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1) Marks the topic of the sentence. The topic can be the same as the subject, but isn’t necessarily. It is anything you want to talk about. It is similar to the English expressions, "As for ~" or "Speaking of ~." When は is used, the topic has often already been introduced or is understood. Once established, the topic can be dropped from the sentence.
私は学生です。Talking about me, I’m a student
日本語はおもしろいです。Talking about Japanese, it’s interesting
2) Allows contrast. The contrast isn’t always explicit, but is implied by the use of は. は can also be used with に, で, and と to show contrast.
ジュースは飲みますが、ミルクは飲みません。I drink juice, but not milk.
大阪には行きましたが、京都には行きませんでした。I went to Osaka, but not Kyoto.
ここではタバコをすわないでください。Please don’t smoke here (but you can smoke elsewhere)
が v. は
1) In a statement using は, the second part (the “comment”) is the most important. With が, the part marked by が is the most important, and is given emphasis. This is because がmarks its word as the subject of the sentence. It is specifically this and no other.
ケンは学校に行きました。Ken went to school.
ケンが学校に行きました。Ken is the one who went to school.
2) When a question word such as だれ and なに is the subject of a sentence, it is always followed by が, never by は. To answer the question, it also has to be followed by が.
だれがきますか。Who is coming?
エミがきます。Emi is coming.
が – Topic marker…and more
3) Specific words will only work with が instead of を. Usually these are words with strong emotions or ties:
すき/きらい, とくい/にがて, じょうず/へた, あります, わかります, できます, みえます, きこえます, ほしい and こわい are the most common ones.
車があります。I have a car
日本語がわかります。I understand Japanese.
4) Subordinate clauses. If the sentence has both a topic and a subject (or more than one subject), then が marks the subject in the subordinate clause.
私はアベンジャーズがかっこいいとおもいます。I (sub1) think that the Avengers (sub2) are cool.
アベンジャーズはかっこいいとおもいます。As for the Avengers, I think they’re cool.
を – The direct-object marker
1) Marks the direct object. What is the verb verbing? Marked by an を.
えいがを見ました。I saw a movie.
コーヒーを飲みました。I drank coffee.
くつをかいました。I bought shoes.
2) をhas a special relationship with します. If you do a job, it is your occupation. If you do a game, you are playing it. For words like かいものをします, りょうりをします or タイプをします the を is dropped when the whole phrase takes its own direct object.
ちちはべんごしをしています。My dad is a lawyer.
マリはバスケをします。Mary plays basketball.
スパゲティをりょうりします。I cooked spaghetti.
の – It’s all about relationship baby
1) Possession. Used just like an apostrophe “s” (’s). の shows the relation between two things, and in this case that relation is possession.
これは私の本です。This is my book.
私の姉は東京にすんでいます。My sister lives in Tokyo.
私のかばんの中に本があります。There is a book in my bag.
あれは私の（車です。That is mine (my car). (What follows の can sometimes be dropped if made obvious by the conversation.)
2) Indicates position or location. Here, though not direct possession, の is showing the physical relation between two things.
つくえの上 on /above the desk;いすの下 under/below the chair; 学校のとなり next to the school;車の前 in front of the car; 私のうしろ behind me.
3) Noun modification. This is still showing the relation between two things. The noun before の modifies the noun after.
日本語のクラスはたのしいです。Japanese class is fun. (Class of Japanese)
科学の本があります。I have a science book. (Book of science)
の – It’s all about relationship baby
There can be a long string of のs in a sentence, and the order is opposite of English. A の B = B (of) A.
イエール大学(だいがく)の日本語の先生の猫(ねこ)の名前はニャンちゃんです。The name of the cat of the teacher of Japanese at Yale University is Nyan-chan.
ヨーロッパの国の名前 The names of the countries of Europe.
4) Apposition: still showing the relation between two things, this time between two noun-descriptors that both reference the same thing.
こちらは友達のエミさんです。This is my friend, Emi.
弁護士の田中さんはいつもいそがしいです。The lawyer, Mr. Tanaka, is always busy.
あの八十さいのおばあさんは気がわかいですねえ。That 80-year-old lady is sure young in spirit.
5) Turns phrases into nouns. の added to a phrase turns it into a clause that can be used as a noun.
しろいのはかわいいです。(The white one) is cute. (の can also be replaced with もの)
しゅくだいをするのをわすれました。I forgot (the doing of my homework).(こと can also be used)
ティファニーの家でのパーティー The party at Tiffany’s house...
