Sunday, June 30, 2019

わ Particle

WIP : this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, the waparticle is a sentence-ending particle used to affirm one's conclusion, decision, opinion, to clarify something, or to exclaim an emotion such as surprise. In a way, it's predominantly used by women, categorizing it as female language.

Not to be confused with the wa は topic-marker, which is spelled with ha は but read wa.


Like other sentence-ending particles, wa わ goes at the very end of phrases and adds a nuance that can't be easily translated to English.
  • kore wa sugoi
    This is amazing.
  • kore wa sugoi wa
    This is amazing.

See the article about sentence-ending particles for details.

It's normally used when the speaker wants to affirm what they feel. To express their opinion or conclusion about something.
  • muri da wa!
    It's impossible. (a conclusion.)

Some resources will say it expresses "admiration," or eitan 詠嘆, but it's usage is closer to a neutral "exclamation." The wa わ can be used to exclaim something that's not admirable, for example.
  • saitei na kuzu da wa
    [He's] the worst scum. (an opinion.)

Since it expresses an exclamation, it can be translated to English as a literal exclamation mark.(Matsumura, 1969:676, cited in Petersson, 2010)
  • sou da wa
    That's right!

It's also used to assert an idea as true, specially when correction someone else.
  • watashi desu
    It's me.
  • watashi desu wa
    It's me.
    • Make no mistake: it's me and nobody else!

Not Hortative

The wa わ particle is only used to express the speaker's own ideas. It can't be used to command someone else to do something.(Matsumura, 1969:676-677, cited in Petersson, 2010)
  • *nigemashou wa
  • *nigero wa
  • *nigete wa
  • *nigenaide wa

In some cases, the speaker expressing her intention to do something can be interpreted as an invitation to join her in doing it. For example:
  • nigeru wa
    [I'll] run away. (a decision.)
    [We'll] run away.
    [Let's] run away.

Above, the wa わ implies that nigeru, "to run away," is the speaker's decision, or it clarifies what she'll do next: she'll "run away." Depending on the situation, it can be interpreted what she and whoever she's talking with are going to do. By contrast:
  • nigeru
    To run away.
    • A phrase without sentence-ending particles doesn't express how the speaker feels, which can sound odd in certain situations.
  • nigeru ne
    [We'll] run away, right?
    • This phrase seeks confirmation about an intention, rather than asserting the speaker's decision.

Female Particle

The wa わ particle is predominantly used by women. It's said to have a "softening" effect on phrases, and soft equals girly, so girls use it, not men. By contrast, particles like zo ぞ are said to be "crude," so men use it, not women. (Ochs, cited in Cook, 1987)

This soft-crude feminine-masculine axis is also associated with polite-impolite. For example, men don't use crude masculine particles in formal contexts because they sound impolite.

In anime, the wa わ particle is notably often used by ojousama お嬢様 characters, "rich girls" who are supposed to be refined.

Usage by Men

The wa わ particle can also be used by men, in which case it usually exclaims an emotion such as surprise. Since it's a softening, feminine particle, it implies the speaker is trying to be somewhat polite in his exclamation, otherwise he could've just used a crude male particle instead.
  • ore wa shinjiru wa
    I believe.
  • ore wa samui wa
    I'm cold.

There's another hint that this male wa わ is meant to be merely slightly polite. The female wa わ can be combined with the polite masu ます, forming masu wa ますわ. However, the male wa わ isn't combined with masu ます.(Martin, 2004:920, cited in Petersson, 2010)

In other words, the male speaker says wa わ when he thinks the phrase would otherwise lack politeness. If he's using masu, he's already speaking politely, so there's no point in adding the softening wa わ.


Although the wa わ particle is always spelled as just wa わ, there's a difference in how it's pronounced depending on usage.

In particular, wa わ with a rising intonation is only used by women.(Hanaoka McGloin, 2005:230, cited in Petersson, 2010)

Basically, the wa わ particle has at least two distinct functions according to how it's pronounced. In some dictionaries it's three distinct functions.

