Wednesday, May 15, 2019

に Particle

WIP : this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, the ni に particle has way, way too many functions, I mean, seriously, look at this:


The most fundamental function of the ni に particle is to mark a location. It does so in two ways: marking a destination and marking a position.

This can translate to English as "at," "in," "on," "to," "toward," "into," "onto," and so on, but the translation gets more complicated when it's accompanied by certain nouns.

Generally, languages originate in primitive, tangible words about the real, physical world, and evolves into higher-level, abstract words about the mental world and syntax.

Since the location function is the most tangible function of this particle, it's likely most of its other functions are derived from it.

This might sound like it's too high-level linguistics for someone just learning Japanese to care about, but keeping that in mind can help you understand why and how the other functions work the way they do.


The ni に particle can mark a destination for a verb. That is, when you have a verb of movement, the place where you're going can be marked by ni に.
  • gakkou ni iku
    To go in destination to school.
    To go to school.
  • uchi ni kuru
    To come in destination to [my] home.
    To come to [my] home.
  • naka ni hairu
    To enter in destination to inside.
    To enter inside. To enter a place.
  • soto ni deru
    To leave in destination to outside.
    To go outside.
  • mokuteki-chi ni tsuku
    To arrive at the destination.

Note that even verbs that have a meaning of moving something toward you, like kuru, "to come," have ni に marking the destination. To mark the origin, you use the kara から particle instead.
  • uchuu kara Chikyuu ni kuru
    To come from space to the Earth.
  • naka kara soto ni deru
    To come out from inside to outside.

This function can also be used more abstractly, like with time travel:
  • kako ni taimu-toraberu suru
    To time-travel in destination to the past.
    To time-travel to the past.

When you don't have an exact destination but only a general direction, the e へ particle is sometimes used instead.
  • higashi e ikou
    Let's go toward the east.

See e へ vs ni for details.


The ni に particle can mark the location where something is placed.

Basically, instead of "someone goes somewhere," it says "someone places something somewhere." In both cases, "somewhere" is our destination.
  • banana wo teeburu ni oku
    To place a banana on the table.
  • miruku wo koppu ni sosogu
    To pour milk into the glass.
  • kanji ni furigana wo tsukeru
    To adhere reading-aids to Chinese-characters.
    To add furigana to kanji.

Often you'll see sentences about things specified by where they were placed on. Such sentences will feature {relative clauses} containing this destination function. Some examples:
  • kanojo wa jouhou wo hon ni kaita
    She wrote information in the book.
  • {kanojo ga hon ni kaita} jouhou
    The information [that] {she wrote in the book}.
  • {hon ni kakareta} jouhou
    The information [that] {was written in the book}.

The destination function is also often used when talking about wearing clothes, since putting a piece of clothing somewhere means you have a destination for that thing.
  • atama ni boushi wo kaburu
    To put a hat on [your] head.
    • kaburu 被る
      To wear something on your head. To cover your head with something.
  • yubi ni yubiwa wo hameru
    To put a ring in [your] finger.
    • hameru はめる
      To shove into.
  • kami ni ribon wo tsukeru
    To adhere a ribbon to [your] hair.
    To wear a ribbon on [your] hair.

The ni に particle is used even when the verb inflicts change at the destination.
  • mimi ni piasu wo akeru
    To open a piercing in [your] ear. (to open the hole, and put a piercing.)

ある日 突然 世界に穴があいた
Manga: Sen'yuu. 戦勇。 (Chapter 1)
  • aru hi, totsuzen,
    sekai ni ana ga aita

    ある日 突然
    On a certain day, suddenly, a hole opened in the world.

In some cases the act of placing stuff on stuff translates weirdly.
  • rousoku ni hi wo tsukeru
    To adhere fire to the candle.
    To lit a candle.

Again, the ni に particle only marks where things end up. To mark where they come form, you use kara から.
  • banana wo hako ni ireru
    To put a banana into the box.
    • hairu 入る
      To go inside. (intransitive.)
    • ireru 入れる
      To insert. To put inside. (transitive.)
  • banana wo hako kara dasu
    To get a banana from the box.
    • deru 出る
      To go out. To leave. To flow out. (intransitive.)
    • dasu 出す
      To put out. To take out. To move something out of something else. (transitive.)

Idiomatically, putting something in your hand means you acquired something. More specifically, into your hand means into your possession.
  • banana wo te ni ireta!
    Inserted a banana into [your] hand!
    Inserted a banana into [your] possession!
    Got a banana!


The ni に particle can mark the position where something is.

In this case, it's generally used with the verb aru ある, "to exist," its negative form, nai 無い, "nonexistent," and its almost-synonym iru いる, which is used with animate things, like animals and people.
  • ike no mawari ni sakura no ki ga aru
    At the vicinity of the lake, trees of cherry-blossom exist
    There are cherry-blossom trees around the lake.
  • kono heya ni terebi ga nai
    At this room, TV is nonexistent.
    There's no TV in this room.
  • kanojo wa gakkou ni iru
    She, at school exists.
    She's in the school.

With other verbs, the destination function generally morphs into the position function by implying we were moving toward the destination before, but then, we arrived at the destination, and stopped moving, so it's our position now.

To elaborate, say we have a classic anime classroom and a student is making a mess, so the teacher orders him:
  • rouka ni tachi-nasai
    Stand in the corridor.

In the phrase above, the corridor is a place marked as a destination. After all, the student is still in the classroom, not in the corridor. So in order to stand in the corridor, he'll have to move to the corridor first. Afterwards:
  • rouka ni tatte-iru
    To be standing in the corridor.

In the phrase above, we no longer have a destination, as we're already in the corridor, so that's our position now.

The examples above illustrate how the functions of destination and position are closely related to each other. Other examples:
  • isu ni suwatte-iru
    To be sitting in the chair.
  • sora ni uite-iru
    To be floating in the sky.

The phrases above regard the existence of something at a given location, be it the chair or the sky.

The te-iru form is normally used in conjunction with the position function. In the predicative form, it's likely the destination function. For example:
  • isu ni suwaru
    To sit in the chair.
  • sora ni uku
    To float in the sky.

In both phrases above, a location is the goal for the verb, so we have destinations.

Fundamentally, the ni に particle only marks a place if something is in that place statically: it just exists there.

The de で particle is used instead when e want to talk about where an activity happens, or where someone is doing something.
  • koujou de hataraite-iru
    To be working in a factory.
    • Here, the verb hataraku means to work a job. Since this is an activity, de で is used.

With many verbs the difference between being somewhere and doing something somewhere is clear cut, and you won't have much trouble with it. Note, however, that there are some more complicated cases where both particles can be used depending on the situation.

In particular, de で has a limitation function where it implies a choice of place for an action.
  • umi de oyoide-iru
    To be swimming in the sea.
    • This phrase is used with humans, who choose to swim in the sea.
  • umi ni oyoide-iru
    (same meaning.)
    • This phrase is used with fishes, who are in the sea, and, obviously, are swimming in the sea, because they couldn't be standing in the sea, or sitting in the sea, or floa—well, they could be floating in the sea, but they're swimming in this case.

In other tenses, verbs that say how something showed up somewhere are sometimes used with ni に.
  • atama ni tsuno ga haeta
    Horns sprouted in [my] head.
  • yama ni monsutaa ga arawareta
    Monsters appeared in the mountain.

A peculiarity of this function is that the word marked by ni に is often at the start of the sentence, rather than right before the verb. This happens because these sentences are focused on the place, rather than on what is at that place.
  • yama ni ki ga aru
    On the mountain, trees exist.
  • ki ga yama ni aru
    The tress on the mountain are.

Dative Case

The ni に particle is a case-marking particle which marks the dative case. Dative is a weird word that's somehow not about dates or data. Basically, a noun marked as dative is either the recipient or the beneficiary of an action.

By the way, the position function the ni に particle would be called the locative case, as it regards the location of the verb. The destination function would be the lative case, as it regards motion towards a location.(Shibatani et al. 1982, cited in Chien, 2016)

Indirect Object Marker

The ni に particle marks the indirect object. Or rather, the indirect object in English is something in the dative case. Since ni に marks stuff that can be understood as the dative case, it ends up being translated to English as the indirect object a lot.

In the same vein, the ga が particle marks the subject, and the wo を particle marks the direct object. See subject and object for reference. Furthermore, the wa は particle is used when the subject is the topic. See wa は vs. ga for reference.

Do note that in an overwhelming majority of the cases you won't have subject, direct object, and indirect object all marked in a single sentence. One, two, or even all three of those can be implicit.

Keep in mind that, in this article, some phrases have unnatural Japanese because we're explicitly marking the subject (e.g. watashi wa) even though in normal Japanese it would be implicit most of the time.


