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I've recently discovered that certain particles could be omitted from a Japanese sentence (to help make it shorter), and still preserve the original meaning. Unfortunately, most resources about this topic that I've looked at are vague at best; and some even contradict each other!

This question is really a few sub questions (but I really don't think each one deserves its own thread since they're so closely related.) The answers don't have to be too detailed; just general points are fine. Anyways, the things I'd like to know are:

  • Which particles can be omitted from sentences?
  • Does the omission of particles make a sentence informal/impolite?
  • When can particles be dropped? (e.g. How can you decide that it's okay both socially and grammatically)
  • Can multiple particles be dropped in a single sentence?

I hope someone can shed some light on this subject. Thanks! :)

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1 Answer

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Which particles can be omitted from sentences?

は, が, and を are often dropped; に sometimes. か, as a sentence-final question particle, can be replaced with intonation.

Does the omission of particles make a sentence informal/impolite?

Informal yes, but not necessarily impolite. Dropping particles is only for spoken Japanese, so you won't see it in (proper) writing.

When can particles be dropped? (e.g. How can you decide that it's okay)

When the situation allows. Speaking informally to someone above you or with whom you don't have a close relationship is impolite. But if the situation lets you speak informally, you can.

In situations where polite Japanese is called for (speaking to your boss/teacher/doctor/etc or giving a formal speech/presentation), all particles must be kept in the sentence. Omitting particles does not change the meaning of the sentence or make it incorrect per se, since the missing particles can be inferred from context and word order, but it does make the sentence informal and thus unsuitable for polite contexts.

As noted above, in writing (excluding Twitter, blogs, and other informal variants of writing) all particles must be kept.

If you are unsure as to whether to keep or omit particles, a good rule of thumb is to err on the side of keeping the particles.

Can multiple particles be dropped in a single sentence?

Yes.

Examples:

これあげるよ。(=これあげるよ。) You can have this. (lit. "I'll give this [to you].")

おまえ昨日、学校行った?(=おまえ昨日、学校行った。) Did you go to school yesterday? (slightly masculine)

あたしスイカ好き。(=あたしスイカ好き。) I like watermelon. (feminine)

が and を, as you recall, are dropped when the part of the sentence they mark is made into the scope/topic (marked by は):

図書館でこの本を借りました。 I borrowed this book at the library.

この本をは図書館で借りました。 (making この本を the scope)

この本は図書館で借りました。 (replaced ungrammatical をは with は)

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@athlon32: Edited to address your questions. Let me know if I can clarify anything further. –  Derek Schaab Sep 15 '11 at 21:17
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There is one more case: omitting "の" to make formal word compounds in written Japanese. This contradicts your "must". –  Axioplase Sep 16 '11 at 0:16
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Great answer! A perhaps pedantic comment: The idea that everything has a particle in theory, which is either "dropped" or not, is actually relatively modern. In earlier forms of Japanese, there were many cases where "no particle" was most correct, particularly marking subjects and direct objects: 花咲く都, 兎追いし彼の山, etc. Thus: (1) The modern "use ALL the particles" written style is not the Ideal form from which particles are dropped, but an artificially hypercorrected form; (2) Writing quoting or emulating older forms of Japanese may, grammatically, omit particles that would otherwise be expected. –  Matt Sep 16 '11 at 5:33
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Matt: here's an example from a résumé: 交換留学で並行分散言語について*修論作成*及び研究. I am pretty sure there is a dropped の between 修論 and 作成. –  Axioplase Sep 16 '11 at 6:25
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@Axioplase Hm, interesting. I see that as a straightforward compound word with no need for の, but I admit that's an intuitive judgment rather than a rigorous theoretical one. –  Matt Sep 16 '11 at 7:04
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