THE PARTICLE “O” (を)

CONTENTS

1. In short: The particle “o” (を) has three main functions
      (1) “o” can show the object of the verb
      (2) “o” can mean “in” a big space
      (3) “o” can mean “out of” a place
2. A bit more on the particle “o” (を): The Spelling
3. Bonus
      (1) The pronunciation of the particle “o”
      (2) The omission of the particle “o”

1. In short: The particle “o” (を) has three main functions

(1) “o” can show the object of the verb

The particle “o” can follow the object of the verb.

Example 1:  Kesa, pan to tamago o tabemashita. けさ、パンとたまごをべました。(I ate some bread and eggs this morning.)

A verb requiring an object is called a transitive verb. Here are some of many verbs usually used as transitive verbs in Japanese:

  • tabemasu (to eat) べます
  • yomimasu (to read) みます
  • renshuu-shimasu (to practice or train) れんしゅうします
  • motte-kimasu (to bring something) ってきます
  • keshimasu (to turn off or delete) します
  • oshiemasu (to teach, tell) おしえます, etc.

“Usually” means that most of the time, we hear the object with these verbs. So, if the object does not precede a transitive verb, we feel something is missing from the sentence. 

Here is an example. What do you think about the following sentence?

Ex. 2: Kinoo neru mae ni chotto yomimashita. きのうまえにちょっとみました。(Yesterday before going to bed I read a little.)

The English translation looks fine. In Japanese, however, it may make us feel something is missing and want to ask “Nani o? なにを? ([Read] what?)” even if it is not particularly important in the conversation. Therefore, actually, we usually say it like this:

Ex. 3: Kinoo neru mae ni chotto hon o yomimashita. きのうまえにちょっとほんみました。(Yesterday before going to bed I read a book for a while.)

(2) “o” can mean “in” a big space

The particle “o” can follow a word expressing big space, and mean something moves “in” the space. See the examples:

[Click to Enlarge / 画像をクリックすると拡大します] Tokyo Station, Yaesu Exit 東京駅八重洲口構内

Ex. 4:  Tori ga sora o tonde-imasu. とりそらんでいます。(A bird is flying in the sky.)

Ex. 5: Kujira ga nanpyooyoo o oyoide-imasu. くじらなんぴょうようおよいでいます。(Whales are swimming in the Antarctic Ocean.)

For this meaning, the [noun expressing space + “o”] block is followed by => a Verb of Moving About.

Also, this grammar expresses an unrestricted movement, such as birds flying in the sky, cars and people passing on the street, you strolling in a park freely or a whale swimming in a vast body of water.

On the other hand, if you go to a beach, your swimming will take place in a very small, restricted area. So, for ourselves, we say as follows:

Ex. 6: Odawara no umi de yoku oyogimashita. わらうみでよくおよぎました。(I used to swim in the ocean in Odawara City.)

(3) “o” can mean “out of” a place

The particle “o” can follow a word expressing a place, and mean “out of” the place.

Ex. 7:  Go-ji han ni kaisha o demasu. 5はん会社かいしゃます。(I will leave work at half past five.)

Ex. 8:  Miraa-san wa ni-sen nen ni kookoo o demashita.ミラーさんは2000ねん高校こうこうました。(Mr. Miller graduated from high school in Year 2000.)

For this meaning, the [noun expressing a place + “o”] block is followed by => a Verb of Leaving a Place.

2. A bit more on the particle “o” (を): The spelling

Note that we spell the particle “o (wo)” with “を”. Do not write “お”, that’s the rule. In Modern Japanese, we use “を” only for this particle.

3. Bonus

(1) The pronunciation of the particle “o”

“o” (を) is pronounced the same as “o” (お). 

However, there are still many people including the youth (if not a majority) who pronounce it “wo”, the old way.

You can say it either way.

(2) The omission of the object marker “o”

In conversation, we frequently omit the particle “o”. See below for how we actually speak:

Ex. 9: Asa-gohan, tabemashita? あさごはん、べました? (Did you have breakfast?)

Ex. 10: Maria-san ni meeru (o) shita? マリアさんにメールした? (Did you send an e-mail message to Ms. Maria?)

Ex. 11: Shuumatsu ni shukudai (o) shimasu.しゅうまつ宿しゅくだいします。

The reason for the omission is that the listener can easily recognize the object, in these cases “breakfast” or the “message” as the object from the verb and the context.

However, it is generally recommended to keep your “o” and all other particles in your writing.

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