The ni に particle can mark a target for all sorts of verbs in all sorts of ways. This is basically the same thing as the destination function, except that it's not necessarily marking a geographical location.
  • kanojo ni te wo dasu na!
    Don't "put [your] hand out" at her! (literally.)
    Don't put your hands on her!
    Don't touch her!
    • In this sentence, te wo dasu means "put your hand out," "to reach with your hands for something." Often, this is used with the meaning of doing something bad to someone. The target of the action here is "her."
  • taichou ni tsuite-iku
    [I'll] follow captain.
    • The sentence is literally "to attach-and-go to the captain." It means to accompany, to stay close, to follow.


The ni に particle can mark the final result or outcome of verbs that mean change. When something changes, it changes from something to something. There's an idea of movement, progress, but it's not a geographical one.
  • fuan ga kakushin ni kawatta
    Anxiety changed into certainty.
    • You were worried about the possibility of something before, now you're certain of it.
  • tanuki ga hito ni baketa
    The raccoon dog shape-shifted into a person.

This also works with numeric values.
  • reberu ga juu ni agatta!
    The level rose to ten!
  • reberu ga zero ni sagatta!
    The level fell to zero!


Intransitive verbs used with ni に often have a transitive counterpart where the subject sends the direct object toward the target. For example, agaru, "rise," is intransitive, while ageru, "raise," is transitive.
  • watashi wa reberu wo juu ni ageta
    I raised the level to ten.
    • Level rises - intransitive.
    • I raise level - transitive.

In such cases, the intransitive verb and sentence can also be called unaccusative.

Linguistically, the direct object is in the accusative case. With the verb ageru, someone (the subject and agent), initiates the action of raising the object.

In the unaccusative agaru, there's no direct object: nothing in the accusative case. Instead, it's like the subject is the direct object instead of the agent. After all, saying "the level rose" doesn't mean the level made itself rise. It didn't initiate the action by itself. So it's not the agent.

This also happens with other verbs we've seen previously. Like deru and dasu, hairu and ireru, aku and akeru.

This is important because normally the "indirect object" would be the 3rd argument: subject, object, indirect object. So if you're wondering "what's the direct object of agaru?" The answer is: there isn't one.


The ni に particle can mark a directional target for the verbs muku 向く, mukeru 向ける, mukau 向かう, which express turning around, pointing at, facing, heading, but not movement to a destination.
  • {ore ni ha-mukau} ki ka?
    Is it a feeling of {turning the blade toward me}?
    Are you going to point your weapon at me?
    Do you want to fight me?
    Are you going to stand in my way?

The verb mukau can mean movement, too, in which case it translates to "to head toward."

This is complicated because with verbs like sasu, the target is marked by wo を, and not by ni に.
  • mondai wo sasu
    To point (your finger) at the problem.
    To point the problem.

The same thing happens with the verb miru 見る, "to see," because it can end up being translated as "to look at."
  • boku wo mite
    boku wo mite
    boku no naka no kaibutsu ga konna ni ookiku natta yo

    Look at me.
    Look at me.
    The monster inside me has become this much big.
    • —Anime: MONSTER.

With mukeru, you have someone pointing something at something else.
  • yaiba wo hito ni mukeru
    To point the blade at people.
  • {hito ni muketa} yaiba
    The blade [that] {[someone] pointed at people}.

With ni muku, you have "something points toward a thing."
  • {hito ni muita} yaiba
    The blade [that] {was pointed at people}.

With wo muku, you have "something turns to something." In this case, it's normally only used with words that mean directions, like down, up, right, left, out, in, this way, and so on.
  • ue wo muite aruku
    To walk facing up.
    To walk looking up.

These verbs have a few idiomatic usages.

First, mukeru can mean who is the target demographic of something.
  • {kodomo ni muketa} manga
    A manga {pointed at children}.
    A manga {aimed at children}.
    A manga {made for children}.
  • kodomo-muke
    For children.

Second, ni muite-iru and ni muitenai are used to say that someone is or isn't cut out for something. That is, they're made to do something. They are born to do something. They're naturally good or bad at something.
  • sekkin-sen ni muite-iru
    Pointed at close-combat.
    Made for close-combat. Designed for close-combat.
    Good for close-combat.
    • This could be a weapon, giant mecha, killer robot, beyblade, etc.
  • watashi wa {kono shigoto ni muitenai} to omou
    I think {[I'm] not pointed at this job}.
    I think {[I'm} not made for this job}.
    I think {[I'm] not fit for this job}.
    • This is somebody rethinking their career choices.


The ni に particle can mark "to what" or "for what" something is true, effectively limiting the extent of an statement.
  • undou wa karada ni ii
    Exercise is good for [your] body.

Cognitively, this is like if you had a bunch of boxes and a piece of paper on which is written something, and you put placed that paper inside one of the boxes. That is, to one box, the paper was given. To something, the statement is true.

If the claim is that exercise is good for your body, we're placing "good" in the "body" box. We aren't placing "good" in the "wallet" box, so maybe exercise isn't good for your wallet.

The same thing happens with certain verbs that have transitive-intransitive pairs.
  • neko ga hito ni narete-iru
    The cat is accustomed to people.
    The cat is used to people.
  • neko wo hito ni narasu
    To accustome the cat to people.
    To habituate the cat to people.
    To make the cat used to people.

If the cat is used to people, that doesn't mean it's used to dogs.

In some cases, the extent which an statement is true is a matter of perspective. That is, to the extent's perspective, it may be unjust.
  • kore wa fan ni fukouhei
    This is unjust to fans.

The phrase above expresses that something might be unjust from the fans' point of view.


The ni に particle can also mark the reference of a comparison. For example:
  • musuko ga chichi ni nite-iru
    The son reassembles the father.
    • Here, the target of the comparison is the father.
    • We're comparing son to father.
  • {egao ni masaru} mono wa nai
    A thing [that] {is superior to a smile} doesn't exist.
    Something superior to a smile doesn't exist.
    Nothing is superior to a smile.
    Nothing beats a smile.


The ni に particle can mark the recipient of a verb. The recipient is the participant of an action that ends up receiving something. This is closely related to the destination function, the key difference being that a destination is generally a place, but a recipient is generally a person.

  • gakkou ni iku
    To go to school.
    • Here, I move to the school.
    • School - destination.
  • teeburu ni banana wo oku
    To place a banana on the table.
    • Here, I move the banana to the table.
    • Banana - object.
    • Table - destination.
  • kimi ni banana wo yaru
    To give a banana to you.
    • Here, I move the banana to you.
    • Banana - object.
    • You - recipient.

As you can see above, the concept of movement is shared between destination and recipient functions.

In Japanese, there are various verbs that can mean "to give." All of them are used with ni に in this same manner.
  1. kimi ni banana wo yaru
    To give a banana to you.
  2. kimi ni banana wo ageru
    (same meaning.)
  3. kimi ni banana wo kureru
    (same meaning.)

If you need to choose one of the above, choose ageru あげる. The verb yaru やる isn't as polite, and it seems kureru くれる isn't normally used in this sense, though you may hear kurete-yaru くれてやる in anime from time to time.

There are other verbs which can have the recipient function. In particular, verbs about communication have the message or information as the object being sent, and the person to whom we're giving that message, whom we're talking with, as the recipient.

The only problematic thing is that Japanese has multiple verbs for communication.
  • watashi ni itta
    Said to me.
    • This puts emphasis on the words said.
  • watashi ni oshieta
    Taught to me.
    Told me.
    • In this case, there's some unknown information that was told (taught). It could be a secret, a hint, or just a report about something that happened.
  • watashi ni hanashita
    Talked to me.
    • In this case, someone had something to talk about or discuss with me, and they talked to me about it. Often you'll see this phrase instead:
    • watashi to hanashita
      Talked with me.
    • The to と particle marks "with" whom an action is done. With whom you've talked, discussed. You had a conversation "with" someone.
    • So when the ni に particle is used, there's emphasis on the recipient being unilaterally "given" information about something, rather than cooperatively engaging in discussing something.

Some other verbs:
  • {watashi ni todoita} yuubin-butsu
    The correspondence [that] {was sent to me}.
    • This phrase contains a {relative clause}.
    • todoku 届く
      To reach somewhere.
      To be delivered somewhere.
      To be delivered to someone. (intransitive.)
    • todokeru 届ける
      To deliver something to someone. (transitive.)
    • watashi wa kanojo ni tegami wo todoketa
      I, to her, the letter delivered.
      I delivered the letter to her.
  • {watashi ni haratta} okane
    The money [that] {was paid me}.


The ni に particle can also mark the benefactive of an action, in normal words, the beneficiary, for whom something is done.

This is pretty much the same thing as the recipient, except that no object is received. Instead, the action itself is what's given for the benefit of the benefactive. In normal words: it's when you do someone a favor by doing them something.
  • josei ni doa wo akeru
    To open doors for women.
    To open the door for a woman.

Above, "women" has the benefactive role, since they're benefiting from the action "to open the door."

By the way, the opposite would be malefactive.
  • kare ni {hidoi} koto wo shita
    For him [I] did something {horrible}.
    [I] did something {horrible} to him.
    • In this sentence, "I did something horrible," and "he" received the malefit of it.

