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:
- The direct object of an action
- The point of departure
- 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.
|I will eat.|
The particle を is used to define the object of the transitive verb—the “what are you eating?” in this case.
|I will eat vegetables.|
|The teacher taught mathematics.|
|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.
|The student didn’t read the interesting book.|
2. The Point of Departure
を can also be used to denote the point of departure.
|To get off the train.|
|To leave the house.|
3. The Point of Passing or Route of an Action
This usage is introduced here for completeness but will be used much later.
|To turn at the traffic lights.|
|To go through the park.|
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”:
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.
|To make a phone call.|
We can actually drop the object particle altogether.
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”:
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”.
|To study mathematics [to do the study of mathematics].|