Japanese Particles: An Overview

JP Particle overview

Japanese grammar has a few quirks, and I would say that after sentence structure, the use of particles is the trickiest thing for Japanese beginners to get their head around.

Particles are little words similar to prepositions in English that follow verbs, nouns and adjectives to indicate various things within a sentence. I like to think of them as little signposts that show the relationship between different parts within the sentence.

Let’s have a look at an example sentence.

私はあした東京に行きます。

わたしはあしたひこうきでとうきょうにいきます。

In the example above, は indicates the topic and に indicates the destination.

There are a lot of particles in Japanese, but I have put together a mini summary of the most important particles and how they are used:

は Topic marker

  • Not necessarily the subject of the sentence

アントニアは映画が好きです。

アントニアはえいががすきです。

In the sentence Antonia is the topic and movies are the subject

  • Often omitted unless the topic changes
  • Can be used to show contrast as below:

赤ワインは好きですが、白ワインは好きではありません。

あかワインはすきですが、しろワインはすきではありません。

が Subject marker

  • Usually followed by a verb or adjective phrase

スイーツがあまり好きではありません。

スイーツがあまりすきではありません。

  • Always marks the subject of a subordinate clause

先生が私にくれた本は今でも読みます。

せんせいがわたしにくれたほんはいまでもよみます。

  • When used after the end of a clause it acts as a conjunction that can mean ‘and’ or ‘but

レストランに行きましたが、まだ開いていませんでした。

レストランにいきましたが、まだあいていませんでした、

  • Used with intransitive verbs and potential forms of a verb

あそこから海が見えますよ。

あそこからうみがみえますよ。

を Object marker

  • Always followed by a verb/ verb phrase and follows the strict object of a sentence

トムさんは毎日漫画を読みます。

トムさんはまいにちまんがをよみます。

  • Transitive verbs are preceded by を

キムさんはドアを開けます。

キムさんはドアをあけます。

に Time/ place marker

  • Always indicates the location or place with a verb indicating movement

ロンドンに行ったことがあります。

ロンドンにいったことがあります。

  • Also used to denote a time when an action takes place

私は7時に朝ごはんを食べます。

わたしは7じにあさごはんをたべます。

  • Indicates the recipient of an action

リンさんにケーキをあげました。

で Indicates means of an action

  • Indicates the location in which an action takes place

公園でお弁当を食べました。

こうえんでおべんとうをたべました。

  • Can also be used to show the means of doing an action

電車で大学に来ました。

でんしゃでだいがくにきました。

の Possessive marker

  • Can be used in place of が in relative clauses

彼は自分のしたことを後悔しています。

かれはじぶんのしたことをこうかいしています。

  • As a sentence-final suffix, it can add an explanatory nuance

新しい店でワンピースを買ったの。

あたらしいみせでワンピースをかったの。

と Meaning ‘with’

  • Is also used to quote direct or indirect speech

来年アメリカに行こうと思っています。

らいねんアメリカにいこうとおもっています。

If you are looking to get a book that has a great job of explaining the vast majority of the particles you are likely to come across, then I would consider the book All About Particles by Naoko Chino.

This book gives an overview of what each particle can mean in different contexts alongside example sentences. I like that the book shows where particles can be used interchangeably as well as how this can affect the nuance of the sentence, especially with the infamous ha and ga particles. This makes it a great reference book for beginner-intermediate learners.

Getting a good grasp on how particles work from an early stage will help immensely later on when tackling more complex grammar, so do not be afraid to spend a lot of time on studying particles.

Quick Quiz:

1 京都にはお寺__多いです。 きょうとにはおてら__おおいです。

2 家__遊びに来てください。 いえ__あそびにきてください。

3 ペン__名前を書いてください。 ぺん__なまえをかいてください。

4 今日は私__誕生日です。 きょうはわたし__たんじょうびです。

5 マアリーさんは大学__仕事をしています。 メアリーさんはだいがく__しごとしています。

6 先週私は友達__パリに行きました。 せんしゅうわたしはともだち__パリにいきました。

7 きのう天気__よかったです。 きのうてんき__よかったです。

8 窓__開けてもいいですか。 まど__あけてもいいですか。

Practising how to use Particles

  • The JLPT grammar section has some questions on particles where you have to select the appropriate particle missing from the sentence. This is a great way to practice as there are a few quizzes available online.

