Particles in Japanese

Notes from Tae Kim's grammar guide.


は particle ("topic")

「名詞」+ は : "as for (noun)..."‌‌

  • 今日は、走った。 "As for today, _ ran."‌‌
  • 勉強は、した。 "As for study, _ did it."

が particle (identifier)

「名詞」+ が : "(noun) is the one that..."‌‌友達が遊んだ。 "Friend is the one who played."

誰が学生か? ジョンが学生。John is the one who is the student.

は and が

  1. 誰が学生か? Who is the one that is the student? (Out of many kids or people)
  2. 学生はだれ? Who is the student (in front of me, who is new in our class, etc)?


  1. 私は学生。As for me, I'm a student.
  2. 私が学生。 I am the one who is a student.

を (direct object)

Note: places can also be direct objects in Japanese.

街をぶらぶら歩く。‌‌walk aimlessly through town. (Aimlessly walk town.)

With する, direct objects don't need を it's optional。


へ (directional )

Similar to に but only for locations / directional motions and is less precise. You're going towards a place or direction, incidentally, rather than to a specific destination.

ボブは日本へ行く。ボブは日本にいく。‌‌Bob heads towards Japan. Bob goes to Japan.

Exceptions: abstract aspirational goals in the future.

勝ちへ向かう。(かちへむかう。)‌‌Go/face towards victory.

で (contextual)

The context in which an action is performed.

  • By what means (do you go to school)
  • With what (do you eat soup)
  • Where (do you buy groceries)
  • By way of
  • 映画館で観た。I saw by way of movie theater.
  • バスでかえりました。I went home by way of bus.
  • 箸で食べました。 I ate by way of chopsticks.
  • バナナをスーパーで買いました。I bought banana by way of supermarket.

何 + で

An exception sometimes in reading and meaning. 何 is typically read as なに, but with で can sometimes be just なん。Typically stick with なに unless corrected.

何(なに)で来た? By what way did you come?‌‌バスで来た。I came by bus.

Colloquially, if pronounced なん with で、can also mean どうして or "why".

何(なん)で来た。 Why did you come?‌‌暇だから。 Because I'm free / have nothing to do.

Location as topic

You can add は after に or で when it contextually makes sense.

  • 学校に行った?。Did you go to school?
  • 行かなかった。I did not go.
  • 図書館には? What about the library? (change topic to another location )
  • 図書館戦争にも行かなかった。I didn't go to the library either.

  • どこか食べる? Where do we eat?
  • イタリアレストランではどう? How about an Italian restaurant? (change topic to another means)

Direct object as topic

You cannot add は to を. You instead just omit を.


__, learn Japanese.


About Japanese, I will learn it.

に (target)

The verb does something towards the word associated with に. The target of any motion verb can be specified with に.