou ka.
(Shall we get a pizza?)However,
ga 
is usually preferred when using the
-tai 
ending:
Ramen 
ga 
tabetai.
(I want to eat
ramen 
.)Also, use
ga 
, not
, before the verbs
iru 
(to be present; to exist),
iru 
(to need),
aru,wakaru, dekiru 
, and the weird quasi-verb/adjectives
suki, kirai 
and
hoshii 
:
Bob no heya ni tokage 
ga 
iru.
(There's a lizard in Bob's room.)
Boku wa atarashii kasa 
ga 
iranai.
(I don't need a new umbrella.)
Shizu wa jitensha 
ga 
arimasu ka.
(Does Shizu have a bicycle?)
Kenji no itte iru koto 
ga 
wakaranai.
(I don't understand what Kenji's saying.)
Emiko wa ryouri 
ga 
dekiru? 
(Can Emiko cook?)
Chuuka ryouri 
ga 
suki desu ka.
(Do you like Chinese food?)
Tom wa hikouki 
ga 
kirai.
(Tom hates airplanes.)
Ano nuigurumi 
ga 
hoshii! 
(I want that stuffed animal!)It is sometimes easy to confuse the particle
with the
o- 
prefix which is used as anhonorific indicator for some selected nouns, so be careful. Some of these are:
o-tenki 
: the weather
o-cha 
: tea

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