第15課: The Particle Wo を: The Direct Object/Transition Marker

As we saw in Lesson 11 with the particle ga が, case particles are what state grammatical function of a noun phrase in relation to the predicate. Interpreting case particles correctly, however, requires a considerable amount of knowledge as to what nouns and predicates are used with a given particle to then accurately understand them. In this lesson, we will learn about the case particle wo を and its various usages.

The case that the particle wo を marks is called the accusative case. The accusative case marks the direct object of a transitive verb. This definition present us with more terminology to understand.

Pronunciation Note: を is usually pronounced as “o” but is still pronounced as “wo” depending on the dialect and/or context. For instance, it is frequently pronounced as “wo” in clearly enunciated speech and music.

What is a Direct Object? 

First, a direct object is a noun phrase denoting a person or thing that is the recipient of the action of a transitive verb. Putting aside what a transitive verb is, below are examples of direct objects in English.

i. I kissed a boy.
ii. I ate a hamburger.
iii. I drank milk.
iv. She bought a television.
v. He sold his stereo.


 Intransitive & Transitive Verbs

The next question is what a transitive verb is, but in figuring this out, it’s best to understand both what transitive and intransitive verbs are.

Intransitive Verb: A verb that doesn’t need an object to complete its meaning.

Transitive Verb: A verb that requires one or more objects to complete its meaning.

Here are some examples of both intransitive and transitive verbs in English.

vi. I saw a monkey. (transitive)
vii. He stood still. (intransitive)
viii. He found a raccoon. (transitive)
ix. The alligator swam away. (intransitive)
x. She cooked the meal. (transitive)


Jidōshi 自動詞 vs Tadōshi 他動詞

In Japanese, intransitive verbs are called jidōshi 自動詞. Such verbs only require that a subject be used in concert with the predicate, and of course, the subject is marked by ga が. Transitive verbs are called tadōshi 他動詞. Such verbs require that both a subject and direct object be used in concert with the predicate. Although the subject is still marked by ga が, the direct object is marked by wo を. The fact that tadōshi 他動詞 need one more element (argument) to the sentence to be grammatical, the presence of a direct object or lack thereof, is frequently used to distinguish jidōshi 自動詞 and tadōshi 他動詞.

In fact, it is often the case that the subject of an intransitive predicate can become the direct object of a transitive predicate. This is also the case in English, which can be seen in the following examples.

1. 電気(でんき)がついた。(Intransitive)
Denki ga tsuita.
The lights turned on.

2. ジェイムズが電気(でんき)をつけた。(Transitive)
Jeimuzu ga denki wo tsuketa.
James turned on the light.

Sentence Note: The subject of Ex. 1 is the direct object of Ex. 2.

3. ビールが()えた。(Intransitive)
Biiru ga hieta.
The beer chilled.

4. 雄太(ゆうた)がビールを()やした。(Transitive)
Yūta ga biiru wo hiyashita.
Yuta chilled the beer.

Sentence Note: The subject of Ex. 3 is the direct object of Ex. 4.


Intransitive-Transitive Verb Pairs

In English, the verbs “to turn on” and “to chill” can be both used as either intransitive or transitive verbs without any change to their conjugations; however, the same cannot be said for Japanese. "To turn on" is tsuku つく and tsukeru つける for the intransitive and transitive sense respectively, and "to chill" is hieru 冷える and hiyasu 冷やす in the intransitive and transitive sense respectively. 

In Japanese, many verbs have intransitive-transitive verb pairs, which is another means of figuring out when and when not to use the particle wo を. Some of the most common examples of these so-called intransitive-transitive verb pairs in Japanese are listed below. Note that for some of them, they also create verb pairs in English.

 Definition Intransitive Transitive
 To break Kowareru 壊れる Kowasu 壊す
 To change Kawaru 変わる Kaeru 変える
 To start Hajimaru 始まる Hajimeru 始める
 To stop Tomaru 止まる Tomeru 止める
 To open Aku 開く Akeru 開ける


5. (くるま)()まった。
Kuruma ga tomatta.
The car stopped.

