Japanese Particles Explained: How to Master Japanese Sentence Structure

We already saw that particles are a vital part of the Japanese language, because they state the grammatical function of the noun or nouns they are referring to. On the other hand, there are some Japanese particles that are put at the end of the sentence, after the verb, which emphasize the purpose of the speaker. They are called:

shūjoshi, 終助詞 ・ しゅうじょし,

with the kanji 終わり, owari, which means “end”.

Literally, it means “ending particles”. Since they are put at the end of the phrase, they are easy to understand and use. Finally, some of them are restricted to a female or a male speaker, as we will see later.

The interrogative particle: 

Have you ever wondered how to ask a question in plain form in Japanese? What about answering questions in Japanese?

ka is the particle you use to replace the question mark meaning you can simply put it at the end of your sentence to ask a question.

元気です。🡪 (お)元気です。           I am fine. 🡪 How are you? 

Genki desu. 🡪 Ogenki desuka?   

The use of the honorary “お” change the speech to a more formal one.

泳げます。 🡪 泳げます。                 I can swim. 🡪 Can you swim? 

Oyogemasu. 🡪 Oyogemasuka? 

What are the Japanese Interrogative Pronouns?

is the particle to use with interrogative pronouns like:

何 ・ nan/nani ・ What

これは何です。        Kore wa nan desuka?          What is this?

何時ですNanji desuka?    What time is it?

誰  ・ dare ・  Who

彼女は誰です。        Kanojo wa dare desuka?        Who is she?

どこ  ・ doko ・  Where

駅はどこですEki wa doko desuka?    Where is the station?

日本語の教室はどこです。   

Nihongo no kyōshitsu wa doko desuka?       

Where is the Japanese language class?

いつ  ・ itsu ・  When

あなたの誕生日はいつです。  

Anata no tanjōbi wa itsu desuka?     

When is your birthday?

どんな  ・ donna ・ What kind 

彼氏はどんな人です。 

Kareshi wa donna hito desuka?         

What kind of person  is your boyfriend?

なぜ/どうして ・ naze/doushite ・ Why  (なぜ is more used in written texts, while どうして in speech)。

「なぜたっているの。」  「席がないからです。」 

Naze tatteiru no ka?    Seki ga nai kara desu.            

Why are you standing?   Because there are no vacant seats.

どうして遅刻しました。 

Naze/doushite chikokushimashitaka?   

Why were you late?

The exclamation particle:

yo – This particle brings the listener’s attention to an unknown aspect. Furthermore, it highlights a recommendation, is used to give advice and can replace the exclamation mark. It’s used in informal speaking.

もう遅いです。        Mou osoi desuyo!                   It’s late!

早く来て。                 Hayaku kiteyo!                      Come quickly.

一緒に行こう。        Isshoni ikouyo!                       Let’s go together!

「危ない」               Abunaiyo!                              Careful!

そんなことない。   Sonna koto naiyo.               That’s definitely not true.

The “Confirmation” Particle:

The ne particle is used when the speaker wants to share something with the listener, in dialogues. Can express wonder, a question, or an exclamation. From the listener’s point of view, it gives a confirmation in the dialogue. Fun fact: it’s mostly used by women. 

いい天気です。      Ii tenki dane!      Nice day, isn’t it?

また会いましょう。  Mata aimashoune!   We’ll meet again, right?

「素晴らしい海です。」   「そうです。」 

“Subarashii umi dane!”      Sou desune!

“The sea is amazing!”         It is! 

「今何時だろう?」  「何時だろう。」  

“Ima nanji darou?”     Nanji daroune?

“What time could it be?”       I have no idea!

The image says (starting from the right): “Uso… Neko?! Gomen ne gomen ne… Itakatta?!” – “I can’t believe it, a cat?! I’m sorry I’m sorry… Did it hurt?“. Here the Japanes particle is put after ごめん to emphasize the apology.

Can You Combine Particles In Japanese?

よね  yo and ne can be used together at the end of the sentence to confirm something that is already known.

彼は日本語の教師ですよね。 

Kare wa nihongo no kyoushi desuyone?   

He is a Japanese language teacher, isn’t he? 

京都の寺はきれいですよね。 

Kyōto no tera wa kirei desuyone?    

Temples in Kyōto are beautiful, aren’t they?

What Are The Gender Differences in Japanese Speech?

Before talking about other particles, we should note that in Japanese language there are some differences between men’s and women’s speech. These differences are noticed in spoken language more than written. 

Women’s speech always tends to be more formal than men’s. Women use more honorary prefixes お o and ご go to sound more elegant. For example, お花 ohana – flower and お茶 – ocha – tea. Women avoid vulgar vocabulary, which is instead used by males.

As for female-only particles, lots of them are used to express exclamation, doubt, or simply a confirmation to the listener. They too can be combined.

かしら kashira expresses doubt in general, self-doubt, or a request. Can be translated as “I wonder if…”, and it is mostly used by wives and older women or by very well-educated girls. 

来るかしら。   Kuru kashira?        Will he/she come?

これでいいかしら。   Kore de ii kashira?       Is this okay/enough?

あの人誰かしら。   Ano hito wa dare kashira?  Who is that person, I wonder?

wa.  This particle replaces the exclamation mark in feminine sentences. Particles and can follow it to ask for a confirmation and to advertise. 

かわいい。       Kawaii wa.       It’s cute!

楽しみだ。    Tanoshimi dawa.           I’m looking forward to it.

きれいですわね。  Kireii desu wa ne.     It’s pretty, isn’t it? 

おいしいわね。    Oishii wa ne.          It’s good, isn’t it?

明日雨が降るわよ。  Ashita ame ga furu wa yo.     (Careful) Tomorrow it will rain.

このスカート、安いわよ。  Kono sukaato, yasui wa yo.        Look, this skirt is cheap! 

Men’s Ending Particles: ぞ and ぜ

Men’s speech tends to be more informal than women’s. For example, in anime you can hear expressions like あいつ  aitsu、すげー  sugee that are very casual and used in informal situations only. As for particles, there are two of them that are used only by males.

ぞ  zo  This is a typical male-used particle that you can find in anime. It gives the sentence a sense of intimidation and threat. Women can use the imperative form directly to express the same sense, for example, to give orders to their children, but with the -なさい form, which is more gentle than the imperative form. 

Anime and comic books are full of expressions with particle: 

行く  Ikuzo.   Let’s go!

もう一度聞く!     Mou ichido kiku zo!          I’ll ask you one more time! (intimidating)

絶対に許さん。  Zettai ni yurusanzo.      I won’t forgive him.

「これからある!新世界は!」  

“Korekara aruzo! Shinsekai wa!”      

“The ‘New World’ starts now!”    

ze To emphatize their statement, males can also use the ze particle. Remember that it’s very informal. 

一休みしよう。                 Hitoyasumi shiyou ze.          Let’s take a break.

このラーメンうまい。   Kono rāmen umai ze.          This ramen is tasty! 

「それ以上強くならないほうがいい」。  

Sore ijou tsuyoku naranai hou ga ii ze.    

You shouldn’t get any stronger than this. 

If you can master these ending particles, your Japanese speaking will surely sound more natural!

Author: Valeria (graduated at Ca’Foscari University Japanese Studies)

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