What Is The Japanese Particle Mo (も)?

Do any of you have a friend named Mo? I’ve got a little sister that I sometimes call Mo, but none of my friends go by this nickname. You may be wondering what I’m droning on about. Perhaps you want to know, what is the particle mo?

Well, that’s what I’m going to cover today. You are going to make a new friend who answers by this name as we go through several situations where it’s appropriate to use も (mo) and what it means in each case

Let’s start off with the most common form first, and then branch out from there.

It Can Mean “Also” or “Too”

The first, and perhaps most common way to see the particle も used is equivalent to the English words “also; too” when used in a variety of situations.

For example, let’s say that you’re moving out of your apartment and you’re going through stuff to see which is yours and which belongs to your roommate. You list off a number of things that belong to you when your friend holds up a Star Wars DVD and asks if it’s yours or not.

  • それも私のです。
  • sore mo watashi no desu.
  • That’s also mine.

Any time you want to say “also” like this you will add も on to the end of the word that is being included. If you told someone that there were apples in the grocery bag, but then when you looked a second time you noticed that there are also some bananas you could tell them バナナもあるよ (banana mo aru yo) for “There are also some bananas.”

In English the words “also” and “too” are exchangeable in many situations, and it’s a similar thing with using も for both. I’m sure there are many times when you hear someone ask something like “Who wants a Dr. Pepper?” and your friend say’s that they want one.

That’s when you can chime in with a 私も (watashi mo) for “Me too!” and let them know to include you in the goodies.

It Can Emphasize A Number

You know how in English we sometimes use the tone of our voice to add emphasis to something that we said? Well, when it comes to talking about numbers in Japanese the particle も can function in the same way.

Let’s look at it from a big number perspective. As you may know, the Japanese government has mandated that their citizens learn the 2,000+ daily use kanji in order to be literate. That’s a lot from a foreigner’s perspective, but normal for the Japanese themselves.

However, if a person was highly educated and well-read, it’s not unreasonable for them to know around 5,000 kanji. That being said, even this number is big for a Japanese native and it might warrant the use of も to help emphasize the largeness of the number.

  • 田中は、漢字を5000も知ってるよ!
  • tanaka wa, kanji o go sen mo shitteru yo!
  • Tanaka knows 5,000 kanji!

In other words, the も doesn’t add any specific meaning like it did earlier when it could be translated as “also” in English. Instead, it is used to convey an emotion that is felt by the speaker about the severity of a number.

It can also be used when talking about the smallness of a number as well.

  • お客さんが一人もいなかった。
  • okyaku san ga hitori mo inakatta.
  • We didn’t even have one customer.

In this last case, the person is surprised at the lowness of a level, in this case the number of customers, and they add the も which can function similarly to the “even” in the English translation above.

Again, this isn’t adding new information as the message would be the same even without the も, but rather it is helping us to connect with the emotional message (not just the informational message) that the speaker is conveying.

Attached To Question Words

There are a lot of “question words” in Japanese such as 何 (nani) which means “what” or 誰 (dare) which means “who” and such.

A common pattern that you might notice is that も gets added on to these types of question words in order to form a new word with a common meaning.

The general theme is that when these words are combined with a negative verb, they carry a meaning of “never” or negation with them that is similar to one another’s meanings.

何も becomes “nothing” and 誰も becomes “no one.”

  • 誰もいませんでした。
  • dare mo imasen deshita.
  • There was no one there.

The word for “when” いつ (itsu) turns into いつも which means “never.” The word for “where” どこ (doko) becomes どこも for “nowhere.” And the word for “why” どうして changes to どうしても and translates as “by no means.”

It Can Mean “Both … And”

One thing that is interesting about this particle is that sometimes it gets used twice to form a pattern where the speaker is saying “both this, and that” and all that is needed is to add も to the ends of each word.

  • ピザもハンバーガーも好きですよ。
  • piza mo hambāgā mo suki desu yo.
  • I like both pizza and hamburgers.

This is a way to include both nouns that have も on them in whatever the verb is saying.

For example, there is a book on Amazon titled We Should All Be Feminists in English. It has been translated into Japanese and is being sold on the Amazon Japan website, but of course it has a slightly different name.

They decided to title it as 男も女もみんなフェミニストでなきゃ which basically means the same thing, but as you can see it has that 「男も女も」 right at the beginning which brings that “both men and women” feeling to it letting the reader know that it’s not limited to just one of them.

At any rate, when you see も used twice (or more) like this attached to nouns, be sure to think of the “both … and” meaning.

Further Resources

Particles are very important to learn and understand in Japanese. You can often change the entire meaning of a sentence just by altering a single particle.

This means that if you accidentally use the wrong one, the results can be mild confusion on the low end, and upsetting someone on the sever end of things!

That’s why I think it’s a good idea to devote some dedicated study time to learning more about Japanese particles on both a width approach (how many particles are there) and a depth approach (what are all the meanings of a single particle).

The best resource that I’ve found on this topic is a book devoted entirely to Japanese particles.

I highly recommend you check it out sometime to see if that’s something that you would like to learn more about.

Other than that, if there are any questions or comments that you have about も then be sure to let me know by leaving a comment in the section down below. Thanks!

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