what's the difference between とか and や?

  • 1
    I'd say that the biggest difference is that you can use とか in a list of only one item, but や needs to be used in a list of two or more items.
    – HAL
    Jan 2 '15 at 6:33
  • 1
    Like almost all of these questions of the form "What is the difference..." this is asking for the impossible. There is never a single 'difference'. Jan 6 '15 at 8:12

Abridged from Routledge's "Japanese: a comprehensive grammar":

  • とか and や both list representative items, so are usually best translated with "and (among others)" or "or".
  • とか is a combination of と (quotation particle) and か (question particle). As such, it can quote: "生意気だとか態度が悪いとか言われ、傷ついた。" (Read: "「生意気だ」とか「態度が悪い」とか...")
  • とか can be used more than once in a sentence; や must be used no more than once. But や can be used together with punctuation to list more than two items: "歯形や指輪、持ち物など".
  • Both can be used with など, and often are: "A とか・や B など".
  • とか can also be used to mean など, in phrases of the form "A とか" or "A とか B とか": "日本の新聞とか読むの?". It can have particles attached when it does this: "アメ横(a place)とかで売っている".
  • 4
    Hmm, I'm not sure や can only be used once in a sentence. The first example in 大辞泉 is 「赤青が混ざり合っている」
    – user1478
    Jan 2 '15 at 1:17
  • But the book you're citing definitely says it can only be used once: "toka, a combination of the quotation P to and the Q P ka, can join nouns in the same way that ya does in the sense of 'and', 'or' (see 241), but unlike ya it can be used more than once in a sentence." (p.542) And "ya joins items in the sense of 'and (among others)' or 'or'. It is used (once) between items only." (p.593)
    – user1478
    Jan 2 '15 at 1:22

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