This is just the target function with a nuance, honestly.
  • kanojo ni nani ga atta?!
    What happened to her?!

Although ni に can mark the benefactive, it's often not necessary, as there are other ways to construct a benefactive sentence.

Most of the time, the benefactive of an action happens to be either "you" or "me." One of the interlocutors in a dialogue. In such cases, the verb ageru あげる used as an auxiliary makes "you" the benefactive, while kureru くれる makes "me" the benefactive.
  • doa wo akete-ageru
    [I'll] open the door [for you].
  • doa wo akete-kureru?
    Will [you] open the door [for me]?

Above, it's unnecessary to utter kimi ni, "for you," or watashi ni, "for me," or anything of sort, as the auxiliaries ageru and kureru already express a benefactive construction.

Furthermore, in some cases a verb can't be used directly with the benefactive ni に, but it can be used with ni に if you have an auxiliary like ageru あげる expressing it's to the benefit of somebody.(Otani and Steedman, 2010)
  • ?*Ana wa Ken ni keeki wo yaita
    Ana baked a cake for Ken. (wrong.)
  • Ana wa Ken ni keeki wo yaite-ageta
    Ana baked a cake for Ken. (right.)


The ni に particle can mark the reason someone did something, or the cause for something to happen.
  • kono anime ni kandou shita
    To be emotionally moved due to this anime.
    To be emotionally moved by this anime.


Often, the reason function means you'll be marking the cause for something to happen. For example:
  • amari no gekitsuu ni kizetsu shita
    To have fainted due to too much pain.

Above, the cause (or reason) for fainting is too much pain.


The ni に particle can also mark the objective, purpose or goal of something.
  • sore wo nani ni tsukau?
    For what [you'll] use that?
    What will [you] use that for?
  • ryouri ni tsukau
    For cooking, [I'll] use [it].
    [I'll] use [it] for cooking.

Above, cooking is the objective for which the action "to use" is done.
  • nani wo shi ni kita?
    What did [you] come do?
    • nani wo suru
      Do what?
      What are [you] going to do?
  • tasuke ni kita
    [I] came to help [you].

Above, "to help," tasukeru 助ける, is the reason for the speaker "to have come," kita 来た.

This function is mostly commonly seen with the word tame ため, which means "purpose."
  • {katsu} tame ni nandemo suru
    To the purpose [that is] {to win}, [I'll] do whatever.
    [I'll] do anything in order {to win}.

Sometimes ~tame ni ~たえに can end up at the end of the sentence, in which case the rest of the sentence is either omitted, or can be found somewhere earlier in the discourse.
  • {mou ichido au} tame ni
    For the purpose [that is] {to meet once again}.
    In order to meet [her] one more time.
    • I'll do whatever it takes. (generic romantic anime line where the guy ends up doing some absurd stuff for a girl which may include time travel, genocide, and/or bringing back the dead.)

This objective function is probably the origin of the whole reason function.

After all, "due to" is closer to the extent function: something that's "due to" a reason won't be necessarily "due to" another reason.

The problem is: you're able to translate reasons and causes to English as "by," since the reason indicates the source of a consequence. In order to end up with "this thing happening," we had to come from "that thing happening."

So it sounds like we're marking where it's "coming from," rather than where it's "going to." It's the opposite of the destination function, and therefore doesn't make any sense.

However, with this objective, goal, or purpose function, we can see why this happens.

If you have an objective, you'll be striving toward it. In direction to it. For example: to learn Japanese in order to read manga untranslated. You're trying to reach "read manga untranslated," but, at the same time, the reason why you started "learning Japanese" is in order to achieve that.

So the objective of reaching the destination becomes the origin of the action of reaching the destination. That's how you end up with this mess.

We can observe this more in practice with a phrase like this:
  • ore wa {sore wo oboeru} no ni kurou shita
    I, in order {to remember that}, suffered.
    I had a lot of trouble trying to memorize that.
    • oboeru 覚える
      To learn. To memorize. To remember. (e.g. the correct way to spell the name of the actor of Terminator.)
    • kurou suru 苦労する
      Spelled with the kanji for "pain" and "labor." Having trouble doing something. Hardship. Suffering. And so on.

In the phrase above, the objective was "to remember that," sore wo oboeru. In order to achieve that objective, the speaker suffered a lot. Had a lot of trouble doing it.

However, it'd be weird to say that you "must" suffer in order "to remember that." Suffering wasn't part of the plans. It wasn't necessary. It just happened. It was just a consequence. Maybe someone else wouldn't have suffered in order "to remember that."

So we could also say that trying to remember that was the cause of our suffering. It's both what we're trying to make happen and what's making things happen at the same time.


The ni に particle can mark the causee of an action: the one who's being caused to do something by someone else. This happens when the verb of the clause is in the causative form.

Basically, imagine that in order to force someone to do something, you need literally raw, brute power—force, in its literal meaning—to make them do what you want.

In order to force a boulder to move, you need to apply force toward a given direction. This same directionality is found when ni に marks the coercee.
  • iwa ga ugoku
    The boulder moves.
    • It moves on its own. (unacusattive.)
  • kare wa iwa wo ogokasu
    He moves the boulder.
    • Someone moves it. (transitive.)
  • ore wa kare ni iwa wo ugokasaseru
    I make him move the boulder.
    • Someone causes someone else to move it. (causative.)

Above, we illustrate the key difference between the causative and transitive phrases.

If you move the boulder, the boulder isn't moving on its own. You haven't coerced the boulder into moving. You're either grabbing it or pushing it. But if someone tells you: "you move that rock." Then YOU would be moving on your own, doing what someone else told you to do.

Basically, the causee marked by ni に is the agent of an underlying sentence.
  • He moves the boulder.
  • I cause the following to happen: "he moves the boulder."

In Japanese, causative sentences come in two distinct types:
  1. I force someone to do something.
    They wouldn't do it unless I forced them to do it.
  2. I allow someone to do something.
    They wouldn't do it before because they weren't allowed to do it.

In both cases, someone goes from not doing something into doing something. The only difference is whether they wanted to do it before they were caused to do it or not.

In fact, there's basically no way to tell which one it's supposed to be besides common sense and context. For example:
  • kanojo ga piza wo tabeta
    She ate pizza.
    • This is the event we're going to cause.
  • kanojo ni piza wo tabesaseta
    [Someone] caused her to eat pizza.
    [Someone] let her eat pizza.
    [Someone] made her eat pizza.

Now the question is: did she want to eat pizza?

What if she's in some weird anime school for overweight kids where there are some very strict dietary restrictions and she's been eating nothing but spinach sandwiches for three months and she can't handle it anymore: she wants pizza. Then, someone lets her eat pizza.

Conversely, what if the entire world is addicted to pizza and she's the only non-overweight girl in school who thinks everyone else should get a diet, and then the overweight ones get it in their heads that she's snobby and pretentious and decide to exact revenge by forcing her to eat pizza and become overweight like everyone else in some bizarre sort of post-modern bullying?

As you can see, it depends entirely on context. The causee marked by ni に can be either a coercee or the alowee in a sentence.


The ni に particle can mark the benefactor of something in certain sentences, the one giving something to the recipient, or doing something for the benefactive. This happens with the verb morau もらう, for example, which works like ageru あげる, except in reverse.

Before I explain how it works in theory, let's see how it works in practice:
  • kanojo ni banana wo ageta
    Gave a banana to her.
  • kanojo ni banana wo moratta
    Got a banana from her.
  • kanojo ni banana wo katte-ageta
    Bought a banana for her.
  • kanojo ni banana wo katte-moratta
    Had her buy a banana.
    She bought a banana [for me].

The most weird thing here is in the first two phrases, where we have "gave to" and "got from."

It easily makes sense for ni に to function as "to" in "give to." After all, ni に primitively marks the destination, the place where things end up in, where they go toward, the people stuff goes to.

On the other hand, ni に functioning as "from" doesn't make any sense at all. It's literally the opposite of its most primitive function.
  • I gave to her.
    • I - origin.
    • She - destination.
  • I got from her.
    • I - destination.
    • She - origin.

The explanation for this apparently nonsensical situation probably lies in the causative sentences we've seen before.

When we have a sentence about forcing someone to do something, ni に marks the direction where this "force" is directed, that is, the causee. This is already a pretty bold stretch from its primitive destination function, but whatever.

When you have a sentence with morau もらう, it's like a causative sentence, but the nuance changes from forcing someone to do something, to having them do something for you. In other words, morau makes a causative with you as the benefactive of the sentence.
  • kare wa kanojo ni banana wo kawaseta
    He made her buy a banana.
    • The force is directed at kanojo.
  • kare wa kanojo ni banana wo katte-moratta
    He had her buy a banana [for him].
    • This phrase can be synonymous with the phrase above.
    • However, it can also mean that she bought a banana for him, and he didn't force her to do it, he simply got it from her.

Basically, this is the idea of "got."

When "got" means "took," it sounds like you're taking something by force. With ni に, you're forcing someone to give something to you, or to do something for you.

