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 several functions.

Indirect Object Marker

In the active voice, the ni に particle marks the indirect object of a sentence for a verb. In this case, wo を marks the direct object, and ga が marks the subject.
  • watashi ga kimi ni kore wo oshieru
    I'll teach you this.
    I'll teach this to you.

Note that, in English, the indirect object can be identified by its position in the sentence or by a preposition. In Japanese, it's marked by a particle. There's no positional requirement. It can be literally anywhere so long as ni に comes after it.
  • watashi ga kore wo oshieru, kimi ni
    I'll teach this, to you.

Also note that most phrases in Japanese have implicit arguments which can be implied from context in a conceptual game of fill-in-the-blanks or Cards Against Humanity.
  • kimi ni oshieru
    [Someone] will teach [something] to you.
    [I] will teach [this] to you.
    [He] will teach [Spanish] to you.
    [Master] will teach [kung-fu fighting] to you.
    [Japanese Role-Playing Games] will teach [leveling up requires keeping doing something a lot] to you.

Also also, note that Japanese has other particles that translate to the indirect object in English. Like:
  • mirai e iku
    To go to the past.
  • gakkou de hataraku
    To work at school.
    • de
      Can mark the place where an action is done.
  • neko to hanasu
    To talk to cats.
    To talk with cats.
    • to
      Can mark with who an action is done.

Also also also, note that in a sentence with both ni に and wo を object markers, if you move the noun marked by wo を to after the verb of the sentence, you'll have a relative clause qualifying the noun.
  • ore ga kimi ni ninjutsu wo oshieta
    I taught you the ninja-arts.
  • ore ga kimi ni oshieta ninjutsu
    The ninja-arts [that] I taught you.
    • In English, the relative pronoun "that" introduces the relative clause "I taught you" which qualifies the noun "ninja-arts."

That's important to know since a lot of times you'll have phrase in the pattern:
  • indirect-object に verb object
    The object [that] verb to indirect-object.

For example:
  • watashi ni itta koto
    The thing [that] [someone] said to me.
  • ou-sama ni todoita tegami
    The letter [that] was delivered to the king.

Passive Agent Marker

In passive voice, the ni に particle marks the agent of the action. In this case, ga が marks the patient, which is basically the direct object of the action.

The difference between active and passive voice in Japanese is in the verb. If the verb is conjugated to the passive form, it's passive voice, otherwise it's active.
  • neko ga nezumi wo kuu
    The cat eats the rat.
  • nezumi ga neko ni kuwareru
    The rat is eaten by the cat.

Above we have the same sentence in active voice and then in passive voice. Note that the verb, kuu, is conjugated to kuwareru, its passive form.

Since it all depends on form of the verb, it's important to pay attention to it. It can be the difference between agent and indirect object.
  • kimi ni iu
    To tell to you. (indirect object.)
  • kimi ni iwareru
    To be told by you. (agent.)

In relatives clauses, the noun qualified by the clause in this case is usually the patient.
  • neko ni kuwareta nezumi
    The rat [that] was eaten by the cat.

Although, due to how relative clauses work in Japanese, the qualified noun won't necessarily be the patient.
  • neko ni kuwareta riyuu
    The reason [why] [someone] was eaten by the cat.

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

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.

One basic thing to note is that adverbs modify verbs, while adjectives modify nouns. So if what comes after a na-adjective is a noun, then you use na な, while if what comes after it is a verb, then you need to use ni に.

Although the na な particle is often associated with na adjectives, it's in essence the attributive counterpart of the predicative da だ copula. 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.

For example, when you have a noun:
  • 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;"

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 like [you're] sleeping.
  • neru you ni mieru
    To appear like [you're] sleeping.
  • oishi-sou na keeki
    A cake [that] looks like it's delicious.
  • oishi-sou ni taberu
    To eat [it] looking like it's delicious.
  • baka-mitai na nayami
    A worry [that] seems stupid.
  • baka-mitai ni kitai shita
    [I] expected [something] like an idiot.

It can also be added to the pronouns konna, sonna, anna, donna こんな, そんな, あんな, どんな to turn them into adverbs.
  • konna ii mono
    A good thing like this [one].
    A good thing such as this one. Such good thing.
    • Here, konna is not an adverb, so it can only qualify a noun such as mono or noun phrase such as ii mono.
    • konna {ii mono}
      こんな いいもの
      (how it's divided.)
  • konna ni ii mono
    A thing good like this.
    A thing this good. A thing this much good.
    • Here, konna ni is an adverb. Adverbs don't qualify nouns, so it isn't qualifying mono. Therefore, it must be modifying the adjective ii いい instead, and that modified adjective qualifies mono.
    • {konna ni ii} mono
      こんなにいい もの
      (how it's divided.)


The ni に particle sometimes translates to simply "for" in English. In the sense it's for someone's or something's sake. For example:
  • karada ni ii
    Good for the body. (for your health.)
  • sono tame ni nandemo suru
    [I'll] do anything for that purpose.

Complements of a Set

The ni に particle sometimes joins elements that complement each other in a set. This is a very generic way of saying what it does.

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 join three or more elements in similar fashion.

Marking Verbs and Adjectives

The ni に particle can mark verbs and adjectives. This can happen in multiple ways.

First, there are certain adverbial expressions which usually take the ni に particle. For example:
  • you suru ni

Certain expressions take clauses by marking them with the ni に particle, for example:
  • yaru ni kimattteiru
    It's been decided "to do." (literally.)
    OF COURSE we'll do it!
  • abunai ni kimatteiru
    OF COURSE it's dangerous.
  • benkyou shita ni chigai nai
    There's NO DOUBT [he] has studied.

Generally speaking, however, to use the particle ni に with something that's not a noun you must first turn it into a noun. This is done with the no の particle, which can act as a nominalizer.

Syntactically, the no の is a noun, and what comes before it is a relative clause qualifying it.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.]

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" sense. But it's important to remember that, literally, it's just the nominalizer plus the ni に particle.

Continuing, the same nominalizing principle that applies to verbs applies to adjectives. To use ni に with i-adjectives, you need to first make them qualify the nominalizer.

Again, the -i ~い suffix of i-adjectives is a copula. It translates to a copulative verb ("is", "are", "to be"), and works just like one. Which means adjectives are like verbs, and using an i-adjective works literally the same way as using any other verb in a relative clause. For example:
  • 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. In this case, however, the copula is the na な.

To use ni に with an adjective, you need to turn it into a noun. To turn it into a noun, you need to qualify no の with a relative clause. To form a relative clause, you need a verb. And that verb is the copula na な. So you need to string na no ni なのに together.
  • 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.


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.)

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