Examples: JP Drills, JOSHU Particle Quizzes from the University of Texas

  • Pay attention to the sentences you use in your normal studies. I do write a lot about the importance of context – when it comes to particles, certain verbs for example will be used with specific particles, eg. 〜が見えます instead of 〜を見えます.

How do you study particles? Know any useful resources? Let me know in the comments!

Quick quiz answers:

  1. が 2) に 3) で 4) の 5) で 6) と 7) が 8) を
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Manga Recommendation: しばたベーカリー Shibata Bakery

Author: Rin Ukai

Genre: Slice of Life

No. of volumes: 5

Recommended for: JLPT N3

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This manga is about a father and son who have recently started up their own bakery shop. There’s one small difference, both father and son are Shiba Inu dogs!

32-year-old Taro Shibata quit the salaryman life to pursue his childhood dream of running his own bakery. His son Kotaro is just 4 years old but helps out a lot at the bakery. As with all new businesses, getting the word out about the business is not easy and the manga focuses on the pair doing their best to make the bakery a success. Taro soon finds himself taking on a bigger role in his local area as he has an uncanny resemblance to a 神 ‘kami’ calledしめなわ五郎 who is meant to bring prosperity.

This is a slice of life manga with a lot of the humour coming from the characters who visit the bakery, as well as the fact that the shop is run by a dog. It also has its heartwarming moments, particularly between Taro and Kotaro. Taro’s wife does also appear in the manga, but the circumstances in which she left are not immediately clear.

In terms of language, I would recommend this to JLPT N3 learners (people close to N3 might find it difficult although not impossible to read). I think that whilst most of the vocabulary is everyday language, the manga is more suited to those who have a solid foundation in grammar and are familiar with a bit of casual language.

There is also furigana provided for some words (eg. 偉い・えらい) but not for others (eg. 謙虚・けんきょ) which adds a bit of extra difficulty. I suggest trying the manga out through the link below to see how easy you find it.

Each chapter is pretty short which makes it a fun, light manga to read – this is highly recommended. The only downside is wanting to eat copious amounts of bread while reading this!

You can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website – at the time of writing, the whole of Volume 1 is available to read for free!

 

Image source: http://kc.kodansha.co.jp/product?isbn=9784063872507

‘Appy Mondays: Akebi

I have always intended to talk about Akebi on this blog as I have used it consistently for several years when I do not have my electronic dictionary to hand. If I was asked to recommend a Japanese dictionary for an android user, I would always go with Akebi – there are other apps out there that work in a similar way, but I find Akebi to be the most user-friendly and reliable of the ones I have tried.

Akebi is a Japanese-English dictionary app with a few additional features which make it useful for Japanese learners:

  • When you search a Japanese word in Akebi it will give you the English definition and indicate other useful things such as how commonly the word is used and whether the word usually uses kanji or kana. For verbs, it will indicate whether it is an ichidan/godan verb, or if it is transitive/intransitive.
  • Example sentences from Tanaka corpus are also provided underneath the definition. The app does sometimes pick up sentences that are not relevant to the word you searched but is about as accurate as jisho.org which draws from the same database of sentences.
  • For words that are comprised of more than one kanji, it will indicate the meanings of the individual kanji which can then be tapped on in order to learn more about them.
  • The app also has kanji/ vocabulary lists which can be sorted into 常用 (common use) or JLPT level.
  • Similarly, you can create your own lists and then add words as and when you look them up. These can then be turned into flashcards which you can review in the same way as Anki. Whilst I haven’t used this myself in depth this is a neat way of creating your own personalised JLPT study list based on words you’ve looked up rather than a premade list.
  • If you need more information on how to set up lists there is a really easy to follow tutorial for doing so. There are actually tutorials for all aspects of the app which is really useful for newbies.
  • You are able to search words by typing in kanji, kana or romaji. In addition to this, you can search for kanji by writing it on the screen. The app will then bring up a number of suggestions as to what the kanji you are writing could be. I have found this kanji writing search to be very responsive – provided you more or less follow the correct stroke order, it will identify the relevant kanji. Having said that, even when I wrote kanji using the completely wrong stroke order it managed to identify it correctly!