When "got" means "receive," there's no implied force, even though the end result is the same.

If I take money from someone, it sounds like I made them give me money. If I receive money from someone, it doesn't sound like I made them do anything, they did it out of their own volition. In both cases, I got the money.

Since, we have an origin, the kara から particle can also be used to say "from." In this case, the difference between kara morau and ni morau is that kara emphasizes the source: "from whom" you got something.[「~からもらった」と「~にもらった」の区別? -, accessed 2019-08-15]
  • {kareshi kara moratta} purezento
    A present [that] {[I] got from [my] boyfriend}.
    • In this sentence, there's emphasis that it was my boyfriend that gave the present to me.
  • dare kara oshiete-moratta?
    From whom [you] were taught [that]?


The ni に particle can mark the large subject of a double nominative sentence in certain cases.(Shibatani, 1999)

Essentially, it means AにBがC becomes "To A, BがC is true." That's very much like the extent function, however, it's a bit more complicated and confusing than that.


The basic idea is that when you have a subject, you have a predicate that says something true about that subject.
  • sore ga dekiru
    "Able to do" is true about "that."
    That is doable.
    [Someone] can do that.

In Japanese, sometimes you have two subjects in a single sentence, forming a construction where you have a so-called "large" subject predicated by a {predicate clause} containing {small subject plus its predicate}. For example:
  • watashi ga {sore ga dekiru}
    {"Able to do" is true about "that"} is true about "me."
    About me: that is doable.
    I can do that.
    • watashi - large subject.
    • sore ga dekiru - predicate clause for large subject.
    • sore - small subject.
    • dekiru - predicate for small subject.
  • watashi ni {sore ga dekiru}
    {"Able to do" is true about "that"} is true to "me."
    To me: that is doable.
    I can do that.
    • This can also mean:
    • [Someone] can do that to me.
    • But that's the target function, so let's ignore that.

Most of the time, however, the phrase will have the large subject marked as the topic. When this happens, ga が is replaced by wa は, but ni に becomes niwa には.
  • watashi wa {sore ga dekiru}
    (same meaning.)
  • watashi niwa sore ga dekiru
    (same meaning.)

It's important to understand that there are four different ways to mark the large subject:
  1. ga
    Nominative nominal.
  2. wa
    Nominative nominal that's also the topic.
  3. ni
    Dative nominal.
  4. niwa には
    Dative nominal that's also the topic.

The dative nominal (ni に and niwa には) is different from the nominative nominal (ga が and wa は). Whether it's the topic (niwa and wa) or not (ni and ga) is a different matter.

In general, the nominative nominal makes the sentence "true about something," while the dative nominal makes it "true to something" or "true for something," just like the extent function.
  • ga が or wa
    Nominative nominal.
    Simply states a truth.
    About me: can do that.
    I possess the ability to do that. (a truth.)
  • ni に or niwa には
    Dative nominal.
    Assigns a truth.
    To me: can do that.
    The ability to do that is afforded to me. (an assignment.)

In many cases, there's practically no difference between the two, so they become interchangeable. In some cases, one is preferred over the other. In any case, you can feel the ni に particle still possesses a sense of directionality (to me), even in this weird function.

One nuance you can have is that niwa には is more likely to have the function of the contrastive wa. That is, to other people that isn't doable, but to me, it is doable.

I suppose the reason for it working like this is that, although wa は can always be interpreted as contrastive, it's unlikely for the large subject to be interpreted as contrastive, simply because it's just always marked by wa は anyway. To elaborate:
  • A ga B ga C.
    You only ever say this under very specific circumstances when you can't mark A as the topic.
  • A wa B ga C.
    This is the normal way.
  • A niwa B ga C.
    You use this to sound like "B ga C" is true only to A, and not to anyone else.
  • A ni B ga C.
    Only used under circumstances where A ni isn't the topic.

The "normal way" is using wa plus ga. Since this is how it normally happens, it becomes difficult to express the unusual contrastive function using wa alone. Hence, it's easier to say "this only applies to me" by using niwa instead.

One instance of those very specific circumstances is that the topic of the sentence must be in the main clause, not in a subordinate clause, so you'd have to say things like this:
  • {watashi ga dekiru} koto
    Something [that] {I can do}.
  • {watashi ni dekiru} koto
    Something [that] {is doable to me}.

That looks like you only have one subject, but there are actually two, because the noun qualified by the relative clause would be the small subject inside the relative clause. Observe:
  • kodomo niwa kono hon ga yomeru
    To children, this book is read-able.
    Children can read this book.
  • {kodomo ni yomeru} hon
    A book [that] {is read-able to children}.
    A book [that] {children can read}.

Above, the noun phrase kono hon is the small subject in the first sentence, marked by ga, and in the second sentence it's qualified by the relative clause.


The ni に particle can mark the cognizer of a mental state or opinion. For example:
  • watashi niwa {sore ga wakaru}
    {"Is understood" is true about "that"} is true to "me."
    {"That is understood"} is true to "me."
    I understand that.

In the case of wakaru, the small subject is often implicit.
  • watashi niwa wakaranai
    To me, [it] isn't understood.
    I don't understand [it].

In fact, the large subject is also often implicit: wakaranai. But we know they exist because because something must exist in order for it to be understood or not, and in order for the understanding to happen a cognizer must also exist.

Some cognitions can't have a dative subject. For example, the person who likes or dislikes something can't be marked by ni に:
  • watashi wa {anime ga suki da}
    {"Liked" is true about "anime"} is true about "me."
    {"Anime is liked"} is true about "me."
    I like anime.
  • *watashi niwa {anime ga suki da}

But other cognitions can have a dative subject, like you find something fun or scary.
  • watashi niwa {kono manga ga omoshiroi}
    To me, {this manga is entertaining}.
    I think this manga is fun.
  • watashi niwa {shi ga kowakunai}
    To me, {death isn't scary}.
    I'm not afraid of death.

Shibatani (1999) claims the difference between cognitions that can only take nominative nominals (like suki) and those that can also take dative nominals (like omoshiroi and kowai) is that the former has a higher dependency on the large subject than the latter.

In other words, ni に is too indirect to satisfy how directly dependent suki is on the large subject. This probably won't help you, though. I'm just providing a theory for this difference in usage in case you're asking yourself "why, Japan?! Why?!?!".

It's going to be easier to get used to how it works in practice with experience from reading, and listening, and talking, than from this sort of theory.


The ni に particle can mark the possessor of something in a double nominative sentence. In essence, the predicate clause will say whether something exists or not, and the large subject indicates to whom that thing exists or not, implying possession.
  • watashi niwa {imouto ga iru}
    {"An younger sister exists"} is true to "me."
    I have an younger sister.
  • watashi niwa {kankei nai}
    {"Nonexistent" is true about "relationship"} is true to "me."
    {"There's no relationship"} is true to "me."
    I have no relationship with it.
    It has nothing to do with me.
    It's none of my business.
    • kankei nai 関係ない
      (small subject is marked by null particle.)
  • ore niwa {sainou ga nai}
    To me, there's no talent.
    I don't have talent.

Manga: JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken Part 5: Ougon no Kaze ジョジョの奇妙な冒険 黄金の風 (Chapter 458, ソフト・マシーンの謎 その①)
  • kono Joruno Jobaana niwa {yume ga aru}!
    {"A dream exists"} is true to "this Giorno Giovanna!"
    This Giorno Giovanna has a dream!

Note that all the possessions above aren't simply about the ownership of things. They're about attributes that one person has, and other people may not have.

For example, you don't literally own a younger sister. Instead, some people have younger sisters, some people don't. You're one of those for whom such relationship exists. Similarly, Giorno is one of those people for whom a dream exists, and so on.

One consequence is that with nominative nominals you can describe something that's possessed by the large subject, but with dative nominals the phrase ends up being about a cognition instead. Observe:
  • ore wa {atama ga ii}
    About me: about head: good.
    My head is good.
    I'm smart.
  • ore niwa {atama ga ii}
    To me: about head: good.
    To me, the head is good.

Both phrases describe the "head" as being "good." Someone who possesses a "good head" has the idiomatic meaning of being "smart."

With wa (or ga), we get this "smart" meaning, because we're describing (ii) something (atama) possessed by the large subject (ore).

With ni (or niwa), we get a cognition instead: the thought of the large subject (ore), is that atama ga ii. In other words, you can't describe a possession using niwa the same way you can with wa.
  • watashi wa doresu ga ao to kuro
    About me: the dress is blue and black.
    My dress is blue and black.
  • watashi niwa doresu ga shiro to kin
    To me, the dress is white and gold.
    Personally, I think that the dress is white and gold.

Often, interpersonal relationships are expressed with ni に instead of wa は.
  • {suki na hito} ni kareshi ga iru
    To the person [that] {[I] like}, a boyfriend exists.
    The person {[I] like} has a boyfriend.
  • {suki na hito} ni kareshi ga dekita
    To the person [that] {[I] like}, a boyfriend is made.
    The person {[I] like} got a boyfriend.
    • dekiru 出来る
      To be able to do.
      To make. To build. (e.g. a relationship.)
      To attain [a friend, a boyfriend, etc.].

