Particles Revolution

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The last three particles (Not!)

We have already gone over very powerful constructs that can express almost anything we want. We will see the 「の」 particle will give us even more power by allowing us to define a generic, abstract noun. We will also learn how to modify nouns directly with nouns. The three particles we will cover can group nouns together in different ways.

This is the last lesson that will be specifically focused on particles but that does not mean that there are no more particles to learn. We will learn many more particles along the way but they may not be labeled as such. As long as you know what they mean and how to use them, it is not too important to know whether they are particles or not.

The Inclusive 「と」 particle

The 「と」 particle is similar to the 「も」 particle in that it contains a meaning of inclusion. It can combine two or more nouns together to mean "and".

(1) スプーンフォーク食べた。- Ate fish by means of fork and spoon.
(2) 雑誌葉書買った。- Bought book, magazine, and post card.

Another similar use of the 「と」 particle is to show an action that was done together with someone or something else.
(1) 友達話した。- Talked with friend.
(2) 先生会った。 - Met with teacher.

The Vague Listing 「や」 and 「とか」 particles

The 「や」 particle, just like the 「と」 particle, is used to list one or more nouns except that it is much more vague than the 「と」 particle. It implies that there may be other things that are unlisted and that not all items in the list may apply. In English, you might think of this as an "and/or, etc." type of listing.

(1) 飲み物カップナプキンは、いらない?- You don't need (things like) drink, cup, or napkin, etc.?
(2) シャツ買う。- Buy (things like) shoes and shirt, etc...

「とか」 also has the same meaning as 「や」 but is a slightly more colloquial expression.
(1) 飲み物とかカップとかナプキンは、いらない?- You don't need (things like) drink, cup, or napkin, etc.?
(2) とかシャツ買う。- Buy (things like) shoes and shirt, etc...

The 「の」 particle

The 「の」 particle has many uses and it is a very powerful particle. It is introduced here because like the 「と」 and 「や」 particle, it can be used to connect one or more nouns. Let's look at a few examples.

(1) ボブ。- Book of Bob.
(2) ボブ。- Bob of book.
The first sentence essentially means, "Bob's book." (not a bible chapter). The second sentence means, "Book's Bob" which is probably a mistake. I've translated (1) as "book of Bob" because the 「の」 particle doesn't always imply possession as the next example shows.

(1) ボブは、アメリカ大学学生だ。- Bob is student of college of America.
In normal English, this would translate to, "Bob is a student of an American college." The order of modification is backwards so Bob is a student of a college that is American. 「学生大学アメリカ」 means "America of college of student" which is probably an error and makes little sense. (America of student's college?)

The noun that is being modified can be omitted if the context clearly indicates what is being omitted. The following highlighted redundant words can be omitted.
(1) そのシャツシャツ?- Whose shirt is that shirt?
(2) ボブのシャツだ。- It is shirt of Bob.
to become:
(1) そのシャツ?- Whose shirt is that?
(2) ボブだ。- It is of Bob.
(「その」 is an abbreviation of 「それ+の」 so it directly modifies the noun because the 「の」 particle is intrinsically attached. Other words include 「この」 from 「これの」 and 「あの」 from 「あれの」.)

The 「の」 particle in this usage essentially replaces the noun and takes over the role as a noun itself. We can essentially treat adjectives and verbs just like nouns by adding the 「の」 particle to it. The particle then becomes a generic noun, which we can treat just like a regular noun.
(1) 白いは、かわいい。- Thing that is white is cute.
(2) 授業行く忘れた。- Forgot the event of going to class.

Now we can use the direct object, topic, and identifier particle with verbs and adjectives. We don't necessarily have to use the 「の」 particle here. We can use the noun 「」, which is a generic object or 「こと」 for a generic event. For example, we can also say:
(1) 白いは、かわいい。- Thing that is white is cute.
(2) 授業行くこと忘れた。- Forgot the thing of going to class.

However, the 「の」 particle is very useful in that you don't have to specify a particular noun. In the next examples, the 「の」 particle is not replacing any particular noun, it just allows us to modify verb and adjective clauses like noun clauses. The subordinate clauses are highlighted.
(1) 毎日勉強するのは大変。 - The thing of studying every day is tough.
(2) 毎日同じ食べるのは、面白くない。- It's not interesting to eat same thing every day.
You might have noticed that the word 「同じ」 is directly modifying 「」 even though it obviously isn't an i-adjective. I have no idea why this is possible. One explanation might be that it is actually an adverb, which we will soon learn doesn't require any particles.

Otherwise, even when substituting 「の」 for a noun, you still need the 「な」 to modify the noun when a na-adjective is being used.
(1) 静か部屋が、アリスの部屋だ。- Quiet room is room of Alice.
(1) 静かのが、アリスの部屋だ。- Quiet one is room of Alice.

*Warning: This may make things seem like you can replace any arbitrary nouns with 「の」 but this is not so. It is important to realize that the sentence must be about the clause and not the noun that was replaced. For example, in the last section we had the sentence, 「学生じゃないは、 学校行かない」. You may think that you can just replace 「」 with 「の」 to produce 「学生じゃないは、学校行かない」. But in fact, this makes no sense because the sentence is now about the clause "Is not student". The sentence becomes, "The thing of not being student does not go to school" which is complete gibberish because not being a student is a state and it doesn't make sense for a state to go anywhere much less school.

