You are on page 1of 6


It seems that even after years of study, a number of people taking formal Japanese classes and doing
self-study don't get comprehensive coverage of the following particles: and . By
"comprehensive", I mean that, despite having similar functions, these particles are broken apart,
taught individually and spaced out years apart. (Not always, but most of the time). Plus, the meanings
often overlap, making the learning process feel, at times, redundant.
So I hope that this article can act as a sort of GPS device to let you know what kind of nuanced territory
you're heading into and how to navigate it. I used the word "comprehensive" up there, but that just
means I'm looking out for you like comprehensive auto insurance. Trust me, this will be easy.


Source: Tanaka Juuyou

is on JLPT N5 prep guides, so even beginners should have this on their VIP lists that is, the list
for Very Important Particles. It was once explained to me that is like the mathematical or (it
approaches a value and includes it, but just barely). It means "Only and nothing more" or "nothing
but" as in the example:

I can only read romaji.

You can use this in a sentence easily: goes after the "only"-ified noun. Then, the verb or copula
that comes after NEEDS to be negative.

Here's another example:

All I can see is you.

Both of these examples have been nouns in front of , but you can also precede it with the
dictionary form of a verb. This particle is used at any formality level, and in written or spoken


Source: Arallyn
I'll be honest: still kind of confuses me. That's not surprising, given its history, which I'll get to in
a bit. But look at the different ways it's used:

If only youre here, I dont need anything else.

And this:

It was even warm in December.

And this:

I cant even read hiragana.

So it can mean "even" sometimes, and "only" in other cases. Thankfully, if you look at the whole
sentence, it's easy to see a pattern: when is followed by a conditional, it means only. But when
is more of the main focus, it means even (and with a negative sentence, means 'not even').

appears on N2 grammar prep lists. Make note of its unique formation: (adj. ) (naadj. ) (noun) or (noun ) and (verb stem) .
I mentioned that 's history might explain why it has a few different meanings. The way Haruo
Shirane describes it in "Classical Japanese: A Grammar", the Heian Period particle reached out
like a hungry amoeba, gobbling up a number of other particles' meanings, including that of (225226), described below. You'll see that the poor particle is still a bit sickly.


Source: brokinhrt2
According to Janet Ashby in "Read Real Japanese", is "a more literary equivalent of " (93).
I've got a problem with that simplification because there are a lot of conflicting usages of , while
seems to pretty much work like this:

She cant even write her own name.

In Colligan-Taylor's Living Japanese, an ecology grad student uses as she's being interviewed.
So can be spoken, too, but probably sounds highbrow. It's sad that this particle is a little easier to
use, but you won't encounter it as often as .
doesn't appear on JLPT prep lists until N1, which is like advanced land! Like , though, it
has a kind of unique formation, mimicking that of .


Im still into .Source: Kyle Nishioka

Often, these particles are thought of in terms of quantity or inclusivity. Which makes sense, doesn't it?
"The only thing I can see is you" suggests a quantity or capable range to what the person can see. But
one researcher, Shigeko Sugiura at Tokyo Daigaku (AKA TouDai, AKA the Harvard of Japan, AKA the
TouDai of America), published a linguistics paper about how and (along with in certain
instances) are not focused on quantity but on expectations.
To understand that, let's talk a little about "implicature." Implicature refers to how what you literally
say isn't always what you're implying and communicating. Part of implicature is the notion that if you
don't specify some sort of scale in your words ("Some", "even", etc.), then such a scale may or may not
exist but, regardless, isn't important enough for you to mention. The implied meaning behind "Some
girls like boys" is very different from "Girls like boys." That last one is hetero-normative, while the first
one implies that not all girls like boys. In other words, one provides a scale of possibility, while the
other implies a massively black-and-white attitude. These are important distinctions to make to really
express yourself and your thoughts, no matter the language.
But we're talking about 'even', not 'some', and Sugiura argues that and mo aren't based
around quantifiable scales (like 'all', or 'some'), but expectation-based scales. In other words, when an
event occurs, does it fall inside the realm of the speaker's expectations? This realm ranges from the
highly probable to the least likely, but when it comes to using and , the even-ified event won't
be anywhere on the radar.
Compare these:

Mary ate natto.

Mary even ate natto.

Mary didnt even eat natto.

The first sentence is perfectly neutral. Nothing remarkable about Mary's eating natto. The second
suggests that Mary's doing some crazy stuff, sure, but what's really crazy and what wasn't expected is
that she ate natto. And in the third, Mary is in a situation, maybe a homestay, which demands a
number of actions, and Mary didn't even do the most likely thing: eat natto.
The second and third sentence, then, fall outside the realm of expectations.


Source: Olga Berrios

Let's put it all together: If someone's doing crazy things (or not doing the most normal, expected, bare
minimum of things), and mo can all go in the blank below:
[Subject] [noun] [verb/copula (+ any formality, time, and negation mods)]

Such as:

When I traveled in Japan, I didnt even spend a thousand yen/~10 USD/ ~7 Euro.

That's pretty much impossible. Was this person camping the whole time and bicycling everywhere?
Were they an honorary guest of the emperor? This is what Sugiura meant by an expectational scale.
Sometimes there are quantities involved, but using and and mo this way suggests
something crazy is going on (back to Mary's eating/not eating Natto). It might depend on the situation
whether something crazy is actually happening. But if the person uses these particles, they're implying
that at least they believe it's crazy stuff.

Note, the "exceeding expectations " is functioning in a different way than the adding kind of ,
which you see in sentences like:

I enjoy reading. Generally I read books, but every now and then I read manga, too.

See, I told you this would be easy. Some of these particles could get really confusing, but I think they're
worth practicing. The above formula particularly should give you an easy way to change up your
conversational toolbox.


Source: Calsidyrose
I used to act like could be used in all the same times I would use the English "only" and, who, did
I confuse Japanese people and get laughed at. I'm not saying changed my world, but the more I
learned, the more I was basing definitions of words and particles by their context, not by their
and , meanwhile, have meanings that overlap with particles you definitely know, such
as and , so if you learn them separately, maybe you'll just think "I already know one way of
saying 'only' or 'even'. Why bother learning another?" To which I say: Translations don't capture usage.
You've already probably learned this with and how it 'means' 'like'/'love'. You know that it's way
more complicated than that. So once you're ready, give or some attention, and tell me what
it's like.