Also, you can't use suki as the small subject with niwa, you can use suki in a relative clause qualifying the small subject of niwa in this possession function, which is kind of confusing. For example:
  • *watashi niwa {anime ga suki da}
    • anime ga suki da - predicative clause.
    • da - predicative copula.
  • watashi niwa {anime ga suki na} riyuu ga aru
    To me, a reason [which] {anime is liked} exists.
    To me, there's a reason {to like anime}.
    I have a reason {to like anime}.
    • anime ga suki na - relative clause (attributive clause).
    • na - attributive copula.

Above, although anime ga comes right after niwa, the small subject is actually riyuu ga, which comes later in the sentence, but is qualified by the relative clause coming before it.


The ni に particle can also be used when the large subject requires something expressed by the predicative clause. In other words, there's a condition that must be satisfied in order to achieve the large subject.
  • tatakau niwa {yuuki ga iru}
    To fight, {courage is necessary}.
    • To fight - large subject;
    • Courage is necessary - requisite.
    • Note: iru いる can be either "to be," iru 居る, or "to need," iru 要る.
  • keeki niwa {ichigo ga kakasenai}
    To a cake, {a strawberry lack can not}.
    To a cake, {strawberries are indispensable}.

If you've been paying attention, you may be wondering: how is this any different from the objective function we've seen before? After all, we could have just said: "in order to fight, courage is necessary."

Indeed, it's essentially the same thing. However, with double nominatives, the predicative clause is about the large subject, so there's a dependency between what is being done and the objective marked by ni に.

Consequently, you can't remove the large subject in such double nominative, but you can easily remove a marked objective that merely modifies the verb as if it were an adverb. Observe:
  • ore wa tasuke ni kita
    In order to help, I came.
    I came to help.
  • ore wa kita
    I came.
    • In both phrases, the outcome doesn't change, but the first phrase details the reason for me coming in first place, while the second one lacks that detail.
  • hito wo tasukeru niwa {yuuki ga hitsuyou da}
    In order to help people, {courage is necessary}.
    {Courage is necessary} to help people.
  • yuuki ga hitsuyou da
    Courage is necessary.
    • In this case, the sentence either doesn't make any sense at all, or we're omitting a large subject that's recoverable from context. After all, courage is necessary, okay, but for what?

A more practical consequence of this is that the large subject comes at the start of the sentence (...niwa yuuki ga), but the adverbial objective comes after the topic (ore wa tasuke ni...)

Passive Agent Marker

The ni に particle can mark the agent of a sentence in passive voice. In this case, ga が marks the patient. Observe:
  • neko ga nezumi wo kutta
    The cat ate the rat.
    • Active voice.
    • Cat - subject, agent.
    • Rat - object, patient.
  • nezumi ga neko ni kuwareta
    The rat was eaten by the rat.
    • Passive voice.
    • Rat - subject, patient.
    • Cat - dative, agent.

Both sentences above state the same thing, but the voice was changed from active to passive.
  • sensei ga kare wo okotta
    The teacher scolded him.
  • kare ga sensei ni okoreta
    He was scolded by the teacher.

Among the dative case functions we've seen before, the one most similar to this would be the cause function. Probably, if ni に can mark the reason, cause or objective that initiated an action, it makes sense that it can mark the agent who initiates the action, too.
  • oto ni bikkuri shita
    To be startled due to the sound.
    To be startled by the sound.
    • Here, bikkuri suru, "to feel startled," "to feel surprised," is initiated by the sound.
  • kanojo ni bikkuri sareta
    To be startled by her.
    • Here, the startling is initiated by her.

Note that, although the ni に particle always marks the same thing in the passive, there's a difference between how transitive and ditransitive verbs work in the passive. Observe:
  • AがPをV
  • AがPをDにV

In other words, if you mark something with the dative ni に particle in active voice, it becomes the subject in the passive voice, and the direct object is marked by wo を the same way.

  • akuma ga ningen wo damashita
    The demon tricked the human.
  • ningen ga akuma ni damasareta
    The human was tricked by the demon.

Above we have a transitive verb. Below we have a ditransitive verb:
  • okyakusan ga watashi ni monku wo itta
    The customer, to me, a complaint said.
    The customer said a complaint to me.
    To customer complained to me.
  • watashi ga okyakusan ni monku wo iwareta
    I, by the customer, a complain was said.
    I was complained to by the customer.

Observe how, with the transitive verb, the direct object ningen wo became the subject ningen ga in the passive voice, however, with the ditransitive verb, the direct object monku wo was still marked by wo in the passive voice.

A single clause with all three particles (ga, wo, ni) rarely happens in Japanese, but it's important to keep in mind what the full picture would look like when you're dealing with broken normal clauses.

For example, a normal way of saying the phrase above could be:
  • okyakusan ni monku iwareta
    (same meaning.)

The subject is gone, the wo を particle was replaced by the null particle, but the ni に particle is still there marking the agent of the passive, and the phrase means practically the same thing as before.

Some examples with relative clauses:
  • {akuma ni damasareta} ningen
    A human [that] {was tricked by a demon}.
  • {okyakusan ni iwareta} koto
    The thing [that] {was said by the customer}.

Note that the noun in front of the relative clause can the subject or the object.

With transitive verbs, the ni に particle is easy since it can only be used if the verb is in the passive, so it's always the agent. But with ditransitive verbs, it can be used in the active, too, as the indirect object, so you have to pay attention to the verb and the voice:
  • {okyakusan ni monku itta} ten'in
    The store-employee [that] {said a complaint to the customer}.
  • {okyakusa ni monku iwareta} ten'in
    The store-employee [that] {was said a complaint by the customer}.

In both cases, the qualified noun, ten'in, is the subject. In the first case the verb is active, itta, so the employee is giving the complaint. In the second it's passive, iwareta, so the employee is receiving the complaint.

Indirect Passives

The sentences shown above are called direct passives, because they describe literally the same thing as the active voice counterpart. Japanese has a second type of passive called the indirect passive, also known as the suffering passive, in which the ni に particle marks the cause of the suffering.(Ono, 2003)

A third name for it is adversity passive.(Makino and Tsutsui, 1994)

To understand this, first let's imagine a situation:
  • kanojo ga keeki wo tabeta
    She ate the cake.

As we've seen before, the direct passive equivalent of that would be:
  • keeki ga kanojo ni taberareta
    The cake was eaten by her.

It's equivalent because: it's the same thing. We just changed the word order, the particles, the conjugation—okay, it's hard to say it's still the same thing—but the meaning, at least, stays the same.

By contrast, an indirect passive would be this:
  • watashi ga kanojo ni keeki wo taberareta
    (same meaning, but it's complicated and nuanced.)

Okay, so let's start with the obvious: we have a watashi that showed up out of nowhere. The agent, kanojo, is still marked by ni に. She is still eating the cake. But the cake isn't the subject like it is in a direct passive. Instead it's marked as the direct object again.

It kind of looks like the transitive verb taberu became ditransitive, doesn't it?

With ditransitive verbs, the object marked by wo を is still marked by wo を in the passive. That's because "to whom" something is given, said, etc. becomes the subject.
  • watashi ga kanojo ni ninjutsu wo oshierareta
    I, by her, was taught ninja-arts.

Alright, so it's simple, right? We just do the same thing:
  • watashi ga kanojo ni keeki wo taberareta
    I, by her, was eaten cake. (what?)

As you can see above, this doesn't actually work. The nuance doesn't easily translate it to English.

What the phrase means is that she is the agent who initiated (ni に) the action. The action is "to eat the cake." She ate the cake. Plus, since the verb is in the passive (-areta), the subject (ga が) must be somehow affected by that action.

The question is: how "I" am affected by her eating the cake? Because just "affected" doesn't really mean anything.

In general, indirect passives mean the subject is negatively affected by the action. Hence why they're also called "suffering passives." The subject ends up suffering because of the action.

For example: I was saving that cake for later. I planned to eat that cake. I wanted to eat it. But then she went and ate it all by herself, denying my natural right to the cake. I'm cake-less. I was negatively affected by her gluttony and now I suffer because of it.

In a sense, indirect passives work the same way as the verb morau もらう. You're getting something from someone marked by ni に.
  • watashi ga kanojo ni keeki wo tabete-moratta
    I had her eat cake, I had her do the favor of eating the cake for me.

The difference is that morau generally means you're getting a good thing, while indirect passives mean you're getting something bad.

More technically:
  • morau means you initiated the exchange, or you accepted the exchange.
    I had someone do something for me.
    Naturally, if I had a choice in this, it must be something good for me. Because if it was bad I'd have nope'd out of it.
  • Indirect passives mean it just happened to you and you had no saying in it.
    I had someone do something to me.
    Since I didn't consent to it, that's probably a bad thing.

