What Is The Japanese Particle De (で)?

What is the Japanese particle de? Well, it is one of the more common ones that can be used when speaking or writing in Japanese. Not only are there a lot of different meanings for it, but some of these meanings are easy to confuse with other particles.

Below you will find four different ways that this particle can be used and some explanations and examples to help you understand it. This isn’t an extensive list of で as I am sure there are other ways that it can be used, but I wanted to give you the most common ways so that you could get started.

Provides A Reason

One of the ways that the particle で gets used is when a person wants to provide a reason for something else that has happened or that didn’t happen.

Let’s say that you were planning on going to a friend’s party on Friday, but then you got sick so you had to stay at home instead. The next time you see your friend, they ask you why you didn’t come. That’s when you say:

  • 病気で行けませんでした。
  • byouki de ikemasen deshita.
  • I couldn’t go because I was sick.

The で particle gets attached to the reason, in this case an illness, that helps explain the verb in the sentence, in this case “could not go (to the party).”

Another good way to understand this use of で is the English phrase “due to” which could be substituted out for “because” in the above sentence.

These words can’t always be used in place of one another in English, but they are a pretty good translation for this use of today’s particle.

  • 台風で学校が休みになった。
  • taifuu de gakkou ga yasumi ni natta.
  • School was canceled due to the typhoon.

The Location Of An Action

I think that this particular use of で is the most common one that I encounter. It is used for “in; at” when a person performs some sort of action at a location.

This is different from the particle に (ni) which can also be translated as “in; at” but for different reasons.

The trick to remembering how to use で correctly for this one is that some sort of action verb must happen at a location. Let’s take a very common example for students: Studying at the library.

  • 図書館で勉強した。
  • toshokan de benkyou shita.
  • (I) studied at the library.

In this case, the action was “studying” and since we also want to convey to the location of where we study, we use で.

Let’s look at another common example, eating food somewhere.

If you were talking to a friend about the lunch you had earlier that day, they might ask you where you ate at. Did you eat at home, at the office, or at a restaurant?

For all three of these situations, you would attach the particle で to the end of the location where you ate.

  • レストランで食べた。
  • resutoran de tabeta.
  • I ate at the restaurant.

To Go By – Transportation

This next use of で is actually pretty simple. It can be used to describe the mode of transportation that you used to go from one place to the other.

I suppose you could say that it describes the “means” of transportation

For example, if you were at work and a co-worker asked you get to work each day since some people drive in their car and others use the public transportation system. You, on the other hand, like to ride your bicycle to work in order to stay healthy.

  • 自転車で行きました。
  • jitensha de ikimashita.
  • (I) came by bicycle.

Another example might be when you travel between two countries. There are a couple of different modes of transportation that you could use depending on the relative location of when you leave and where you arrive, but the common ones are car, plane, and boat.

  • アメリカへは船で行けますか?
  • amerika e wa fune de ikemasu ka?
  • Can you go to America by boat?

It’s pretty common to see this use of で combined with verbs that indicate some sort of travel like 行く (to go), 来る (to come), 帰る (to return home) and so on.

That might be a good hint for when you run into this use of it.

Indicates An Amount

Sometimes you want to tell a person how much time something will take or how much money it will cost. In situations such as these, we can use で to indicate this amount.

  • 約1時間で調べられる。
  • yaku ichi jikan de shiraberareru.
  • (This) can be examined in about an hour.

When it comes to time like the above example, a good way to understand で is like the English “in” when referring to a window of time, such as an hour.

On the other hand, when it comes to money it might be better to think of this particle as the English “for” when telling someone how much money they can get the item with.

  • それは百円で買える。
  • sore wa hyaku en de kaeru.
  • (You) can buy that for 100 yen.

In both of these cases, the particle is kind of putting an outer limit on how much money or time something will take. You might be able to accomplish the task in less time, or get the item for less money, so it’s not necessarily an exact number although it can be in certain cases.

More Particles – Beginner Books

Particles are essential to learn and understand for the Japanese language. You can get a lot of good information, often times the most common uses, from beginner books.

Once you’ve got a good resource that will help you understand this aspect of the grammar, the next best thing to do is to read and listen to a lot of material so that you can flood your brain with examples.

A lot of particles are very close to one another, so it can be easy to mix them up. Don’t worry too much if you make a mistake as it takes a while to get a good intuitive feel for the right one to use.

If you have any questions or comments that you would like to make, then be sure to do so in the section down below.

Thanks for reading!

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