6. 警察官(けいさつかん)(ぼく)(くるま)()めた。
Keisatsukan ga boku no kuruma wo tometa.
A police officer stopped me (my car).

7. (まど)(ひら)いた。
Mado ga aita.
The window opened.

8. (ゆう)(まど)()けた。
Yū wa mado wo aketa.
Yu opened a/the window.


The Usages of The Particle Wo

So far, we have seen how the particle wo を primarily marks the direct object, but that isn’t all it can do. Wo を can be explained as having two broad purposes with various applications. Depending on the usage, you may see it with transitive verbs, intransitive verbs, or both.

 

  • 1. Direct Object Marker
  • 2. Transition Marker
    i. Through/Along
    ii. Toward/Around
    iii. Object of Departure: “From”
    iv. Flux in Degree
    v. Time

 

For the remainder of this lesson, we would closely at these usages. Note that at times, there will be some grammar points used that have not been fully introduced. In those instances, you are only expected to focus on learning how to use the particle wo を. 

Vocabulary List (Under Construction)

The Direct Object Marker Wo を 

The basic usage of wo を is to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. Not all transitive verbs in English are transitive verbs in Japanese, and so you can’t always expect wo を to be the correct particle to choose, but for verbs that are unequivocally transitive

9. (つくえ)()る。
Tsukue wo uru.
To sell a desk.

10. (ゆか)()く。
Yuka wo haku.
To sweep the floor.

11. 雑誌(ざっし)()む。
Zasshi wo yomu.
To read a magazine.

12. お(この)()きを()べる。
Okonomiyaki wo taberu.
To eat okonomiyaki.

Word Note: Okonomiyaki お好み焼き is known as the Japanese pancake. In its predominant form, the batter is made of komugiko 小麦粉 (flour), grated nagaimo 長芋 (Chinese yam), water/dashi 出汁 (soup stalk), eggs, and sengiri-kyabetsu 千切りキャベツ (shredded cabbage). Other ingredients such as aonegi 青ネギ (green onion), niku 肉 (meat), tako タコ (octopus), ika イカ (squid), ebi エビ (shrimp), yasai 野菜 (vegetables), kon’nyaku コンニャク (konjac), mochi 餅 (sticky rice cake), and chiizu チーズ (cheese) are typically added.

13. テレビを()る。
Terebi wo miru.
To watch TV.

14. オレンジジュースを()む。
Orenjijūsu wo nomu.
To drink orange juice.

15. 勝利(しょうり)目指(めざ)す。
Shōri wo mezasu.
To aim for victory.

16. 漢字(かんじ)勉強(べんきょう)する。
Kanji wo benkyō suru.
To study Kanji.

17. (いし)()げる。
Ishi wo nageru.
To throw (a) rock(s).

18. お()()かす。
Oyu wo wakasu.
To boil water.

Word Note: Oyu お湯 (hot water) must be used instead of mizu 水 (water) with the verb wakasu 沸かす (to boil).

The Transition Marker Wo

Transitive verbs in Japanese usually involve actions in which the agent’s volition is a fundamental aspect. In other words, the agent is in control of what happens (to a direct object). It is this quality that the particle wo を brings attention to. Because intransitive verbs can also represent actions in which the agent is fully in control of the situation, the particle wo を can be used with them so long as the agent is acting upon something. In the following usages, the concept of ‘something’ is broadened to indicate transition. As the transition marker, whether it is used with intransitive or transitive verbs, the particle woindicates transition in time, space, or degree.


Motion through all or part of a dimension: Transitioning through a dimension of time is one of the most important applications of the transition marker woを. To visualize how this works, think of a circle and arrow going through it. The action at hand happens anywhere throughout the space wo を marks. Transition-wise, it may equate to various English phrases such as “along,” “through,” and “across.”