This technicality is important since indirect passives aren't necessarily malefits. The subject can benefit from the action. Something good can happen to the subject that's out of their control. For example:
  • eigakan de kawaii ko ni tonari ni suwarareta
    In the movie theater, [I] had a cute girl sit next [to me].
    • kawaii ko ga tonari ni suwaru
      Cute girl sits next [to me].
    • tonari ni - location, destination.
    • tonari
      Adjacent space. The place next to something. (sometimes used to talk about neighbors.)
    • ko
      Child. Person. Girl. Boy, sometimes.

In the example above, there is no suffering.(Kortlandt, 1992)

In general, however, indirect passives have the suffering nuance. For example, if we removed the kawaii ko from above and replaced it by something more neutral:
  • eigakan de Tanaka-san ni tonari ni suwarareta
    In the movie theater, [I] had Tanaka-san sit next [to me].

It would then sound like it's something I didn't want to happen, and thus I'm negatively affected by it happening.
  • ame ga furu
    The rain falls from the sky.
    The rain rains.
    It rains.
  • ame ni furareta
    It rained. (that ruined my day.)

In some cases, the fact it's a bad thing is more obvious. For example:
  • shujinkou ga ninja ni tsuma wo korosareta
    The main character had his wife killed by ninjas.
    • ninja ga shujinkou no tsuma wo korosu
      Ninjas kill the main character's wife.

A common verb where the indirect passive happens is shinu 死ぬ, "to die."

This is probably the most confusing to beginners, because it's an intransitive verb. So, in active voice, it wouldn't take wo を or ni に. You can't make a direct passive with it. You can only make an indirect passive. Observe:
  • kare wa tsuma ni shinareta
    He had [his] wife die.
    • tsuma ga shinda
      The wife died.
    • And he was negatively affected by it.
  • {tsuma ni shinareta} otto
    A husband [who] {had [his] wife die}.


Sometimes, the ni に particle is used to match one thing to another.


The ni に particle can be used in fractions to say stuff like "for every 10 people, 1 is left-handed."
  • ni-kai ni ikkai okoru
    For every 2 times, 1 time [it] happens.
    Happens 1 time every 2 times.
    Happens one each two times.
    Happens 50% of the times.
  • koukousei no san-nin ni hitori ga arubaito wo keiken suru
    For every 3 high school students, 1 experiences part-time-job.
    One in every three high school students have part-time job experience

  • NにX something
    Something is true X times in N.
    Something is true for X people in a total of N.
    Something happens X times every N.
    Something happens to X people in N.

Fractions that are about sharing something "among" a number of things, people, use the de で particle instead.
  • san-nin de ringo kyuu-ko wo wakeru
    To divide nine apples using three people.
    To divide nine apples among three people.

With nouns that mean fractions, the no の particle is used:
  • hyaku-nin no ichi-wari
    One-tenth of a hundred people.

In particular, you can get a phrase very similar to ni に using no uchi のうち, "inside of," in the sense of "inside a group of something, part of it is somehow."
  • juu-nin no isha no uchi kyuu-nin ga kore wo susumeru
    Inside of 10 people [who are] doctors, 9 people recommend this.
    9 in 10 doctors recommend this.

Complements of a Set

The ni に particle can join elements that complement each other in a set.

Basically, when you have a dish that's made out of two things, or an outfit that's made out of things, or whatever, and one thing complements the other, the ni に particle can express it.
  • shiroi kuriimu ni akai ichigo
    To the white cream, a red strawberry.
    • The perfect strawberry cake!
  • mini-sukaato ni nii-sokkusu
    To the mini-skirt, knee-socks.


Although this usually happens with two elements, the ni に can add three or more elements in similar fashion. The example given by the dictionary Daijirin is this:
  • kome ni miso ni shouyu,
    nani kara nani made
    {tarinai} mono bakari da

    To rice, to miso, to soy-sauce,
    from what to what
    all things [that] {don't suffice}.
    • This phrase is saying that there are things aren't sufficing. In other words, are lacking.
    • In nani kara nani made, the word nani doesn't mean "what" but an undetermined thing. The phrase means everything is lacking, from the most basic things, to the most complicate ones, from cheapest, to most expensive, or however you want to translate it.
    • The first line are examples of things that lack: rice, miso and soy-sauce. This is a set of three things added to each other. Or three separate destinations for the statement "everything is lacking." Or it's "all stuff that's we don't have."

Given the above, this function is actually closer to "adding one thing to other" than "one thing complementing another."

君こそ無茶するな この石の世界(ストーンワールド)は 俺以外全員 ゴリラかよ コハクに 司に 大樹によ
Manga: Dr. Stone (Chapter 17, ワッッルい顔)
  • Context: Senku tells Kohaku she shouldn't overdo it by lifting heavy thing. Tries to lift heavy thing by himself. Fails pathetically.
  • kimi koso mucha suru na
    It's you who shouldn't overdo it.
  • kono Stuoon Waarudo wa
    ore igai zen'in
    gorira ka yo

    In this Stone World, is everyone besides me a gorilla?
  • Kohaku ni, Tsukasa ni, Taiju ni yo
    コハク 司 大樹
    Tsukasa, Taiju, [and now even] Kohaku! (names of characters, they're all stronger than Senku.)


The ni に particle can mark the time when something happens.
  • ni-sen nen ni tsukurareta
    To be made in the year two thousand.
  • kyuu-jyuu nendai ni umareta
    To be born in the nineties.
  • natsu ni umi ni iku
    To go to the sea in the summer.
  • hachi-ji ni okoshite-kudasai
    Wake [me] up at eight o'clock.

The ni に particle is generally used to make appointments. To say the date and time stuff happened or is planned to happen.

Some words for time are act as adverbs on their own, so you don't need to use ni に with them. For example:
  • ashita gakkou wa yasumi da
    Tomorrow, the school is resting.
    There's no school tomorrow.

The limitation function of de で is preferred when talking about when something begins or ends.
  • ashita de owaru
    It ends tomorrow.
    By tomorrow, it ends.
    When it's tomorrow, it ends.

Lastly, sometimes you aren't talking about something that happens in a certain day, but about the day itself. Then it's marked as the subject or topic.
  • ashita wa isogashiku naru
    Tomorrow will be busy.

Time Intervals

The ni に particle can be used to express time intervals. In this case, it's the fraction function applies to a time. For example:
  • ichi-nichi ni san-kai
    In one day, three times.
    Thrice per day.

The de で particle can also be used similarly. However, it implies something happens within a time limit, only once, while ni に expresses recurrence.
  • ikkagetsu ni juu-kiro yaseru
    Every 1 month, lose 10 kilos.
    • If you continue for 12 months, you'll lose 120 kilos and possibly end up with negative weight.
  • ikkagetsu de juu-kiro yaseru
    Within 1 month, lose 10 kilos.
    • You have four weeks or less to do achieve this. If you take 2 months to do it, it will be too late.

Adverbial Copula

The ni に particle can also create adverbs. In this case, it's technically the ni に adverbial copula. In the same vein, da だ is the predicative copula, while the na な particle of na-adjectives is an attributive copula. Sometimes, the no の particle of no-adjectives is an attributive copula too.

Furthermore, the -i ~い of i-adjectives is both an attributive and predicative copula. While the ~ku ~く is the adverbial copula.

To understand this better, let's see a comparison.
  • shiroi

    Is white. (predicative.)
  • {shiroi} yuki

    Snow [that] is white. (attributive.)
    White snow.
  • {shiroku} naru
    To become so [that] {[it] is white}. (adverbial.)
    To become white.
  • kirei da
    Is pretty. (predicative.)
  • {kirei na} yuki
    Snow [that] is pretty. (attributive.)
    Pretty snow.
  • {kirei ni} naru
    To become so [that] {[it] is pretty}. (adverbial.)
    To become pretty.

As you can see above, -ku ~く and ni に perform the same function: they turn what comes before them into adverbs. The difference is that -ku is a suffix that replaces the -i suffix of i-adjectives, while ni に replaces the na な of na-adjectives.

In the case of naru なる, it's very similar to the target function we've seen before.
  • tanuki ga hito ni bakeru
    The raccoon-dog transforms into a person.
  • tanuki ga hito ni naru
    The raccoon-dog becomes a person.

The difference between adverbial copula and dative case can be seen when we replace a noun like hito by an adjective.
  • tanuki ga kirei ni bakeru
    The raccoon-dog transforms prettily. (na-adjective.)
  • ?tanuki ga shiroku bakeru
    The raccoon-dog transforms white-ly. (i-adjective.)

Adverbs modify how the action is done. So the action "to transform" is happening prettily or "white-ly" in the sentences above. White-ly doesn't make sense. How do you transform white-ly? Do you mean:
  • {shiroi} mono ni bakeru
    To transform into something [that] {is white}.

The verb naru なる works fundamentally different from bakeru. With naru, the adverb modifies how something "becomes." That is, the target form or shape ends up being an adverb in this case.

