Particles: when to use which?

For me, particles are one of the most difficult parts of learning Japanese. I know that they are often interchangeable and even if I omit them or use the wrong particle, people still can understand the meaning. I am using a modified 10k sentences deck along other decks on Anki and when it comes to reproduce the Japanese sentence from the english translation, I’m always struggling with the particles.

I would like to use this thread to post some example sentences from Bunpro or my sentence deck hoping for an explanation why to use this particle and if the meaning would change if I use another particle. Let’s start with this one:

Would 日曜日に carry the exact meaning?

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Particles are still difficult for me, too, but I found the videos of Cure Dolly really helpful:

Youtube: Japanese made easy Playlist

The character needs a bit of getting used to and the titles are a bit lurid, but I like how she explains things.

I’m sorry that I can’t answer your original question, but maybe you’ll also find the videos helpful :blush:


I just saw this comment and my initial thought was as you described. The character needs time to get used to. However, I am currently on lesson 9. The way things are explained are very easy to follow and it already has improved my understanding of several particles (some were really inaccurate).
Thank you very much for sharing this, it is a huge help!

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Thanks for that, the voice is indeed hard to understand but the explanations are very good. I will keep on watching it.

The tricky part with particles is to understand the different nuances when using は/が、で/に、は/に and so on. And to know (not just guess) if a specific particle can be used in a certain case or if it is grammatically wrong .


@mrnoone can you tell the different nuances (if any) in the following sentences?

1a) 日曜日は図書館に行きます。
1b) 日曜日に図書館に行きます。

2a) これがこの町で一番高いビルです。
2b) これはこの町に一番高いビルです。

3a) 彼は海外での生活が長いです。
3b) 彼は海外の生活が長いです。

4a) こう小さい字は読めない。
4b) こう小さい字を読めない。

Thanks a lot for your help

I’ve watched about a dozen of those Cure Dolly vids over the last few days, they’re excellent!

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According to Cure Dolly there they all have fixed meanings, or at least the first 4 she teaches. Ha means ‘as for’ or ‘regarding’ and marks the topic. Ga is the subject marker. Ga is always there but is often left out. So Sakura ga walks, Sakura ga Nihonjin da. In Watashi Ha Nihonjin da, the ga clause is silent. I’d watch them again if I were you, I intend to.

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Part 1:

1a) 日曜日は図書館に行きます。
1b) 日曜日に図書館に行きます。

Are both natural. But mean slightly different things. Context is very important here.
Particle は is used to mark a topic of the sentence, or/and to contrast things. It is important to note that it is sometimes hard to say in which way は is used. What is the topic? It is simply something we are going to speak about. AはB. B has some kind of connection with A. Like the topic set on internet chats. It has to be said that the topic has to be the thing we assume other person knows something about, and of course we know about it too. So it cannot follow words asking for information. Because as stated before, both parties have to know the thing. If we ask “who?” it means we don’t have the information. So は never follows だれ、なに etc. This part will be also important when が and は will be compared.
On the other hand, に which(in this case, because it has a multitude of other uses) is simply used to point time expressions, “on Sunday”.
一月にポーランドに行きます。“in January”.
19:30に映画館の前で彼女と会います。“at 19:30”

The best way is to look at the problem from a wider perspective, the sentences will answer to different kind of questions.
Where are you going on Sunday?
(as for)On Sunday, I will go to the library.

Both parties know about which Sunday they are talking about. Maybe it was mentioned earlier? Well, that’s another story.

When are you going to the library?
I am going to the library on Sunday.
As you see, unlike は it can be used to provide new information. It simply states on/in/at the time without additional nuance. As you noticed, the topic of this conversation might be either B san, or some other person©.

Ohh, and another thing, は can be added to other particles, retaining its function. So there is には、では、とは。Though those have more functions, and it is another story.

2a) これがこの町で一番高いビルです。
2b) これはこの町で一番高いビルです。

Like before both sentences are natural, everything depends on context. Ohh, natural if used with で.
で is used for location of places where some action/event takes place or something is in some state.
に expresses where something exists or not. It is used with specific words like ある、いる、住む、勤める、立つ。Etc. So you can say これがこの町にある一番高いビルです.

There are some special uses though, if に and で are used together in one sentence, the で will be attached to place that is bigger.
In this city, at the university, there is a cafeteria.

And as I wrote, で can be used with ある/いる and others if there is some event taking place.
In Russia, Olympics took place.(Olympics - event).