Transitivity Note: The verbs this usage is used with are intransitive verbs that all involve motion.

19. 富士山(ふじさん)(のぼ)りました。
Fujisan wo noborimashita.
I climbed Mt. Fuji.

20. 公園(こうえん)(はし)りました。
Kōen wo hashirimashita.
I ran through the park.

21. 日本橋(にほんばし)(わた)りました。
Nihombashi wo watarimashita.
I crossed the Nihon Bridge.

22. ミシシッピ(がわ)(およ)ぎました。
Mishishippi-gawa wo oyogimashita.
I swam across the Mississippi River.

23. (そら)()びました。
Sora wo tobimashita.
I flew across the sky.

24. (かれ)(くだ)(ざか)(はし)った。
Kare wa kudarizaka wo hashitta.
He ran downhill.

25. アユは(かわ)(くだ)った。
Ayu wa kawa wo kudatta.
The sweetfish descended the river.

Ni iku に行く VS Wo iku を行く

As the examples above have demonstrated, the transition marker wo を is used to indicate what dimension movement is taking place. However, the particle wo を says nothing about destination or what may happen internally within a certain dimension. Those situations are handled by other particles. The verb iku 行く means “to go,” and is frequently described as taking the particle ni に, which indicates destination.

26. スーパーに()きました。
Sūpā ni ikimashita.
I went to the supermarket.

However, it too can be used with the particle wo を. In the case of iku 行く, the sentence becomes figurative as it goes beyond the typical application of “to go (somewhere).”

27. (ぼく)(ぼく)(みち)()く。
Boku wa boku no michi wo iku.
I walk along my path.

Reading Note: For this usage, 行く may alternatively be read as “yuku.”

28. ラクサウルを(とお)ってネパールとインドの国境(こっきょう)()えました。
Rakusauru wo tōtte Nep
āru to Indo no kokkyō wo koemashita.
Passing through Raxaul, I crossed the border between Nepal and India.

Grammar Note: The verb tōru 通る is used together with the conjunctive particle te て to make a dependent clause. This means tōtte 通って is used to mean “passing through.” We’ll learn more about this conjugation in Lesson 26. As for this sentence, it enables wo を to be used twice to mark transition.


Direction of an action: Another use of the transition marker wo を is to indicate the direction of an action that, although being an outward action, isn’t necessarily going through something. The action could be done towards or around some entity, with entity being broadened to include direction.

Transitivity Note: This usage may be used with both intransitive and transitive verbs.

29. (かど)()がった。
Kado wo magatta.
I turned the corner.

30. (まわ)りを(まわ)った。
Mawari wo mawatta.
I circled around.

The Noun Hō

The noun hō 方, frequently spelled simply as ほう, is used to help wo を create the meaning of “toward.” The insertion of hō ほう is imperative whenever the noun it precedes is not a literal direction-word (north, south, east, and west). However, it is still frequently inserted regardless.

 North

 Kita

 South

 Minami

 East

 Higashi

 West

 Nishi 西

 Up

 Ue

 Down

 Shita

 Left

 Hidari

 Right

 Migi

 Forward

 Mae

 Back(ward)

 Ushiro 後ろ


31. (した)(のほう)を()ました。
Shita (no hō) wo mimashita.
I looked down(ward).

32. 岐阜(ぎふ)のほうを(なが)めました。
Gifu no hō wo nagamemashita.
I gazed toward Gifu.

33. 翔平(しょうへい)先生(せんせい)のほうを()いた。
Shōhei wa sensei no hō wo muita.
Shohei faced the teacher.


Two Transition Marker Wo を in the Same Clause

The transition marker wo を, as we’re discovering, has more than one application. Although these individual applications are all interrelated to each other, they are different enough to the point that more than one can manifest in a sentence. Because sentences can be composed of several clauses (sections) as was seen in Ex. 28, this isn’t hard to fathom.