Another verb where this happens is suru する. Basically, one of the many functions of suru する is "you make something become somehow," while naru would be the unaccusative variant.
  • shiroku suru
    To make [something] become white.
  • kirei ni suru
    To make [something] become pretty.
  • kore ga tanuki wo hito ni suru
    This makes a raccoon-dog into a person.
    This turns raccoon-dogs into people.

Another evidence that the adverbial copula is distinct from the dative case is that the adverbial copula can't be replaced by just wa は, but the dative case can. For example:(Nagata, 1994:8)
  • Tarou ga hana ni mizu wo ageta
    Tarou gave the flower water.
  • hana wa, Tarou ga mizu wo ageta
    As for the flower, Tarou gave water.
  • Tarou ga isha ni natta
    Tarou became a doctor.
  • *isha wa, Tarou ga natta


Sometimes, the ni に particle is called an adverbializer because it turns words into adverbs. In accordance to this, it's important to keep in mind the following bit of basic grammar:
  • Adjectives modify noun.
  • Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

In other words, adverbs don't modify nouns. If what comes after the word is a noun, you don't use ni に.

Perhaps the most clear and most confusing situation where this happens are the pronouns konna, sonna, anna, donna こんな, そんな, あんな, どんな. They're all adjectives. Adding ni to them—for example: konna to konna ni—turns them into adverbs.
  • konna setsumei wa fuyou
    This sort of explanation is unnecessary.
    • setsumei - noun
  • konna ni taberu!
    To eat this much!
    • taberu - verb.
  • konna ni kirei
    This much pretty.
    • kirei - na-adjective.
  • {ore no imouto ga konna ni kawaii} wake ga nai
    The conclusion [that] {my younger sister is this much cute} doesn't exist.
    There's no way my younger sister is this much cute.
    • kawaii - i-adjective.

The confusing part happens when you have a noun modify by an adjective, and konna comes behind it. Then you'll have a system like this:
  • konna {adjective plus noun}
    Here, the adjective konna is qualifying the noun.
    This forms a {noun phrase}.
    Then, the noun phrase is qualified by another adjective.
  • {konna ni adjective} plus noun.
    Here, konna ni is modifying the adjective.
    This forms an {adjective phrase}.
    Then, the noun is qualified by the modified adjective phrase.

  • konna {ii} mono
    A thing [that] {is good} like this.
    Such good thing.
    • Here, "good thing" is qualified by "such."
  • {{konna ni} ii} mono
    A thing [that] {is good {like this}}
    A thing [that] {is this much good}.
    A thing this good.
    • Here, "good" is modified by "this much."
    • Then, "thing" is qualified by "this much good."

This is the same principle found in words like you na ような, you ni ように, sou na そうな, sou ni そうに, mitai na みたいな, mitai ni みたいに, and so on.
  • {{neru} you na} kankaku
    A feeling [that] {is like {to sleep}}.
    A feeling {like {[you're] sleeping}}.
  • {{neru} you ni} mieru
    To appear {like {[you're] sleeping}}.
  • {oishi-sou na} keeki
    A cake [that] {looks like [it] is delicious}.
  • {oishi-sou ni} taberu
    To eat [it] {looking like [it] is delicious}.
  • {baka-mitai na} nayami
    A worry [that] {seems stupid}.
  • {baka-mitai ni} kitai shita
    [I] expected [something] {like an idiot}.


In dictionaries, the ni に particle is also listed as jodoushi 助動詞, "helper verb." This is the term for anything that is part of a conjugation of a word. Specifically, ni に is the ren'youkei 連用形 form of the jodoushi nari なり.

This nari なり, or naru なる, is some old stuff that's the basis of modern na-adjectives. In fact, na-adjectives are also called keiyou-doushi 形容動詞, "adjective verbs," because the inflection of ni-adjectives is based on those jodoushi.[「なにで名詞」の指導 - 難聴児支援教材研究会 -, accessed 2019-08-15]

  • shizuka-naru umi
    The sea [that] {is peaceful}.
  • shizuka na umi
    (same meaning.)
    • This was the attributive form, rentaikei 連体形.
  • umi wa shizuka-nari
    The sea is peaceful.
  • umi wa shizuka da
    (same meaning.)
    • This was the predicative form, shuushikei 終止形.
  • shizuka ni kusasu
    To live at peace.
    To live peacefully.
    • This is the conjunctive form, ren'youkei 連用形.

Note that ni に is said to be the ren'youkei of nari なり because nari is the base form, the predicative form. Historically, it's not ni that originates in nari and naru, but the opposite. The word naru is a contraction of ni plus the verb aru ある. And nari is from the ren'youkei of aru: ari あり
  • {shizuka ni aru} umi
    A sea [that] {exists at peace}.
    A sea [that] {exists peacefully}.
    A sea [that] {is peaceful}.
    A peaceful sea.

To make matters worse, the predicative copula da だ is the modern jodoushi of the shuushikei of na-adjectives. It's a contraction of de aru である. And de で comes from nite にて, abbreviated from ni shite にして. Which has the ni に particle in it, plus the verb suru する.

Of course, that's all history. In modern Japanese, ni shite aru にしてある and da だ have vastly different meanings.

Nevertheless, when a na-adjective is used as an adverb, with the ni に particle after it, it's said to be in the ren'youkei form.
  • {shoujiki na} hito
    A person [that] {is honest}.
    An honest person.
    • hito - noun.
    • shoujiki-na - rentaikei.
  • {shoujiki ni} iu
    To say honestly.
    • iu - verb.
    • shoujiki-ni - ren'youkei.

Furthermore, although na な is often associated with na adjectives, it's essentially the attributive counterpart of the predicative da だ. This means there are times you can use this same na な, and consequently the adverbial ni に, with something that isn't a na-adjective in the dictionary.
  • isha da
    Is a doctor.
    • "Doctor" is a noun.
  • isha na no de atama ga ii
    Because [he] is a doctor, [his] head is good. (he's smart.)
    • Here, the noun "doctor," as a na な adjective, qualifies the nominalizer no の.
  • isha ni naru
    To become a doctor.
    • Here, the noun "doctor," as a ni に adverb, modifies the verb "to become;"


The ni に particle be combined with some other particles to form compounds. For reference:
  • ni-wa には
    Combined with wa は. Usually this has a contrastive function.
    • watashi niwa muri
      For me it's impossible. (maybe it's possible for you, but, for me, it's impossible.)
  • ni-mo にも
    Combined with mo も. Usually this has an inclusive function.
    • watashi nimo kudasai
      Give it to me too.
  • no-ni のに
    With the nominalizer.
    • no-ni-wa のには
      Nominalizer and topic.
    • no-ni-mo のにも
      Nominalizer and inclusive.
  • na-no-ni なのに
    Attributive copula and nominalizer.
    • na-no-ni-wa なのには
      Copula, nominalizer, and topic.
    • na-no-ni-mo なのにも
      Copula, nominalizer, and inclusive.

Yes, the compounds get kind of ridiculous.
  • bakuhatsu ni odoroita
    [I] was surprised by the explosion.
  • bakuhatsu nimo odoroita
    [I] was surprised also by the explosion.
  • bakuhatsu da
    [It] is an explosion.
  • bakuhatsu nanoni odoroita
    For [it] is an explosion, [I] was surprised.
    [I] was surprised by [it] being an explosion.
  • bakuhatsu nanonimo odoroita
    Also, for [it] is an explosion, [I] was surprised.
    [I] was surprised also by [it] being an explosion.
  • dai-bakuhatsu nanoniwa riyuu ga aru
    For [it] is a big explosion, a reason exists.
    There's a reason [it] is a big explosion. (as opposed to a small explosion.)


Note that you can't ni に with the no の particle. There's no ni-no にの in Japanese. If you need to reference the target of an action, the e へ particle is used instead to express the direction toward which something happens. For example:
  • umi ni iku
    To go to the sea.
  • umi e iku
    (practically same thing.)
  • {umi e no} basu
    The bus {toward the sea}.
    The bus [that goes] {to the sea}.
  • *{umi ni no} basu
  • shachou ni meeru wo okutta
    To send an email to the company-president.
  • {{shachou e no} meeru no} kaki-kata
    The way-of-writing of {e-mail {toward the company-president}}.
    How to write {an email [that is sent] {to the company president}}.

Marking Verbs

The ni に particle sometimes marks a verb or adjective that's been turned into a noun by the no の particle. This doesn't have any special function that we haven't covered before.
  • anime wo miru no ni jimaku ga hitsuyou
    For the の [that is] "to watch anime," subtitles are necessary.
    For "to watch anime," subtitles are necessary.
    [In order] to watch anime, [I] need subtitles.
    • This is a double nominative.
  • nihongo wo yomu no ni kurou suru
    For "to read Japanese," [I] have hardships.
    [I] have hardships reading Japanese.
    [It's tough for me] to read Japanese.
    • This is a consequence of an objective.
  • koi suru no ni riyuu wa iranai
    For "to love," [it] doesn't need a reason.
    [You] don't need a reason to [fall in] love [with someone.]
    • This is the double nominative again.


