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Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Japanese particle "to"

Today let's look at the Japanese word "to."

"to" (pronounced like the "to" in "tock") is a particle that "reports" on how something does something, or what someone says. In English we often use the words "go" or "say," as in "Dogs go woof, cats go miaow," or "'He said 'Yes!'." In Japanese, Inu ga wanwan to hoeru, neko ga nyao to naku (literally "Dogs bark 'woof,' cats cry 'miaow',") or Kare, hai to iutta.

You can see from these examples that "to" comes after the expression that is being reported. Then, following the "to" comes the verb - in the above cases "bark" (hoeru), "cry" (naku), and "said" (iutta). In other words the "[REPORTED THING] + to" is an adverbial phrase that modifies the following verb, i.e. describes exactly how the thing done is being done.

Incidentally, the reported thing doesn't have to be a sound or words. Remember Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence? Well, Japanese actually has a
sound for silence: shin (usually elongated to shi-i-i-n), as in Kurasu ga shin to natta. "natta" means "became," although the natural word we would use in English would be "went": "The class went silent," or, better still, "The class fell silent." "Ojiisan wa yukkuri to aruku." "Grandad walks slowly."
"Taro wa gaburi to shokuji o tabeta" "Taro guzzled his food/Taro ate greedily."

This leads to the often heard question: Nan to iu ka? (polite form "Nan to iimasu ka?") "iu" (polite form: iimasu) means "to say," "nan" means "what," so, "What is [it] called?/What is [its/his/her/their] name?" - a very useful question when you're trying to learn a language, or at least pick up vocabulary.


  1. o yes i rememebr this in my japanese class very well, thanks for the refresher!

  2. o yes i rememer this lesson in my japanese class lol thanks for the refresher!


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