I'm about halfway through Genki II, and the particles are starting to mess with me like never before. In particular を, が and に.

I know the general principles like が and に making a subject or indirect object, を making a direct object, に being used for "direction" etc. But this somehow doesn't seem to help me a lot of the time. I mean I often make the right guess, but that's just what it is, a guess. And I suppose that's what's bothering me.

For one, with some verbs it's simply unclear to me what to use. 飲む is obvious, but 卒業する? I'm not going to fetch my book, but I'm guessing に since I believe it means "to graduate from". Is this the best way to think of it? It's all a bit of a pain when words like 働く/務める comes into play, but I guess no one said it should be easy..

Secondly, it gets very confusing when different constructs change the particles. In particular は/が. I never thought you'd use は in a quote, but apparently that's entirely OK. And then there's the act of doing something for someone else, or getting something done for yourself, which does mess with these particles.

Long story short, is there an easy way to learn when to use what particles? Right now, it only seems to get more confusing the deeper into the language I get.

  • 1
    does not mean "from". It is the opposite. It means "to". Therefore, the reason why you cannot say に卒業する should be clear.
    – user458
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 9:54
  • Right, my bad. The 働く/務める was a bit more on the point I suppose, one meaning "to work" (no particular particle I guess) and the other "to work for" (に). I hope you understand my confusion at least.
    – gibbon
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 10:03
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    Well why don't you tell me why 務める asks for the particle に then? After all, that's what I asked about. How to determine what particles to use. I never even implied that I consider "to" and "for" to be the same. I clearly stated that the particle に is used for "direction", meaning physical or more abstract ideas such as time or to work FOR someone. You're entirely free to purposely missinterpret me, but please leave this thread alone if you got no intention of helping out. If you think I sound annoyed, then you're right. That second remark you made was completely unnecessary.
    – gibbon
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 10:31
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    “[I]s there an easy way learn when to use what particles?” I am afraid not. From the opposite direction, many students in Japan write “marry with her” when it should be “marry her” because the corresponding Japanese is 彼女と結婚する. After all, there is no one-to-one correspondence between the languages. Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 13:10
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    The English usage of prepositions is incredibly inconsistent. We travel in cars, but on bicycles, trains and airplanes. Events occur at a given time, on a given day, in a given month. There is no one-to-one correspondence between English and, say, French, either. Far from it, actually. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 3:19

1 Answer 1


I'm sorry to say that the short answer is that, no, there is no easy way to learn particles. They are probably the trickiest part of learning Japanese...there is only so far you can learn them using brute force memorization, then you just have to get a feel for them. Like Tsuyoshi says, the small, grammatically heavy words in languages (in English we have prepositions) are the toughest to learn. (I'm saying this from personal and second-hand experience, I'm not looking to start a debate on the hardest part of a language to learn.)

With that being said, there are resources out there. The Kodansha reference book, A Dictionary of Japanese Particles, is a great book to help you get a grip on particles.

This is also a situation where Google can be your friend. Of course, this doesn't work during a conversation, but if you have a relatively general phrase, plug it into Google and see what kind of hits you get. It's not an exact science, but it can help.

My last piece of advice is "don't panic". Particles are hard. They have been really tricky for me too, they still are really tricky, and to be honest they're still going to be really tricky for me for a while. If you keep at them, they will come more naturally and you'll get the feel for them better. Study diligently but don't beat yourself up, you'll get there.

  • 1
    “Like Tsuyoshi says, the small, grammatically heavy words in languages (in English we have prepositions) are the toughest to learn.” I did not say it that way, but I agree. For example, I have problems with prepositions and articles in English, and this is very common among Japanese learners of English. (Not that I do not have problems with nouns; I somehow always confuse “oven” with “stove” when talking about kitchen appliances.) Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 17:44
  • @TsuyoshiIto: Oh, you're right, I did sort of paraphrase, I'm sorry. Also, don't feel bad, I'm a native English speaker and I get words like brush/comb, carpet/rug, and ceiling/roof mixed up all the time... Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 18:02
  • mustard/custard? Thanks for the reassurance!
    – gibbon
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 18:29
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    To add to a good answer: Some particles are adverbial modifiers, and you can understand their usage as a point of grammar (e.g. "ペンで"="using a pen"). Some, however, are case markers, and the best way to learn which particles go along with which verbs is to learn them together with the verbs. Don't learn that "get off"="降りる", "get on"="乗る"; instead, learn that "get off from __"="__を降りる", "get on __"="__に乗る".
    – Amadan
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 15:52

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