We have also seen how the same particle can easily be used more than once in a sentence even in the same clause, as is frequently the case with the particles ga が and wa は. In those discussions, the word sentence was used in place of clause, but clause is simply one stage below a sentence in terms of grammar. Clauses come in two kinds: independent and dependent. An independent clause is something that can stand alone as a proper sentence, whereas a dependent clause cannot stand alone as sentence. A clause, nonetheless, will always have the same hallmarks of a sentence in regards to composition.

In regards to wo を, it is possible to have two usages of the transition marker function manifest in a single clause. In Ex. 34, the first wo を marks the direction of the action of “to walk.” The subject walked “in” the rain. The second wo を marks the dimension of transit, which is “through” the park. There is a principle of Japanese grammar, however, that aims to avoid such doubling of case particles. Because of this, the first such wo を is usually left omitted despite grammatically still being there.

34. (あめ)(なか)(を)、公園(こうえん)(ある)いた。
Ame no naka (wo), kōen wo aruita.
I walked through the park in the rain. 


Origin of Departure: The transition marker wo を may also mark what the agent is departing from. In this sense, it is interchangeable with another case particle kara から. This is only true, however, for when the point of departure is a physical, concrete location.

Transitivity Note: This usage may be used with both intransitive and transitive verbs.

35. 電車(でんしゃ){を・から}()りました。
Densha [wo/kara] orimashita.
I got off the train.

Nuance Note: The use of wo を simply implies getting off a train. The use of kara から indicates that the speaker is purposely heading elsewhere upon getting off the train.

36. (いえ){を・から}()ました。
Ie [wo/kara] demashita.
I left the home/I went out of my home.

Nuance Note: The use of wo を indicates the former interpretation, which implies leaving the one to live by oneself, whereas the use of kara から indicates the latter interpretation, which simply implies going from the home for a bit.

37. 【(つま)主人(しゅじん)】は7(しち)()(うち)()ました。
[Tsuma/shujin] wa shichiji ni uchi wo demashita.
My wife/husband left home at seven o’ clock.

Sentence Note: The use of uchi instead of ie, both words being spelled as 家, helps make it clear that one is not uprooting oneself from one’s home. If the particle kara から were used instead of wo を, it would imply there’s a certain destination in mind with the home being the starting point. To simply express one leaving home, use uchi wo deru 家を出る.

Grammar Note: The particle ni に indicates “at” when used after time phrases.

38. (そと)()ました。
Soto ni demashita.
I went outside.

Grammar Note
: Like the issue with the verb iku 行くas to which particle should be used, if you are intending to use the verb deru 出る to indicate where one has exited “to,” then you must use the particle ni に instead of wo を as it is ni に that indicates place of destination.

39. 去年大学(きょねんだいがく){を 〇・から X}卒業(そつぎょう)しました。
Kyonen daigaku wo sotsugyō shimashita.
I graduated (from) college last year.

40. 会社(かいしゃ){を 〇・から X}()めました。
Kaisha wo yamemashita
I quit the company.

41. (ふね)(みなと){を・から}出発(しゅっぱつ)した。
Fune ga minato [wo/kara] shuppatsu shita.
The boat departed from the harbor.

Grammar Note: The use of wo を makes it sound that the harbor is just the origin of the act of departure. The use of kara から makes it sound that harbor is specifically the starting point of a venture. This distinction between the two particles is profound enough to have both particles show up in the same sentence for their own respective purposes.

42. シアトルタコマ国際空港(こくさいくうこう)からアメリカを出発(しゅっぱつ)した。
Shiatoru-Takoma Kokusai Kūkō kara Amerika wo shuppatsu shita.
I departed America from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.


Flux in Degree: There are a handful of verbs in Japanese that regard fluctuation in degree. These verbs indicate how a certain value goes beyond or below a certain standard.

Transitivity Note: This usage is used with intransitive verbs.

