The Japanese Particle で(de) : Let’s take an article to focus on the particle で (de). Particles can be very confusing. But once you get used to them and learn all the different ways to use them, you’ll be able to say exactly what you mean in Japanese.

Particles are something we don’t really have in English. They fill a lot of grammar roles, so it can be a bit difficult to know how to use them correctly. In this article, I’ll break で down into four main uses to help you understand how to use it. 

The way I always translate で in my head is “by means of.” This can get a little clunky in certain contexts, and it doesn’t always translate over cleanly. But you’ll see that this translation is pretty consistent with all the different uses of で. Let’s get into the first use.

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The Japanese Particle で(de )- Location

で can mark a location. This is one of the most common ways for you to use the particle で. It’s also the easiest one to remember. 

The tricky part with this is just remembering that this is not a directional particle. It marks a specific place where something happened. So if you met your friend at the train station you can say

“Eki de aimashita” (駅で会いました).

A lot of times, で can be translated as “at” in this situation, but not always. It can sometimes be other words like “on” or “in.” で also can’t mark a location of existence. You have to use に (ni) for marking location with the verbs いる (iru) and ある (aru). 

The Japanese Particle で(de) – Something That Is Used

Japanese particles

This use goes along best with my first translation, “by means of.” で can indicate something that is used to do the verb. It could be an instrument, means, material, time, or money. Let’s look at some examples for this one.

For an instrument (not necessarily music here), you could say you went somewhere by bus. You would say

“Basu de ikimashita” (バスで行きました). 

You could also translate this as “I went by means of the bus.” Again, it’s clunky in English, but it is easy to understand. 

If you’re talking about means, you could say you spoke using Japanese. That would be

“Nihongo de hanashita” (日本語で話した), or “I spoke by means of Japanese.” 

For materials, you could say a house was made of wood. You would say “Ki de dekiteimasu” (木でできています) or “It was made by means of wood.” 

If you want to talk about the time that was used for something, you could say it took three days to do something. You could say

“Mikka de dekimashita” (三日でできました). 

For saying how much money you spent, you could say you bought something for 500 yen. You would say

“Go-hyaku en de katta” (五百円で買った). 

The Japanese Particle で(de) –Cause or Reason

で can be used to indicate a weak causal relationship between two things. At least, that’s how my grammar book puts it. Basically, it can be used to mark an explanation for something.

If you didn’t go to work because you were sick, you could say

“Byouki de yasumimashita” (病気で休みました). 

If something was knocked over by a strong wind you could say

“Kaze de ochita” (風で落ちた). 

The Japanese Particle で(de) – Ending Point

This last use is fairly specific. で sometimes marks an ending point or a point of change. If a class ends at 3 o’clock, you can say

“San-ji de owarimasu” (3時で終わります). 

It’s important to remember that this use marks a very specific point in time. It translates pretty well to “at” in English, just like our location use. If you want to talk more about a length of time, you can use “kara” (から) and “made” (まで). With these, you could say “This class goes from 1 o’clock to 3 o’clock,” by saying

“Kono kurasu wa ichi-ji kara san-ji made desu” (このクラスは一時から3時までです). 

You can’t express the same passage of time with で. It is a specific point.

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The Japanese Particle で(de) – Other Uses of で

This is not an exhaustive list of the uses of で. It is however, probably the four most common uses. Learning these uses will help you have a fairly good grasp on this particle, but I would like to just gloss over a few more uses you might hear and you should probably learn to use. 

The first is で used as a sentence connector. Some people will use this kind of like the word “and.” If you’ve been studying particles, you’ll know that the particles for “and” don’t really work for connecting sentences together. で does work, in some situations. 

You can put で after a na-adjective or noun to connect it to something else in the same way we use “and.” You can say

Genki de…” (元気で…) meaning “He is well and…” 

or

“Koukousei de…” (高校生で…) meaning “She’s a high school student and…”

You may also see で attached to a lot of other grammar structures. The one that comes to mind for me is “de aru” (である) which means roughly “to be,” but is used differently than just “aru.” 

The more you listen for something, the more you’ll hear it, so keep an ear out for で. It’s a very common particle in Japanese, and knowing how to use it will definitely be a plus as you continue learning.

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