As you can see there is a lot to like about Akebi, whether you use it solely to look up words or not. I can easily recommend this to all Japanese learners irrespective of level, especially because the app itself is free from the Google Play Store!

‘Appy Mondays : TangoRisto App Review

I haven’t gotten round to doing one of these posts in a while (believe me, it’s not down to lack of apps to review!) but I was inspired to write one after coming across the app TangoRisto.

This app is a reading app but is tailored towards the needs of Japanese learners. Some reading apps are better suited to intermediate or advanced learners, but this has a lot of features which enable beginners to get reading in Japanese as soon as possible.

TangoRisto takes its articles from NHK News Web Easy (for beginner-intermediate learners), Top NHK News (for intermediate-advanced learners) and Hukumusume (fairy tales in Japanese).

Screenshot 2017-09-12 at 20.09.14

When you select one of these from the main menu you can choose an article to read. Once selected, you can view the article with a few extra features including:

  • Toggle furigana on or off, or toggle furigana on for kanji split by JLPT level
  • Option to bookmark articles for offline viewing
  • Tap on any word for an English definition
    • If a verb has been conjugated it will indicate how it has been conjugated/ the politeness level as well as the verb in its dictionary form.
    • When you tap on the vocabulary again you get further information on the word: it can then be bookmarked and added to a vocabulary list to review later offline.
    • There is an option to search the word on websites such as jisho.org, Tangorin, Google as well as the Japanese Stack Exchange where you can ask questions on usage.
  • Toggle the glasses on or off to see different vocabulary highlighted in different colours according to their JLPT level (eg. N5 words and grammar are underlined in orange)
  • Full vocabulary list for each article

The ‘glasses’ feature on this app I think is especially useful for learners because it helps learners identify what kind of vocabulary or grammar they tend to get stuck on, which you can then use to adapt your learning – particularly useful if you are working towards the JLPT. Being able to view articles and vocabulary lists online is also a really useful feature to have (I wish more apps had this to be honest!)

All in all, a great app that I am sure will get even better over time 🙂

The app is available for free on the Apple Store and the Google Play Store, so there really is no reason not to check this out! Find out more on the app’s official website.

3 More Youtube Channels for Learning Japanese

They say you can learn anything from YouTube, and Japanese is no different. I have done a post on this previously, but since then I’ve found three more channels you might find useful on your language level journey.

Good for beginners: Bond Japanese

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Bond Japanese is a very good resource for newbies to Japanese, I certainly wish it had been around when I was a beginner. The channel has lots of helpful bite size videos on learning hiragana as well as basic grammar, common phrases and greetings. The language videos are presented by Marina who speaks clearly and does a great job of covering basic grammar points.

I find that at times, the spoken conversations can be quite a step-up in difficulty from the grammar or vocabulary covered but all dialogues have the Japanese on screen together with the English translations. At the very least this means you get used to natural conversation sooner rather than later.

My favourite videos to watch are the ‘Stroll Around’ series which focuses on different places in the Tokyo area. Through this series, I’ve certainly discovered a few places I’d like to visit next time I am in Japan.

For intermediate learners: Chop

Chop is a bit of a strange one and is a fairly new channel, but I am oddly fascinated by it!

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This channel focuses on super short videos which introduce Japanese, perfect for those looking to build their vocabulary. Each video has a short skit which can be summed up in one Japanese sentence containing the new word at the very end, along with furigana and an English translation. These skits are funny and often a bit strange, but I think this is what helps the vocabulary to stick in your head.

Whilst the type of humour will not be everyone’s cup of tea, if you do find them funny then this could be an entertaining way of getting in a couple of minutes’ study when short on time. Each week there is a ‘Weekly Chop’ which is a compilation of the skits from that week (there tend to be 3-4 videos uploaded per week).

The accompanying website has a full vocabulary list for all of the words that appear in each skit.