These functions are related, they're more or less the same thing, but they're still different things.[は - 精選版 日本国語大辞典 via, accessed 2019-06-30]
  1. Expressing an opinion, decision, a correction.
    Rising intonation.
    Used by women.
    Presses an idea against the listener.
  2. Express surprise, conclusion, explanation.
    Falling intonation.
    Used by both genders.
    Merely clarifies an idea.

So, normally, the wa わ particle a guy uses is the second one, not the first one, which would inadvertently sound feminine. There are cases the first one is used, however, like as a form of gender expression. In anime, this occurs when you have an okama オカマ character.


The wa わ particle can be combined with other sentence-ending particles. For example:
  • wa ne わね
    Exclaims one's opinion and seeks agreement.
    • muzukashii wa ne
      [It's] difficult, isn't it?
  • wa yo わよ
    Exclaims one's opinion and calls attention to it.
    In particular, it can be used when correcting someone and contradicting something absurd..
    • urusai wa yo!
      [You're] annoying!
    • aru wa yo
      [It] exists.

The wa わ is used as an affirmation, so it can't combine with ka か, which expresses a question. It can combine with ne ね and na な, because those particles are used to confirm the affirmation with the listener, e.g. "isn't it? Isn't that so?"

The wa わ is soft (feminine), so it doesn't combine with crude (masculine) particles like ze ぜ and zo ぞ.

The function with a rising intonation can come after copulas and the masu suffix.
  • da wa だわ
  • da wa yo だわよ
  • da wa ne だわね
  • desu wa ですわ
  • desu wa yo ですわよ
  • desu wa ne ですわね
  • masu wa ますわ
  • masu wa yo ますわよ
  • masu wa ne ますわね

The function with a falling intonation can not, and can only come after a verb in plain form or i-adjective.
  • suru wa するわ
    (either intonation, so either function, either speaker gender.)
  • shimasu wa しますわ
    (only rising intonation, so only female speaker.)


The phrase kon'nichi wa こんにち is a typo. The correct spelling is:
  • kon'nichi wa こんにち
    (with the wa は topic-marker, not the wa わ sentence-ending particle.)

Such typos are made even by natives. Some are even deliberate, as some people think it's cuter spelling it that way.[「こんにちは」と「こんにちわ」 -, accessed 2019-06-30]

This one is fairly obvious because kon'nichi wa is supposed to be an abbreviation of a longer phrase, like:
  • kon'nichi wa go-kigen ikaga desu ka?
    As for today, [your] humor how is?
    How are [you] today?

Sometimes it's not so obvious, so it's important to keep in mind that a wa わ may be a wa は sometimes too.

For example, watashi wa 私ゎ is pretty clearly deliberately misspelled. Some people don't even know how to type the small wa わ like that.

Conversely, konnichi ha こんにちは is a valid Japanese-style romaji for konnichi wa.

わ vs. は

Historically, the particles wa わ and wa は are related, but in a rather complicated way.

To begin with, in a sense, the sentence-ending particle wa わ comes from the topic-marker wa は. [わ - デジタル大辞泉 via, accessed 2019-36-29]

But in order to understand this, first we need to know why the topic-marker wa は read as wa わ even though it's spelled with ha は.

Basically, in the past, this thing "は" was pronounced just like wa わ is pronounced in modern Japanese. For example, the word "river," kawa 川, would be spelled, in the past, as kaha, but would be pronounced as kawa.

Similarly, he へ used to be pronounced as e え.

After a language reform, the way to pronounce は changed from wa to ha. This means the reason the particles wa は and e へ are pronounced differently is because they're pronounced in the archaic way, while literally every other Japanese word is now spelled and pronounced the modern way.

This also means that, in the past, the sentence-ending particle wa わ was actually spelled "は" just like the topic-marker.
  • (I'm not writing the romaji for this excerpt because this dates to the 11th century and I wouldn't know if the pronunciation is right.)
  • 源氏(1001‐14頃)紅梅「はかばかしき御後見なくては、いかがとて、北のかた、そひてさぶらひ給
  • Yep, that last は is a sentence-ending particle. [は - 精選版 日本国語大辞典 via, accessed 2019-06-30]
For some reason, the sentence-ending wa わ is now spelled the modern way, as wa わ, while the topic-marker wa は kept the archaic spelling.



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