  • As we have learned before, は cannot provide new information. It cannot follow だれ、何 etc when asking for new information. However, が can introduce it. It marks a grammatical subject.
    女の人が(providing new information)スーパーに行ってオレンジを3つ買った。そのあと女の人は(setting it a topic, the information was already provided something like A and THE in English)2つ食べた。いくつオレンジは残っている?
  • (If you have knowledge about grammatical cases, then you can think of it as an analog to a nominative case. The particles are called 格助詞(case marking particles in Japanese), and ガ marks nominative, の genitive, に dative, を accusative etc…, by the way, が was originally marker for genitive).
  • は cannot be used in the subordinate clause(including relative clauses, which are subordinate clauses EXCEPT being used as contrast marker), while が can(and の can be used instead of が in this case too IN CASE OF RELATIVE CLAUSES).
    [私が/の好きな]ゲームはこれ。Relative clause.[]
    [子供が迷子になったら]、警察に電話をかけなさい。Subordinate clause. []
  • There are some words that always appear with が(すき、きらい、ほしい、たい(though たい can appear with を too, mentioned ある and いる)etc)
  • は can be used when talking in general about something, が is more specific
  • Like mentioned before, は has a contrastive function, が doesn’t.
  • Like mentioned before は can join with other particles, making it とは、には、では etc. が cannot
  • There might be very slim connection of a sentence to a topic.

Lets again help ourselves by asking what questions those sentences would answer:
Which building is the tallest in this city?
This building is the tallest building.
As you see, we lack information about what kind of building is the tallest. The new information is provided with the particle が。

これはこの町 で一番高いビルです。
This building, what kind of building is it?
This is the tallest building in the city.

Both speaker’s know about which building they are talking about. This is the topic, and some related information is being asked for and provided.


Awesome! Thank you, I couldn’t hope for any better explanation. That’s really a lot of important information.

Funny that you mentioned “に expresses where something exists or not. It is used with specific words like ある、いる、住む、勤める、立つ”
Yesterday I came across the sentence:
…and I intended to ask why に is used here and not で, because I would definately use で with 働く, but you answered the question already by mentioning that 勤める is used with に :slight_smile:


で placed after a location noun is static. Equals English ‘at’.
に indicates movement. Equals English ‘to’. Interchangeable with へ when used for this purpose. Can also be used for ‘at’ when something has gone somewhere and has reached it’s destination and is now there, so again, movement implied. These particles never change their function according to Cure Dolly, and she seems to know her stuff.


Just learned another use of に, so she must have meant they never change in that context, this is completely different, which is if you add it to the end of a na adjective or noun, it becomes an adverb. しずか に あるく to walk quietly. Actually there are loads of different ways に is used.
Learned something new about は today on CureDolly lesson 14. If we say the rabbit jumped down the hole, and then say Alice did something else, using は as opposed to が emphasises that.

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This was really an invaluable hint, I didn’t know that before. Now I’m always checking the cases of the words in a sentence and it’s much easier now to determine the correct particle and to understand the grammar.

Nevertheless, sometimes I read sentences where I can’t use these rules, for example:

  1. 大勢の方々にご出席いただきました。

ご出席 is accusative but the を is missing. Is that a special grammar rule for いただく (which is JLPT1 and thus not yet available on Bunpro)? Can you explain the missing を here? (and maybe also sentences 3 + 4 of my initial post?)

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This was really an invaluable hint, I didn’t know that before. Now I’m always checking the cases of the words in a sentence and it’s much easier now to determine the correct particle and to understand the grammar.

Lative - へ (e), used for destination direction (like in “to some place”)
Ablative - から (kara), used for source direction (like in “from some place”)
Instrumental - で (de) (used for tools(instruments!) used to do someting including means of transport)

But remember, that Japanese and any other language in the world(maybe except Korean but no-one is really sure about that :+1: ) are not related linguistically so what can be accusative in your language, doesn’t mean it will be accusative in Japanese. However, it works well pretty often and it is a solid base. Though from time to time you will have to learn with which particles verb works together with :+1:
Also, there are many more functions of particles, like に can point surface on which something is done etc.

Coming back to question:

Do you remember てもらう、てくれる etc?

So the more polite versions of もらう and くれる are いただく(humble) and くださる(honorific) respectively.

So in other words, てくださる has a meaning of てくれる but is the honorific expression, in other words, it is also exalting the person you are talking about.

So in other words, ていただく has a meaning of てもらう but is the humble expression, in other words, it makes you sound modest(and you can also be your company, your group).

So now we come
to ご/お+ Noun that takes する/Verb stem +くださう。It means exactly the same thing as てくださる(and てくれる) BUT the degree of exalting is HIGHER than て下さる. In other words, it is more respectful.

ご is used for words of Chinese origin, お for words of Japanese origin.

And the same with ご/お + Noun that takes する/Verb stem+ いただく。It means exactly the same thing as ていだたく(and てもらう) but is more humble/modest.

So those two mean completely the same thing but vary in degree of humblessness.


Thank you for this awesome explanation. Now I understand it. Is there a grammar point for the humble/honorific ご/お + Noun/Suru Verb [stem] + いただく/くださる/くださう? This seems worth to be added as separate Bunpro grammar point.

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Yes, I have added it to the TODO list :+1:

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