What Is A Particle, Anyways?

“The ancestor of every action is a thought.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

That, my friend, is a good question. I’ll give you a hint – we aren’t learning about particle physics.

First, I’m going to give you Wikipedia’s definition (because, as everyone knows, Wikipedia is the world’s resource of all accurate knowledge).

“In grammar, a particle is a function word that is not assignable to any of the traditional grammatical word classes (such as pronouns, articles or conjunctions). The term is a catch-all term for a heterogeneous set of elements and lacks a precise universal definition. It is mostly used for words that help to encode grammatical categories (such as negation, mood or case) and are uninflected. In English, the infinitive marker to and the negator not are examples of words that are usually regarded as particles.”

To be honest, that makes almost zero sense to me. Unless you’re an English major or a grammar Nazi, it probably doesn’t make too much sense to you either. Here’s my very very simple definition. It doesn’t cover EVERY single situation in which a particle is used, nor is it probably “technically correct,” but it’ll get you there 99% of the time and actually make sense to you, which means you can use it:

“Particles hold sentences together. Words like ‘and, is, or, am, are, etc’ are all considered particles. They are the glue that holds words together to make sentences, and can’t really be defined because they don’t really mean anything.”

How do you define the word “is”? How do you define the word “are”? You really don’t, and those words are considered particles. Did that make more sense to you? The first particle we’ll be learning is, of course, は (you still remember how to pronounce it, right? WA!). Let’s take a look at it.

You’ve accomplished…learning what a particle is (at least basically). We’ll start using particles here now, though, so even if you didn’t understand that broad, generalized definition above, you should be good by the end of this chapter!

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