The object particle を lets us move from being able to say, “Robert ate” to “Robert ate an apple”. In fact, defining the object of the action for transitive verbs is actually only one of its uses. It can be used to define:

  1. The direct object of an action
  2. The point of departure
  3. The point of passing or the route of an action

I will give examples of all three usages, but the order above also reflects the frequency of use—most times you hear or see the object particle it will be used to define the direct object of an action.

1. The Direct Object of an Action

We’ve seen the below sentence structure when we looked at verb conjugations—the topic of the sentence coupled with a verb.

わたしは べます。
I will eat.

The particle を is used to define the object of the transitive verb—the “what are you eating?” in this case.

わたしは 野菜やさい べます。
I will eat vegetables.
先生せんせいは 数学すうがく おしえました。
The teacher taught mathematics.
山田やまださんは みず みました。
Yamada-san drank water.

さん is often translated as Mr. or Mrs. in English. While this is the closest direct translation, it is arguably a mistake. Orally addressing someone as Mr. or Mrs. in English is formal and this results in an understandable desire for learners of Japanese to drop the さん altogether in an attempt to be more friendly. In fact, さん does not imply such a sense of distance—you will hear it being used to address colleagues and even amongst friends. Don’t think of it as Mr. or Mrs.—think of it as さん.

学生がくせいは 面白おもしろほん みませんでした。
The student didn’t read the interesting book.

2. The Point of Departure

を can also be used to denote the point of departure.

電車でんしゃ ります。
To get off the train.
いえ ます。
To get off the train.

3. The Point of Passing or Route of an Action

This usage is introduced here for completeness but will be used much later.

信号しんごう まががります。
To turn at the traffic lights.
公園こうえん とおります。
To turn at the traffic lights.

The Position of Counters

Counters go after the relevant particle for the object that is being counted and before the verb. Many learners of the language trip up here because we instinctively want to put the counter directly next to the object it’s counting. For example, the sentence, “I will read two books”:

わたしは ほん 二冊にさつ みます。()
わたしは 二冊にさつ ほん みます。()
わたしは ほん 二冊にさつ みます。(Correct)

The Object Particle with する

The verb する (“to do”) was introduced earlier. Belonging to group 3, its irregular conjugation patterns might not have earned it much popularity, but here’s the reason that it’s about to become your favourite Japanese verb: it can be added to a huge number of nouns to create a verb. Essentially, it enables us to say things like “to do study”, “to do graduation”, and “to do cooking”. This means that once you know the noun you can easily form the verb.

勉強べんきょうを します
To study.
電話でんわを します。
To make a phone call.
料理りょうりを します。
To cook.

We can actually drop the object particle altogether.

勉強べんきょうします。
To study.

However, when we want to define what we are studying then we cannot use the first structure since we would have two direct objects for the same verb. For example, “to study mathematics”:

数学すうがく 勉強べんきょう します。()
数学すうがくを 勉強べんきょうします。(Correct)

If we want to use the object particle after the noun “study” then we need to use the possessive particle so that the verb “to do” can act on the noun “the study of mathematics”.

数学すうがく 勉強べんきょうを します。(Correct)
To study mathematics [to do the study of mathematics].

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