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第13課: The Particle Wo を I

The particle wo を is very important to most sentences in Japanese due to its role of marking the direct object of a sentence. As you might remember when learning about Kana, the character used to write o should be pronounced as "wo." Although some speakers still pronounce it this way, especially in singing, it is typically pronounced as "o." Despite its regular pronunciation, for naming purposes, it will be referred to and romanized as "wo" so as not to confuse it with other things. 

Because we have yet to look at verbs, but because verbs are essential to sentences that have direct objects, most examples in this lesson will only involve the basic form of a verb. Any deviation will utilize endings that are listed and defined in the vocabulary list.  

Vocabulary List


・机 Tsukue – Desk

・床 Yuka – Floor

・黒板 Kokuban – Blackboard

・勝利 Shōri – Victory

・テレビ Terebi – TV

・雑誌 Zasshi – Magazine

・コカコーラ Kokakōra – Coca Cola

・漢字 Kanji – Kanji (Noun)

・お好み焼き Okonomiyaki – The Japanese pancake

・岩 Iwa – Large rock

・石 Ishi – Stone

・お湯 Oyu – Hot water

・水 Mizu – Water

・お金 Okane – Money

・時間 Jikan – Time

・英語 Eigo – English

・物理  Butsuri – Physics

・犯人 Han’nin – Criminal

・友達 Tomodachi – Friend(s)

・気持ち Kimochi – Feeling(s)



・売る Uru – To sell

・掃く Haku – To sweep

・消す Kesu – To erase/delete

・目指す Mezasu – To aim for

・見る Miru – To see

・読む Yomu – To read

・飲む Nomu – To drink

・勉強する Benkyō suru – To study

・食べる Taberu – To eat

・投げる Nageru – To throw

・沸かす Wakasu – To boil

・見つける Mitsukeru – To find

・見つかる Mitsukaru – To happen to find

・要る Iru – To need

・知る Shiru – To recognize/know

・分かる Wakaru – To become clear/be known/understand

Verb Endings (Auxiliary Verbs)

・~た  ta – Past Tense

・~ない nai – Negation

・~ます masu – Politeness marker

・~ません masen – Polite negation

・~ました mashita – Polite past tense 

The Case Particle Wo

Wo を marks a direct object with transitive verbs. A direct object is what is being acted upon. In the phrase "I threw a rock," rock is the direct object. A transitive verb is a (willful) act that takes a direct object. Wo を may mark a direct object once per clause (part of a sentence).

There can be more than one wo を in a sentence, but there should only be one wo を per clause. Clauses can either be independent or dependent. Meaning, they can either potentially stand alone as a sentence or they can't. The same logic applies with English. You can have more than one direct object in a sentence spread about in different clauses.

1. I threw a ball at Johnny, but the ball hit him so hard that the glasses I had given him to wear shattered. 

Granted, the Japanese verbs that would be used to translate this sentence would all behave the same way as their English counterparts. Therefore, not all of these "direct objects" would be paired with wo を, but more than one of them would. As such, if you're told that only one wo を is allowed per sentence, the statement is absolutely false. 

Now, let's look at some simple sentences using wo を! 

    Tsukue wo uru.
    To sell a desk.

3. ゆかく。
     Yuka wo haku.
   To sweep the floor.

4. 黒板こくばんす。
    Kokuban wo kesu.
  To erase a blackboard.

5. 勝利しょうり目指めざす。
    Shōri wo mezasu.
    To aim for victory.

6. テレビをる。
    Terebi wo miru.
  To watch TV.

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

8. コカコーラを()む。
    Kokakōra wo nomu.
    To drink Coca Cola.

9. 漢字を勉強べんきょうする。
    Kanji wo benkyō suru. 
    To study Kanji. 

10. お(この)()きを()べる。
      Okonomiyaki wo taberu.
      To eat okonomiyaki (the Japanese pancake).

Culture Note: An okonomiyaki is a Japanese-style pancake containing meat and vegetables. 

11. いわげる。△
      Iwa wo nageru.
    To throw a rock.

Word Note is a rock that is large and difficult to carry. Use いし instead, which is small and easily thrown at someone.

12a. おかす。〇
       Oyu wo wakasu.
12b. 水を沸かす。X
       Mizu wo wakasu.
     To boil water.

Word Note: The word for hot water, oyu, should be used instead of mizu  because boiling water is hot.

Particle Notes: Something can't simultaneously be a subject and object. Interestingly, this is not the case for a topic and an object, but the combination is no longer in common use. Wa は + wo を makes wo ba をば, which is old-fashioned and replaced with  just wa は. Wo を is often dropped in casual speech, but it is seldom dropped in writing and less likely to be dropped in speech outside casual settings.

 WoGa: を → が

Some verbs that are transitive in English aren't so in Japanese. These verbs take different approaches to the same or similar semantic domains of their English counterparts.

13. おかね{が X・を 〇}つけた。
   Okane [ga X/wo 
] mitsuketa.
     I found money. 

14. お金{が 〇・を X}見つかった。
   Okane [ga 
/wo X] mitsukatta.
      I happened to find money.

15. 時間じかん{が 〇・を X}る。 
  Jikan [ga 
/wo X] iru.
  Time is needed/(I/we) need time.

To Understand: The Verb Wakaru かる

In English, the verbs "to know"  and "to understand" are transitive and always takes a direct object.

16. I know English
17. I understand quantum mechanics.
18. I don't understand politics.
19. I've never known how to fly a kite.
20. I can't understand him.  

Japanese has two verbs that more or less equate to "to know/understand" that differ considerably in nuance and grammar. These verbs are shiru る and wakaru かる. In a nutshell, the difference largely rests on "knowledge based on being aware of something" and "comprehension from ability/grasp of the situation" respectively. Putting aside the nitty-gritty details in nuance that make differentiating these two verbs particularly difficult (which we'll study later in IMABI), it is the latter verb that doesn't typically use the particle wo を, despite being used with what looks like direct objects to English speakers.  

21. わたし英語えいごかります。
      Watashi wa eigo ga wakarimasu.
I understand English.

22. わたし物理ぶつりかりません。
      Watashi wa butsuri ga wakarimasen.
I don't understand physics.

23. 犯人はんにんかりました。
     Han’nin ga wakarimashita.
   I've figured out who the criminal is./The criminal has been figured out.

As you can see, what would be treated as direct objects (seen in bold) in English are being marked with the particle ga が, but why? Instead of viewing wakaru かる with the same lens as "to know" or "to understand," consider the peculiarity of Ex. 23. This example makes it more evident that this verb could be more accurately defined as "to become clear/to be known." When used in a present tense, one could translate Ex. 21 as "I have latent knowledge in English from having been exposed to it, and so when I hear it, I am in a state of understanding it."  

Incidentally, when wakaru かる is used to emphasize understanding of emotion, the particlewo を is sometimes used by many (younger) speakers. This practice has been around for quite some time, so it is not the case that it came from translations of English, but this discrepancy does make the grammar more similar to English. Of course, using ga が isn't incorrect here. 

24. わたし友達ともだち気持きもち{を・が}からない。
       Watashi wa tomodachi no kimochi [wo/ga] wakaranai.
       I don't understand my friend's/friends' emotions.

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