For intermediate/advanced learners: Talk in Japan

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Talk in Japan has a large number of videos aimed at Japanese learners from JLPT N5 right through to N1. I would be hesitant to recommend the grammar/ vocabulary videos to those just starting out as all videos are entirely in Japanese with English subtitles which could feel a bit overwhelming.

Having said that, if you are working towards the JLPT (especially for N3 and above) then I can recommend their videos on each aspect of the test which is targeted towards each level. I like the grammar point videos as they are normally less than 5 minutes long, do a pretty good job of explaining usage and are accompanied by example sentences and a short dialogue at the very end. There are also some videos on business Japanese etiquette in addition to Japanese culture and cooking videos which you may find useful as well.

All of these channels are up and coming rather than established channels but I hope you find them useful and can support them as they continue to grow!

What is the JLPT and is it for me?

If you are new to learning Japanese, you may have heard about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT for short. It is something that myself and other Japanese language bloggers often refer to as an indication of one’s Japanese language level.

In the UK, the applications for the next sitting in December, have just opened and the results were published for the July exam very recently With this in mind, I thought it would be a good time to write about the JLPT exams for those who know nothing about it.

What is the JLPT?

The JLPT was developed as a way of measuring non-native Japanese speakers’ proficiency in Japanese. There are 5 levels to the JLPT as follows:

N5 – Beginner proficiency

N4 – Upper beginner proficiency

N3 – Intermediate proficiency

N2 – Upper intermediate proficiency

N1 – Advanced proficiency

The exact composition of the exam depends on the level you are taking, but all cover reading (with different emphasis on kanji, grammar and reading comprehension) and listening skills. If you pass, you will receive a snazzy certificate for your efforts.

The exam can be taken either inside or outside Japan – check out the official website for information on test centres in your country.

How do I know which level to take?

If you’ve been studying for a while, you might not have an idea of what level you are currently working at. The official JLPT website has some sample questions which can give you an idea of which level you are working at – alternatively, you may want to check out the resources mentioned below.

Is it worth it?

The answer to this ultimately depends on your current situation and future goals. I would definitely recommend it if you are looking to work in Japan, especially if you would like to have a bilingual role. A lot of Japanese companies look for business level (=JLPT N2) or native level (=JLPT N1) proficiency, so having this on your CV may well help you get your foot in the door. I’ve summed up what I believe the main pros and cons below:

Pros

  • JLPT is a well-recognised qualification
  • A good way of measuring your own progress particularly if you are self-studying

Cons

  • Can be expensive (in the UK it costs £75 per sitting)
  • Can only take it 1-2 times a year depending on where you live
  • Does not test speaking proficiency
  • Especially at higher levels, grammar points can get obscure

There are more cons than pros in the above list, but the pro of having a widely recognised qualification is a great advantage for those wishing to pursue further studies or employment in Japan (this is not to say that not having a JLPT qualification will prevent you from getting a job!).

How do I study towards it?

There is a heavy emphasis on vocabulary and grammar, so a lot of study is needed to cover all of the materials at each level. For this reason, textbooks are a popular choice although there are some wonderful (and free!) online resources too:

Textbooks

For level N5, there are not many JLPT specific textbooks available. If you are working through a textbook such as Genki, then you should cover a lot of the grammar expected at this level – refer to the online resources below for lists of grammar points, vocabulary and kanji in the test.

For the upper levels, there are two series of books that are quite popular: Nihongo Sou Matome and Kanzen Master. I have not used Nihongo Sou Matome myself but it is very highly regarded.

kanzenmasterjlptn1

I have personally used the Kanzen Master series of books (pictured above – there are individual books for grammar, vocabulary, kanji and listening comprehension) which are a useful means of preparing you for the test.