The 「の」 particle as explanation

The 「の」 particle attached at the end of the last clause of a sentence can also convey an explanatory tone to your sentence. For example, if someone asked you if you have time, you might respond, "The thing is I'm kind of busy right now." The abstract generic noun of "the thing is..." can also be expressed with the 「の」 particle. This type of sentence has an embedded meaning that explains the reason(s) for something else.

The sentence would be expressed like so:
(1) 忙しい。- The thing is that (I'm) busy now.

This sounds very soft and feminine. In fact, adult males will almost always add a declarative 「だ」 unless they want to sound cute for some reason.
(2) 忙しいのだ。- The thing is that (I'm) busy now.

However, since the declarative 「だ」 cannot be used in a question, the same 「の」 in questions do not carry a feminine tone at all and is used by both males and females.
(1) 忙しい?- Is it that (you) are busy now? (gender-neutral)

To express state of being, when the 「の」 particle is used to convey this explanatory tone, we need to add 「な」 to distinguish it from the 「の」 particle that simply means "of".
(1) ジムのだ。- It is of Jim. (It is Jim's.)
(2) ジムのだ。- It is Jim (with explanatory tone).
Besides this one case, everything else remains the same as before.

In actuality, while this type of explanatory tone is used all the time, 「のだ」 is usually substituted by 「んだ」. This is probably due to the fact that 「んだ」 is easier to say than 「のだ」. This grammar can have what seems like many different meaning because not only can it be used with all forms of adjectives, nouns, and verbs it itself can also be conjugated just like the state of being. A conjugation chart will show you what this means.

There's really nothing new here. The first chart is just adding 「んだ」 (or 「なんだ」) to a conjugated verb, noun, or adjective. The second chart adds 「んだ」 (or 「なんだ」) to a non-conjugated verb, noun, adjective and then conjugates the 「だ」 part of 「んだ」 just like a regular state of being for nouns and na-adjectives. Just don't forget to attach the 「な」 for nouns as well as na-adjectives.

「んだ」 attached to different conjugations
(You may substitute 「の」 or 「のだ」 for 「んだ」)

「んだ」 itself is conjugated
(You may substitute 「の」 for 「ん」 and 「の」 or 「のだ」 for 「んだ」)

I would say that the past and past-negative forms for noun/na-adjective in the second chart are almost never used (especially with 「の」) but they are presented for completeness.

The crucial difference between using the explanatory 「の」 and not using anything at all is that you are telling the listener, "Look, here's the reason" as opposed to simply imparting new information. For example, if someone asked you, "Are you busy now?" you can simply answer, 「忙しい」. However, if someone asked you, "How come you can't talk to me?" since you obviously have some explaining to do, you would answer, 「忙しいの」 or 「忙しいんだ」. This grammar is indispensable for seeking explanations in questions. For instance, if you want to ask, "Hey, isn't it late?" you can't just ask, 「遅くない?」 because that means, "It's not late?" You need to indicate that you are seeking explanation in the form of 「遅いんじゃない?」.

Let's see some examples of the types of situations where this grammar is used. The examples will have literal translation to make it easier to see how the meaning stays the same and carries over into what would be very different types of sentences in normal English. A more natural English pronunciation is provided as well because the literal translations can get a bit convoluted.

Example 1

アリス: どこ行く?- Where is it that (you) are going?
ボブ: 授業行くんだ。- It is that (I) go to class.
Alice: Where are you going? (Seeking explanation)
Bob: I'm going to class. (Explanatory)

Example 2

アリス: 授業あるんじゃない?- Isn't it that there is class now?
ボブ: は、ないんだ。- Now it is that there is no class.
Alice: Don't you have class now? (Expecting that there is class)
Bob: No, there is no class now. (Explanatory)

Example 3

アリス: 授業ないんじゃないの?- Isn't it that there isn't class now?
ボブ: ううんある。- No, there is.
Alice: Don't you not have class now? (Expecting that there is no class)
Bob: No, I do have class.

Example 4

アリス: その買うんじゃなかったの?- Wasn't it that that person was the one to buy?
ボブ: ううん先生買うんだ。- No, it is that teacher is the one to buy.
Alice: Wasn't that person going to buy? (Expecting that the person would buy)
Bob: No, the teacher is going to. (Explanatory)

Example 5

アリス: 朝ご飯食べるんじゃなかったよ。 - It is that breakfast wasn't to eat, you know.
ボブ: どうして? - Why?
Alice: Should not have eaten breakfast, you know. (Explaining that breakfast wasn't to be eaten)
Bob: How come?

Don't worry if you are thoroughly confused by now, we will see many more examples along the way. Once you get the sense of how everything works, it's better to forget the English because the double and triple negatives can get quite confusing such as Example 3. However, in Japanese it is a perfectly normal expression, as you will begin to realize once you get accustomed to Japanese.

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This page has last been revised on 2005/6/1
Removed unknown reference to 「そこ」 and 「あそこ」 (2005/6/1)