Context plays a powerful role in Japanese so one word sentences are perfectly fine for simple question and answers. However, longer and more sophisticated sentences will consist of many words that perform various grammatical roles. In Japanese, the grammatical role each word plays in a sentence is defined by particles. Particles are one or more Hiragana characters that assign a certain grammatical function to the word that comes before it. We’ll see how this works by first learning the topic particle.
「は」 Topic Particle
As mentioned previously, context is very important in Japanese and is often silently understood by the situation. However, what you want to talk about may not always be obvious or you may want to change the topic of the conversation. For that purpose, the 「は」 topic particle is used to indicate a new topic for the conversation.
The topic particle while written as 「は」, is pronounced 「わ」.
- これ – this
- 何 【なに／なん】 – what
- それ – that
- ペン – pen
- 今 【いま】 – now
- ちょっと – a little (casual)
- 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 – busy
- 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
- 好き 【す・き】 – likable (unlike English “like” is an adjective not a verb)
(As for) this, what is (it)?
(As for) that, (it’s) a pen.
(As for) now, busy?
(As for) now, (I’m) a little busy.
(As for) movie(s), (do you) like? (lit: is likable?)
(I) like (them). (lit: Is likable.)
The topic particle is also used in the greetings for daytime and evening. The expressions were originally full sentences with a topic meaning, “As for today/tonight, how is your mood?” but they were eventually shortened to just “As for today” and “As for tonight”.
- こんにちは – Good day (pronounced 「こんにちわ」)
- こんばんは – Good evening (pronounced 「こんばんわ」)
How are things lately?
- 最近 【さい・きん】 – recent; lately
- どう – how
- 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 – busy
Teacher: Good day.
Smith: Good day.
Teacher: (As for) lately, how (is it)?
「も」 Inclusive Topic Particle
The 「も」 particle used the same way as 「は」 topic particle but adds the meaning of “as well” or “also”.
- 今日 【きょう】 – today
- 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
- あさって – day after tomorrow
- うん – yes (casual)
- 本当 【ほんとう】 – truth; reality
Lee: As for today, (are you) busy?
Smith : Yeah, (I’m) busy.
Lee: What about tomorrow?
Smith: Tomorrow is also busy.
Lee: What about the day after tomorrow?
Smith: The day after tomorrow too.
Lee: Really? (lit: Is it true?)