When the no ni のに compound is formed, it has a secondary meaning of "even though X, Y" or "X, but Y." Literally, it's the same thing as the phrases above, which mean "for X, Y." However, depending on what X and Y mean, the interpretation changes. For example:
  • {mahou wo tsukau} no ni tsue ga iru
    For {to use magic,} [it] needs a wand.
    [You] need a wand in order to use magic.
  • {mahou wo tsukau no} ni tsue ga iranai?!
    For {to use magic,} [it] doesn't need a wand?!
    [You] don't need a wand in order {to use magic}?!
    Even though {[you] use magic}, [you] don't need a wand?!
    {[You] use magic}, but [you] don't need a wand?!
    • Everybody clap your hands!

Most times you find no-ni のに in Japanese, it will be in this even though function. But this is really just the subject function, or the extent function, or the objective function, or whatever, with something that sounds contradictory after the ni に.

The same thing works with adjectives. Observe:
  • {samui} tenki
    The weather [that] {is cold}.
    The cold weather.
  • {samui} no ni nareta
    [I've] become used to the の [that] {is cold}
    [I've] become used to [it] being cold.
  • {samui} no ni ase wo kaku
    Even though {[it] is cold}, [I] perspire sweat.
    • ase
      Sweat. (noun.)
    • kaku かく
      To perspire. To sweat. (verb.)

Likewise, the same principle applies to na-adjectives.

As we've seen before, you can replace the na な of na-adjectives with ni に to make it an adverb. We don't want an adverb now. We want an adjective, plus a nominalizer, plus ni に. So you end up with na-no-ni なのに.
  • {kirei na} hito
    A person [that] {is pretty}.
    A pretty person.
  • kirei na no ni motenai
    For {is pretty,} isn't popular romantically.
    Even though {[she] is pretty}, [she] isn't popular with guys.

Again, although the na な is often associated with na-adjectives, it's in essence the attributive counterpart of da だ. This means it can be used with nouns too.
  • isha da
    [She] is a doctor.
  • isha na no ni binbou da
    For "is a doctor," is poor.
    Even though [she] is a doctor, [she] is poor.

Lastly, there are cases where phrases get abbreviated in Japanese. If what gets abbreviated comes after the no ni, the phrase won't make much sense, and you'll need to guess what it really means.
  • tooi no ni arigatou
    Even though it's far, thank you.
    • What?
  • tooi no ni kite-kurete arigatou
    Even though it's far, [you] came [for me], thank you.
    • Now it makes sense!
    • The speaker is thanking someone for coming to them despite them being far away.

Marking Verbs Directly

The ni に particle is sometimes seen marking verbs and adjectives without needing to turn them into nouns. This is despite the fact that case-marking particles should only mark nouns and noun phrases. Observe:
  • uso ni kimatte-iru!
    Of course it's a lie!
    • It's already been settled that "it's a lie," so of course "it's a lie," it can't be anything besides that, now, can it?
  • kawaii ni kimatte-iru!
    Of course it's cute!
  • katsu ni kimatte-iru!
    Of course [we] are going to win!

Above, we can see that ni kimatte-iru translates to "of course" no matter what we put before it.

This is probably the extent function, given how the verb means "to decide" in other cases, and deciding on something means it can't be something else. So "of course" it's what's been decided already.
  • watashi wa handoru-neemu wo kore ni kimeta
    I decided my "handle-name" on this.
    • "Handle-name" is a wasei-eigo 和製英語 for an username in an internet forum or app. IGN, etc. In English, "handle" is synonymous with username, but "handle name" is not.
    • So: I decided [my] username on this. My username is going to be this.
  • bunka-sai wa meido-kissa ni kimatta
    The culture festival was decided on maid-cafe.
    • In other words, the class discussed what they were going to do for the school culture festival, and after much discussion, a bit of voting and counting tallies, they settled on doing the iconic (and extremely cliched) maid cafe for the event.

In some cases verb marking also happens in the comparison function:
  • shippai-saku ni suginai
    Doesn't exceed a failed-work.
    [It's] nothing more than a failed attempt (at creating something good).
    • The word shippai means failure, and saku means a work, like a work of art. This phrase could be used if a mad scientist was trying to create the perfect robot and was talking about one of his failed attempts.
  • kawaii ni suginai
    Nothing more than {cute}.
    • No personality. No character. No brains. Just a pretty face.
  • kitto ore no koto wo waratteru ni chigainai!
    Certainly, it's not different to [she] laughing about me!
    I'm sure that [she] is laughing about me!
    There's no doubt [she] is laughing about me!
    • The phrase ni chigainai means "not different to." The verb chigau 違う means "to differ"
    • It it's "not different to," that means that's exactly what it is. This collocation is used when the speaker is absolutely certain that something is happening.
    • For example, there's this ojousama character whose personality can be summarized into oh-ho-ho-ho-ho laughing at the protagonist's peasantry. The protagonist does something stupid in public. She saw him doing it. He is sure that, wherever she is, she is laughing about him now.
    • Alternatively, it's some weeb with crippling social anxiety that thinks everyone is laughing about him even when nobody is looking at him.
    • Anyway, this collocation usually accompanies kitto, which means "I'm sure" or "certainly."

There are even adverbial expressions that take the ni に particle.
  • you suru ni

I haven't been able to confirm the reason for this yet. However, ~ga ii ~がいい can be used in similar fashion, coming after a verb, and I do have the reason for that: the verb isn't in its predicative form, shuushikei 終止形, but in its attributive form, rentaikei 連体形, which just happens to look exactly the same for most verbs. In classical Japanese, the rentaikei of verbs could be marked by particles just like nouns, which explains the grammaticality of the phrase in modern Japanese.

Plus, the wa は particle can also make the verb the topic through the same process.[What is the nuance when は directly follows a verb in plain form? -, accessed 2019-08-09]

Since it works like that with two other particles, it's likely that's how it works with ni に, too.


Lastly, some explanations for some common and weird collocations.
  • __ ni yotte
    According to ____.
    • The verb yoru よる is used to say someone is the source of something.
    • yuufooteeburu ni yoru anime "Kimetsu no Yaiba"
      The anime "Kimetsu no Yaiba" from ufotable.
    • Or by ufotable.
    • Since the anime wouldn't exist without ufotable, we could say ufotable caused the anime.
    • Due to ufotable.
    • This is the cause function.
    • A statement that exists due to someone stating it, coming from someone, or by someone, can also be said to be "according to" someone.
  • watashi ni totte, ____
    To me, ____.
    • This is from toru 取る, "to take."
    • te ni toru
      To take in destination to [your] hand.
      To take and place in [your] hand.
      To obtain.
    • In other words, watashi ni totte is "taking" something and placing it into watashi.
    • It's literally somebody's "take" on it. What they took from it, what they understood from it, what they felt from it, their opinion on it, and so on.
  • sore ni tsuite, __
    それについて, ○○
    About that, ____.
    • This is spelled with kanji as tsuite 就いて, but the origin is the same as "to adhere," tsuku 付く.
    • In other words, it's information "adhered to that." "About that."
    • Most of the time, tsuku 就く is used to talk about roles, though.
    • ouza ni tsuku
      To adhere [yourself] to the throne.
      To ascend to the throne.
      To become the king.
  • sore ni kansuru jouhou
    Information about that.
    • The verb kansuru 関する means literally "related." To information related "to" that. Concerning that.
    • ni kanshite に関して works the same way.

Finally, this confusing pair:
  • ki ni naru
    To become ki.
    To be curious about.
  • ki ni suru
    To make become ki.
    To be bothered by.
    To mind.

As we've seen before, naru is the unaccusative variant of suru. In other words, naru means something becomes, while suru means someone makes something become. The question is: what in the world is ki 気 and what is becoming into it?

Literally, ki 気 is a "feeling." That helps nothing.

With the unaccusative naru, it becomes so we have a feeling, we get a feeling. We didn't make it so, it just happened. If you see something, you may get curious, and that's out of your control.

With the accusative suru, we're deliberated getting that feeling. It's under our control. We see something, and we mind it. We're bothered because of it. The key point here is that in this case we could "make" it so we aren't in that ki.
  • ki ni suru na
    Don't worry about it.
    Don't mind it.
  • sore wo ki ni sinai
    To not mind that.
  • sore wo ki ni sezu
    Not minding that, [he did something].
    Ignoring that, [he did something].




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  1. I know this post is really old, but I'm wondering if the に in「先生にプレゼントをもらった」acts as "passive agent marker" like you wrote. I'm kinda confused because I know you can use から there too, but I don't see how the に particle would change anything, or even if it changes anything at all.

    1. It seems that originally もらう worked only like a causative (e.g. 先生にプレゼントを買わせる). Causatives take only に, not から, but then people started saying it with から sometimes to emphasize "from whom" you got something.

      It's really confusing because に is supposed to mean "to" but in a few cases it means "from" instead. D:

  2. Holy Moly, i was looking for a good explanation about Japanese particles cause it is the number one problem for me, and i feel like i have struck gold. Just expressing my gratitude, thank you.