日本へのりょこう The trip to Japan...
サスケとのたたかい The fight with Sasuke...
と – Together forever
1)Connects two nouns/pronouns ONLY. Means “and.”
英語と日本語を話します。I speak English and Japanese.
ピザとサラダを食べました。I ate pizza and a salad.
2) Accompaniment, meaning “together” or “with.”
3)Quotation. Used before 言う, 思う, and 聞く (among others) to introduce a clause or phrase.
4) と has several more uses, including Conditional, quoting onomatopoeia, and showing change, but we will not get into those here.
に – Who to? Where are you?
1) Indirect object marker. Usually comes before a direct object (marked by を) Similar to “to.”
2)Some verbs take an indirect object in Japanese, even though they don’t in English. Examples include 会います and 聞きます among others.
学校で友達に会いました。I met a friend at school.
しつもんがあったら、先生に聞いてください。If you have a question, ask the teacher.
3) Location of Existence. にis used with います, あります, and すみます. It translates to “at” or “in.”
いすの上に猫がいます。There is a cat on top of the chair.
ちちはニューヨークにすんでいます。My father lives in New York.
本はかばんの中にあります。The book is in my bag.
に – Where to? When doin’?
4) Direction. に can be translated as “to” when indicating a destination.
あした、日本に行きます！ Tomorrow I will go to Japan!
きのう、学校に来ませんでした。 Yesterday, I did not come to school.
5) Direct Contact. に is used when a motion or action is directed at or onto a place or object.
ここに名前を書いてください。Write your name here please.
ケンはテーブルの上にすわりました。Ken sat on the table.
6) Specific time. に is used with various time expressions (year, month, day, and clock time) to indicate a specific point in time. It translates to “at” “in” or “on”. General time words, such as きょう, きのう, あした, and まえ etc. do not use any particle.
学校は七時三十分にはじまります。School starts at 7:30.
五月三日にうまれました。 I was born on May 3rd.
7) に has several other uses, including marking purpose, showing the source of an action in a passive sentence, and in phrases such as “per hour” or “per day”. Saving those for later now.
へ - Towards!
1) Destination. Like に, へ is used to mark a destination when moving toward a place. In fact, grammatically speaking, へ can almost always be replaced by a に, while the other way around is not true. However, へ often sounds more natural. へ can be thought of as “towards” rather than “to,” with the destination filling a larger and more vague area.
うちへかえります。I’m heading for home.
うちにかえります。I’m returning to my home.
2) Refer to の note number 5. に cannot be pared with no to make noun-clauses, but へ can. So in some cases, あｍwill take over for に when の is involved, even though it could not stand in the sentence by itself. Specifically, this happens for case 1 and 4 listed in に.
ともだちへの手紙A letter to a friend.
両親への深い信用Deep trust/belief in one’s parents
で – Where’s the action at?
1) Place of Action. It indicates the place where an action takes place. It translates into "in", "at", "on", and so on
そとであそびます。I played outside.
うみでおよぎました。 I swam in the ocean.
2) Means. It indicates means, method, or instruments. It translates to "by," "with", "in" "by means of", etc.
バスで学校(がっこう)に行(い)きます。I go to school by bus.
日本語ではなしてください。 Please speak in Japanese.
3) Totalizing. で is placed after a quantity, time, or amount of money, and indicates an extent.
三人でこれをつくりました。The three of us made this together.
ぜんぶで千円(せんえん)です。That’ll be 1000 yen all together.
で – How you do that?
4) Scope. Gives the following sentence a zone of influence. It translates into “in,” “among,” or “within,” etc.
これは世界(せかい)で一番(いちばん)大きいです。 This is the biggest in the world.
日本でどこに行(い)きたいですか。Where do you want to go in Japan?
本(ほん)で、エヴァディーン・カットニスはせが高(たか)くなかった。In the book, KatnissEverdeen was not tall.
映画(えいが)で、カークのおとうさんはなくなりました。In the movie, Kirk’s father died.
5) Time Limit. It indicates time consumed for a certain action or occurrence. It translates to “in” or “within.”
一時間(いちじかん)で行けます。I can get there in an hour.
一週間(いちしゅうかん)でできます。I can do it in a week.
6) Material. It indicates the composition of an object.
この茶(ちゃ)は麦(むぎ)で作(つく)りました。This tea is made from wheat.
これはやさいで作(つく)ったハンバーガーです。This is a hamburger made from vegetables.
7) Has still more uses, including showing required cost and marking cause, but we will leave those for now.