Online Resources

There are a number of websites with vocab, kanji, grammar point lists and listening exercises – here are a couple of my favourites:

  • Tanos JLPT is a great place to start if you’ve just decided to take the plunge. The website has vocabulary, kanji and grammar lists which you can start to work your way through.
  • Japanesetest4you is a website filled to the brim with practice tests for all aspects of each level of the JLPT. As i’ve mentioned previously, it is really important to practice in exam conditions so that you have an idea of how to manage your time on the day!
  • MLC Japanese has lists of key vocabulary and kanji, worksheets with exam-style questions and study plan ideas for the JLPT.
  • Nihongo Pro has free vocabulary, kanji and grammar quizzes for all levels of the JLPT.
  • Flashcard apps like Anki and Memrise have a number of shared decks for each level of the JLPT

Classes

If you are lucky enough to be in Japan or a major city overseas, you may be able to find a JLPT prep class – for example in London, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) runs JLPT prep classes in the run up to the exam.

This is a general overview of the JLPT test – if you have any further questions about the JLPT please let me know in the comments.

Are electronic dictionaries worth it?

If you’ve been in a Japanese electronics store like Yamada Denki, you’ve probably come across rows of 電子辞書 (でんしじしょ), or electronic dictionaries often aimed at students and businessmen learning English and other languages.

As educational gadgets go, these little things can be pretty expensive, with top models costing hundreds of pounds. Obviously there is some benefit to having lots of dictionaries all wrapped up into one gadget, but in the age of smartphones is an electronic dictionary worth the investment for Japanese learners?

My Casio EX-Word XD-D4700 has served me well for a few years now

I can personally say that I have found my dictionary extremely useful and do prefer it over using apps. However I think the usefulness of an electronic dictionary does depend on how you study the language. I suggest considering the following questions before committing to any purchases:

 

How intensively do you study?

Whether I reach for my electronic dictionary or my or my phone depends on what I am looking up. I find the specialised functions of a dictionary the most useful when I am looking up more than one word (eg. Perhaps when I am starting to read a new book). The backlit screen and easy zoom buttons make reading definitions really simple, and if a word uses a kanji i have not come across before I am able to click on it and find out the stroke order much more easily. In addition, because I can choose from a number of different dictionaries it is easy to cross reference meanings and get more example sentences, whereas on my phone I would have to bring up each dictionary website individually. A crucial benefit of the model I have is that it has a touch screen where I can write kanji using the stylus and is much more accurate than the equivalent apps I have on other devices, especially if I am having to look up a lot of unfamiliar kanji. Even basic models will allow you to jump between different dictionaries easily, so if this is a function you think you would make use of then an electronic dictionary may be for you.

 

What are your language goals?

Your value for money for an electronic dictionary is going to depend on what level of proficiency you are aiming for in Japanese. It is worth noting here that the dictionaries you have on these gadgets will not have more casual or recent buzzwords; for this type of vocabulary the internet is definitely your best friend. If having a high level of literacy is part of your language goal – for example studying in a Japanese university, or pursuing a specialist profession in Japan – then an electronic dictionary is more likely to be a wise long term investment.

 

What level are you at currently?


Buying a Japanese dictionary in Japan of course means that you have a whole new gadget to get used to without a manual in English. A lot of features on the model I have are intuitive and fortunately with a bit of playing around it is quite easy to work out how to look things up. As a gadget aimed at Japanese natives, there are more dictionaries and resources solely in Japanese rather than Japanese-English/ other languages. Therefore if you are, for example, at a stage where you are looking at moving towards using a Japanese-Japanese dictionary, you will find much better value in purchasing an electronic dictionary.

Based on the above considerations, the types of people who I think would make the most out of electronic Japanese dictionaries would be those that are already at an intermediate level, who are perhaps in a situation where they are studying towards becoming proficient in Japanese for professional purposes.

This isn’t to say that you should not buy a Japanese dictionary if you do not fit the previous description, but given the expense I think you may want to consider borrowing a model from a Japanese friend if possible and see how useful you find it. I personally found my model on eBay, so looking online for a cheap electronic dictionary is another good option for keeping the costs down.

However if your budget cannot stretch to buying one just yet, do not worry as there are some great Japanese dictionary apps and websites out there which cost very little or are free. I will be writing a follow up post on my favourites so watch this space!

As an aside, if you prefer physical dictionaries and reference books, Tofugu recently had a highly informative guest post by Kim Ahlstrom about dictionaries that serious learners may find useful.

Have you got an electronic dictionary? Do you find it useful or prefer using an app or physical dictionary? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!