43. 今日(きょう)35(さんじゅうご)()()える猛暑日(もうしょび)でした。
Kyō wa sanjūgodo wo koeru mōshobi deshita.
Today was an extremely hot day exceeding 35 degrees Celsius.

44. その金額(きんがく)1(いち)(おく)ドルを上回(うわまわ)りました。
Sono kingaku ga ichioku-doru wo uwamarimashita.
The amount exceeded 100 million dollars.

45. 基準きじゅん下回したまわる。
Kijun wo shitamawaru.
To fall below a standard.


Transition of Time: The use of the transition marker of wo を to show transition in a temporal sense is not as productive as the grammatical situations above. As is the case with expressing transit through space, wo を can mark transiting through a certain time period.

Transitivity Note: This usage may be used with both intransitive and transitive verbs.

46. カナダで夏休(なつやす)みを()ごました。
Kanada de natsuyasumi wo sugoshimashita.
I spent my summer break in Canada.

Sentence Note: Sugosu 過ごす is a transitive verb. It is indicative of how this use of wo を, when used with transitive verbs, is used with nouns that are not literally time phrases but inherently imply a period of time.

Grammar Note: The particle de で is the particle used to indicate where an action is done “at.”

47. 竣工(しゅんこう)から10(じゅう)(ねん)()建物(たてもの)調査(ちょうさ)(おこな)います。
Shunkō kara jūnen wo heta tatemono no chōsa wo okonaimasu.
We perform investigations of buildings which have passed ten years since completion.

Sentence Note: Heru 経る is an intransitive verb. It is indicative of how this use of wo, when used with intransitive verbs, is used primarily with explicit time phrases.  

Grammar Note: The particle kara から, when used with nouns that relate to time, indicate a starting point in time. This shows how the concepts of “from” and “since” are the same in Japanese.

48. その殺人事件(さつじんじけん)容疑者(ようぎしゃ)10(じゅう)(ねん)もの(あいだ)(を)、(いき)(ひそ)めて、(かく)れていました。
Sono satsujin jiken no yōgisha wa jūnen mo no aida (wo), iki wo hisomete, kakurete imashita.
The suspect of that murder case had been hiding, breath bated, for ten years.

Grammar Note: In this example, the temporal wo を is optional. For one, it is not normally paired with the intransitive verb kakureru 隠れる (to hide) as the length of hiding is not a detail that must be explicitly stated. The reason why it would appear in a sentence like Ex. 48 is to emphasize the fact that the suspect was hiding for ten years. The sense of the hiding having been something that was ongoing is the heart of what the temporal wo をmeans.

Grammar Note: The phrase mo no aida もの間 equates to “for” in this sentence.

49. (わたし)たちは(きび)しい現実(げんじつ)(なか)()きている。
Watashitachi wa kibishii genjitsu no naka wo ikite iru.
We are living through a harsh reality.

Grammar Note: Although genjitsu no naka 現実の中 can be interpreted as being a spatial phrase; “living through” a situation implies that time is also passing. This shows just how intertwined spatial and temporal phrases often are in Japanese.

50. 一旦社会(いったんしゃかい)(はな)れた女性(じょせい)がブランクを()(ふたた)仕事(しごと)()くことはなかなか困難(こんなん)だ。
Ittan shakai wo hanareta josei ga buranku wo hete futatabi shigoto ni tsuku koto wa nakanaka kon’nan da.
A woman who has separated herself from the public taking a job again upon going through a gap is a fairly difficult thing.

Grammar Notes:
1. The word koto こと is used to nominalize the entire phrase before it. Koto こと literally means “situation.”
2. The wo を before hanareta 離れた is the wo を of origin of departure.
3. Hete 経て is the verb heru 経る with the conjunctive particle te て. The phrase buranku wo hete ブランクを経て means “going through a gap…” This wo を is the temporal wo を.
4. The use of the particle ni に before the verb tsuku 就く indicates that one becomes seated into an occupation.