Particles Reloaded

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Particles used with verbs

In this section we will learn some new particles which will be essential for verbs. Basically, we will learn how to specify the direct object of a verb and the location where a verb takes place (either physical or abstract).

The direct object 「を」 particle

The first particle we will learn is the object particle because it is a very straightforward particle. The 「を」 character is attached to the end of a word to signify that that word is the direct object of the verb. This character is essentially never used anywhere else. That is why the katakana equivalent 「ヲ」 is almost never used since particles are always written in hiragana. The 「を」 character, while technically pronounced as /wo/ essentially sounds like /o/ in real speech. Here are some examples of the direct object particle in action.

(1) 食べる。- Eat fish.
(2) ジュース飲んだ。- Drank juice.

When you use 「する」 with a noun, the 「を」 particle is optional and you can treat the whole [noun+する] as one verb.
(1) 毎日日本語勉強する。- Study Japanese everyday.
(2) メールアドレス登録した。- Registered email address.

The target 「に」 particle

The 「に」 particle can specify a target of a verb. This is different from the 「を」 particle in which the verb does something to the direct object. With the 「に」 particle, the verb does something toward the word associated with the 「に」 particle. For example, the target of any motion verb is specified by the 「に」 particle.

(1) ボブは日本行った。- Bob went to Japan.
(2) 帰らない。- Not go back home.
(3) 部屋くる。- Come to room.

Since the motion verb 'to come' doesn't target toward but rather from, using 「に」 would mean "come to". If you want to say, "come from" instead you would need to use 「から」 (which means "from") instead of 「に」. It is also often paired with 「まで」, which means 'up to'.
(1) アリスは、アメリカからきた。 - Alice came from America.
(2) 宿題今日から明日までする。- Will do homework from today to tomorrow.

The idea of a target in Japanese is very general and is not restricted to motion verbs. For example, the location of an object is defined as the target of the verb for existence (ある and いる). Time is also a common target. Here are some examples of non-motion verbs and their targets

(1) 部屋いる。- Cat is in room.
(2) 椅子台所あった。- Chair was in the kitchen.
(3) いい友達会った。- Met good friend.
(4) ジムは医者なる。- Jim will become doctor.
(5) 先週図書館行った。- Went to library last week.
Don't forget to use 「ある」 for inanimate objects such as the chair and 「いる」 for animate objects such as the cat.

There is a slight difference in meaning between using the target particle with time and not using anything at all.
(1) 友達は、来年日本行く。 - Next year, friend go to Japan.
(2) 友達は、来年日本行く。 - Friend go to Japan next year.
The target particle makes the date a specific target emphasizing that the friend will go to Japan at that time. Without the particle, there is no special emphasis.

The directional 「へ」 particle

While 「へ」 is normally pronounced /he/, when it is being used as a particle, it is always pronounced /e/ (え). The primary difference between the 「に」 and 「へ」 particle is that 「に」 goes to a target as the final, intended destination (both physical or abstract). The 「へ」 particle, on the other hand, is used to express the fact that one is setting out towards the direction of the target. As a result, it is only used with directional motion verbs. It also does not guarantee whether the target is the final intended destination, only that one is heading towards that direction. In other words, the 「に」 particle sticks to the destination while the 「へ」 particle is fuzzy about where one is ultimately headed. For example, if we choose to replace 「に」 with 「へ」 in the first three examples of the previous section, the nuance changes slightly.

(1) ボブは日本行った。- Bob headed towards Japan.
(2) 帰らない。- Not go back towards home to house.
(3) 部屋くる。- Come towards room.

Note that we cannot use the 「へ」 particle with verbs that have no physical direction. For example, the following is incorrect.
(誤) 医者なる。- (Grammatically incorrect version of 「医者なる」.)

This does not mean to say that 「へ」 cannot set out towards an abstract concept. In fact, because of the fuzzy directional meaning of this particle, the 「へ」 particle can also be used to talk about setting out towards certain future goals or expectations.
(1) 勝ち向かう。 - Go towards victory.

The contextual 「で」 particle

The 「で」 particle will allow use to specify the context in which the action is performed. For example, if a person ate a fish, where did he eat it? If a person went to school, by what means did she go? With what will you eat the soup? All of these questions can be answered with the 「で」 particle. Here are some examples.

(1) 映画館見た。- Saw at movie theater.
(2) バス帰る。- Go home by bus.
(3) レストラン昼ご飯食べた。- Ate lunch at restaurant.

It may help to think of 「で」 as meaning "by way of". This way, the same meaning will kind of translate into what the sentence means. The examples will then read: "Saw by way of movie theater", "Go home by way of bus", and "Ate lunch by way of restaurant."

Using 「で」 with 「

The word for "what" () is quite annoying because while it's usually read as 「なに」, sometimes it is read as 「なん」 depending on how it's used. And since it's always written in Kanji, you can't tell which it is. I would suggest sticking with 「なに」 until someone corrects you for when it should be 「なん」. With the 「で」 particle, it is read as 「なに」 as well. (Hold the mouse cursor over the word to check the reading.)
(1) きた? - Came by the way of what?
(2) バスきた。 - Came by the way of bus.

Here's the confusing part. There is a colloquial version of the word "why" that is used much more often than the less colloquial version 「どうして」 or the more forceful 「なぜ」. It is also written as 「何で」 but it is read as 「なんで」. This is a completely separate word and has nothing to do with the 「で」 particle.
(1) 何できた? - Why did you come?
(2) だから。 - Because I was free.

The 「から」 here meaning 'because' is different from the 「から」 we just learned and will be covered later in the compound sentence section. Basically the point is that the two sentences, while written the same way, is read differently and mean completely different things. Don't worry. This causes less confusion than you think because 95% of the time, the latter is used rather than the former. And even when 「なにで」 is intended, the context will leave no mistake on which one is being used. Even in this short example snippet, you can tell which it is by looking at the answer to the question.

When location is the topic

There are times when the location of an action is also the topic of a sentence. You can attach the topic particle (「は」 and 「も」) to the three particles that indicate location (「に」、「へ」、「で」) when the location is the topic. We'll see how location might become the topic in the following examples.

Example 1

ボブ: 学校行った?- (Did you) go to school?
アリス: 行かなかった。- Didn't go.
ボブ: 図書館には? - What about library?
アリス: 図書館にも行かなかった。 - Also didn't go to library.
In this example, Bob brings up a new topic (library) and so the location becomes the topic. The sentence is actually an abbreviated version of 「図書館には行かなかった?」 which you can ascertain from the context.

Example 2

ボブ: どこ食べる?- Eat where?
アリス: イタリアレストランではどう? - How about Italian restaurant?
Bob asks, "Where shall we eat?" and Alice suggests an Italian restaurant. A sentence like, "How about..." usually brings up a new topic because the person is suggesting something new. In this case, the location (restaurant) is being suggested so it becomes the topic.

When direct object is the topic

The direct object particle is different from particles related to location in that you cannot use any other particles at the same time. For example, going by the previous section, you might have guessed that you can say 「をは」 to express a direct object that is also the topic but this is not the case. A topic can be a direct object without using the 「を」 particle. In fact, putting the 「を」 particle in will make it wrong.

(1) 日本語習う。 - Learn Japanese.
(2) 日本語習う。 - About Japanese, (will) learn it.

Please take care to not make this mistake.
(誤) 日本語をは習う。- This is incorrect.

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This page has last been revised on 2005/5/22
Edited 「へ」 explanation to include "towards" concept. (2005/5/22)