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Let's take the following sentence as an example:

八時に家を出ます。
I leave home at eight o'clock.

に and を are usually called particles. But に for example looks like "at" (preposition) that follows 八時, not precedes. Which makes me think that at least some Japanese particles may be called postpositions. I'm not exactly a linguist to know the difference/relationship between particles and postpositions. But can at least some Japanese particles be called postpositions? Or maybe all Japanese particles are postpositions because they all follow words (as far as I can tell)?

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    Googling around on the subject, it sounds like there may not be a single, definitive answer. Someone here may be able to speak on it, but since this seems to be more about the distinction between "particle" and "postposition," you may have better luck asking on a site with a more general linguistics focus.
    – Leebo
    Apr 23, 2023 at 8:45

1 Answer 1

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Linguistic terminology for Japanese is simply not fixed. So you can find (proper printed) books (PPB) saying Japanese has zero, one, or two sorts of adjective, for example. (Wikipedia says three, but it isn't a PPB.)

"Postposition" is a pretty standard term for any sort of "functor" word coming after (or, equivalently, forming the end of) a noun phrase. So particularly when this "functor" word closely resembles a preposition (in English for example) except for its position, then it is very hard to see how you could object to calling it a "postposition". In particular, ~から and ~へ ("to" and "from"). Equally, the particles sometimes called "case particles" (が for nominative, を for accusative, に for dative) can also be called postpositions. FWIW, Wikipedia simply says "postpositions, also called particles".

So the answer could be that there is no clear meaning to the question. But it could also be (if you are really asking "how does Japanese grammar work") to say that, yes, all functor words in Japanese come after the phrase they modify, because Japanese is relentlessly left-branching. If a verb has two arguments (e.g. the verb to read in "He read [1]his daughter [2]a book") then each argument will be followed by a particle, which forms a "hook" showing how the argument. So [1] is 'musume-ni', where 'ni' indicates "dative", and [2] is 'hon-wo', where 'wo' indicates "accusative".

My terminology is likely not to be the same as anyone else's, and romanisation is intended to clarify rather than to follow a particular standard (e.g. I distinguish the accusative を as 'wo', but it is usually transcribed 'o').

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  • About the question... I learned a knew word (postpositions) and thought that maybe at least some Japanese particles can be called or are postpositions. But actually I'm not sure I know the difference. It seems like both of them are functors. It's just that postpositions follow noun phrases. Which suggests that postpositions are particles. I.e. some particles are postpositions. Then it seems like an answer to my question is, "some Japanese particles are or can be called postpositions." But you seem to imply that you can't just decide if a functor is a particle based on a definition...
    – yk7
    Apr 26, 2023 at 2:31
  • ...It should be sort of generally agreed maybe. Which makes it, "some Japanese particles can be called postpositions." If you can say a couple words about the relationship between the terms (are particles postpositions? are postpositions particles? examples of particles that are not postpositions, examples of postpositions that are not particles), that would be awesome, I think. Also I'm not sure I understand the "no clear meaning part." It seems like your answer basically is: "Some particles can be called, but not are postpositions."
    – yk7
    Apr 26, 2023 at 2:32
  • I just ran into an article on Tofugu where they say that "postpositions" is the other name for "particles." This not to say that this the answer. But I guess they're native speakers, and it seems like a relevant link.
    – yk7
    May 7, 2023 at 0:35

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