Topic Particles

Context plays a powerful role in Japanese so one word sentences are perfectly fine for simple question and answers. However, longer and more sophisticated sentences will consist of many words that perform various grammatical roles. In Japanese, the grammatical role each word plays in a sentence is defined by particles. Particles are one or more Hiragana characters that assign a certain grammatical function to the word that comes before it. We’ll see how this works by first learning the topic particle.

「は」 Topic Particle

As mentioned previously, context is very important in Japanese and is often silently understood by the situation. However, what you want to talk about may not always be obvious or you may want to change the topic of the conversation. For that purpose, the 「は」 topic particle is used to indicate a new topic for the conversation.

Important note!

The topic particle while written as 「は」, is pronounced 「わ」.


  1. これ – this
  2. 何 【なに/なん】 – what
  3. それ – that
  4. ペン – pen
  5. 今 【いま】 – now
  6. ちょっと – a little (casual)
  7. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 – busy
  8. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  9. 好き 【す・き】 – likable (unlike English “like” is an adjective not a verb)

Toggle Translations

  1. これは、何(なん)ですか?
    (As for) this, what is (it)?
  2. それは、ペンです。
    (As for) that, (it’s) a pen.
  1. 今は、忙しい?
    (As for) now, busy?
  2. 今は、ちょっと忙しい。
    (As for) now, (I’m) a little busy.
  1. 映画は、好きですか?
    (As for) movie(s), (do you) like? (lit: is likable?)
  2. 好きです。
    (I) like (them). (lit: Is likable.)


The topic particle is also used in the greetings for daytime and evening. The expressions were originally full sentences with a topic meaning, “As for today/tonight, how is your mood?” but they were eventually shortened to just “As for today” and “As for tonight”.

  1. こんにちは – Good day (pronounced 「こんにち」)
  2. こんばんは – Good evening (pronounced 「こんばん」)

How are things lately?

  1. 最近 【さい・きん】 – recent; lately
  2. どう – how
  3. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 – busy

Toggle Translations

先生: こんにち
スミス: こんにち
先生: 最近、どうですか?
スミス: 忙しいです。

Teacher: Good day.
Smith: Good day.
Teacher: (As for) lately, how (is it)?
Smith: Busy.

「も」 Inclusive Topic Particle

The 「も」 particle used the same way as 「は」 topic particle but adds the meaning of “as well” or “also”.

Suspiciously busy

  1. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  2. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  3. あさって – day after tomorrow
  4. うん – yes (casual)
  5. 本当 【ほんとう】 – truth; reality

Toggle Translations

リー: 今日は忙しい?
スミス: うん、忙しい。
リー: 明日は?
スミス: 明日忙しい。
リー: あさっては?
スミス: あさって
リー: 本当?

Lee: As for today, (are you) busy?
Smith : Yeah, (I’m) busy.
Lee: What about tomorrow?
Smith: Tomorrow is also busy.
Lee: What about the day after tomorrow?
Smith: The day after tomorrow too.
Lee: Really? (lit: Is it true?)

Book Navigation<< State-of-BeingAddressing People >>