Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Uses of と
- Beyond the Basics
The particle と wears a lot of hats, but its fundamental meaning is quite simple — to connect two or more things together as companions.
と = Together
We like to think of と's fundamental meaning as marking togetherness. Particle と is like a companion marker — when a word is marked by と, we know it's part of a pair or a group, or has some kind of companionship with other words or elements in the sentence.
To help drive this point home, let me introduce two penguin companions, ペン太 and ペン子. These penguin pals are always together (or と-gether 😉) because they're great friends:
- Penta and Penko are friends.
In this sentence, と comes between the two penguins, ペン太 and ペン子, just like the word "and." As you read on, you'll see that particle と can pop up in different places, and take slightly different meanings. However, keep in mind the togetherness of our penguin pals, and all the different uses will make sense!
Uses of と
と as in "And"
Just like you saw before with our penguin friends, particle と can be used to connect two or more nouns in a similar way to "and" in English. This applies to all kinds of nouns, from places you plan to go, to food you want to eat:
- I'm going to eat tomatoes and bananas.
In this sentence, と connects トマト and バナナ into a pair. To connect more than two items, you can simply repeat と, like:
- I'm going to eat tomatoes, bananas, cake, ramen and sushi.
It's simple and easy, but I hope your stomach is okay. 🍅🍌🍰🍜🍣😅
と as in "With"
Particle と can also be used to mean something like "with" in English. In this case, the noun that comes before と indicates who is together with you as you do an activity. So if you ate tomatoes with your little sister, you can say:
- I ate tomatoes with my little sister.
In this example, と marks 妹 (little sister) as the person accompanying you on your tomato eating adventure.
Were there others joining in the feast with you and your 妹? In this case, you can connect them with と, as in "and," like:
- I ate tomatoes with my little sister and my little brother.
In this case, the と between 妹 and 弟 (little brother) works like "and," connecting the two of them together. The と after 弟 works like "with," marking your 妹 and 弟 as the people who ate the tomatoes with you.
What if you ate more foods with more people? Well, you simply connect everyone together using と.
- I ate tomatoes, bananas, cake, ramen, and sushi with my little sister, my little brother, my father, and my mother.
Just like the English translation, this is kind of an unpleasant sentence in Japanese. Seriously, that's too (と) much と for me!
と for Listing Options
The particle と can also be used to list options, in which case it will be accompanied by a "which one?" question.
For example, to list beverage options and ask "which one would you like?" you can connect the options with と and ask:
- Which would you like: milk, juice, tea, or coffee?
In this case, と ends up meaning something more like "or," but these beverages are all still together in the same group — available drink options.
Notice that the final と, which comes after コーヒー, is in parentheses. While it can be included, the と that comes after the last noun tends to be omitted.
Beyond the Basics
In this section, we'll explore some advanced uses of と, while comparing them with the basic concept of と (togetherness).
と for Interactive Actions
You've learned that と can be used like "with" in English, and it marks someone who is engaged in the same activity as the subject. Sometimes, however, the Japanese idea of "with" is quite different from the English one. For example, to say you kissed your girlfriend, you can use と and say:
- I kissed my girlfriend.
(Literally: I kissed with my girlfriend.)
In this example, と marks 彼女 (your girlfriend) as the person with whom the action was done . The nuance here is that both "you" and "your girlfriend" were engaged in the kissing together. This highlights that it was interactive and both parties were mutually involved.
However, there are times when you want to show some directionality: who kissed whom? To do this, you would use particle に:
- I kissed my girlfriend.
(Literally: I kissed to my girlfriend.)
Here, に marks 彼女 (your girlfriend) as the destination for your kiss, which implies that you initiated the action.
The same concept applies to other verbs that can be both be mutual and unidirectional. For example, if you are having an interactive phone call, you use と to say:
- I called my girlfriend.
(Literally: I called with my girlfriend.)
This is basically saying the same thing as "I talked with my girlfriend on the phone." However, if you want to express that you are the one that placed the phone call, you would use に to say:
- I called my girlfriend.
(Literally: I called to my girlfriend.)
See how that works? Now, if the verb is something that is inherently done together, you will only have the option to use と. For example:
- ⭕ 彼女と結婚をした。
- I married my girlfriend.
Since marriage is something that must be done together, particle に is not an appropriate choice. Even though "with" feels strange to English speakers, take note that this kind of mutual activity or state will usually come with particle と in Japanese!
と for Different Interpretations
When the action involves multiple subjects, と can sometimes create ambiguity because it could mean two different things — either the subjects involved are doing something to each other, or they’re doing something with each other. Take a look at the following examples:
- In the First World War, Japan and Great Britain fought (together).
- In the Second World War, Japan and Great Britain fought (each other).
In these examples, と denotes that both Japan and the UK were engaged in the same activity – fighting. But like in English, we can only tell the difference from context.
To make it less ambiguous, we often use a phrase like 一緒に (together) to indicate they were fighting on the same side.
- In the First World War, Japan and Great Britain fought together.
When there’s no context to guess from and no clarification from words like 一緒に, we can usually assume the sentence indicates “doing something to each other” instead of “doing something together.” For example, the following sentence implies that the two people fought each other.
- Takeshi and Masaru fought each other.
And if you’re referring to Takeshi and Masaru fighting together against a gang or some comparable situation, it’s better to add the phrase 一緒に or other contextual clues.
と for Marking Quotations
You can also use particle と to mark the end of a quotation. Think of it this way ー actions like 言う (say) or 思う (think) occur together with words or thoughts. When you speak, there are always words, and when you think, there are always thoughts in your head.
Let's use an example to examine this idea:
- Cameron said, "Morning!"
In this sentence, と marks 「おはよう」 as a quote, which is inevitably paired with a verb like 言う, since quotes have to be said, right?
Quick side note — although the Japanese quotation marks 「」, called かぎかっこ, are used in the above sentence, they can be omitted to mean the same thing. What's more, と is often replaced with って in casual conversation. So this next example sentence, while slightly different, is identical in meaning to the above one:
- Cameron said, "Morning!"
Particle と can also be used to quote your own thoughts. In this case, と is usually followed by a verb like 思う or 考える, both of which mean "think" (but with different nuances).
- I think that it's a difficult question.
In this example, と marks 難しい質問だ as your thought, and connects it with the verb 思う.
You can also use と to quote オノマトペ. While the word literally means "onomatopoeia," Japanese オノマトペ transcend the English ones, as they can both represent natural sounds and symbolize manners and states in an expressive fashion.
For example, sound of a dog barking, "bow-wow," is ワンワン in Japanese. To say the dog is barking, you can use と to quote "bow-wow" and say:
- The dog is barking.
(Literally: The dog is barking, "bow-wow.")
When the オノマトペ is depicting a manner or a state, the word marked by と is generally translated with an adverb in English, as in:
- The baby is sleeping soundly.
(Literally: The baby is sleeping, "zzz-zzz.")
と for Strong Causal Relationships
Particle と can also be used to show a "strong causal relationship." In other words, you can use と to explain a certain condition, with a result that always follows. It's like saying "When X happens, the result is always Y." To apply this use to the fundamental meaning of と, think of it this way ー と is marking a situation that always occurs together with another situation.
For example, let's say you always feel sleepy when you eat food. In this case, you can say:
- When I eat food, I feel sleepy.
Here, the particle と is sandwiched between the condition (ご飯を食べる) and the result (眠くなる), indicating that these two situations are not separable and always occur together.
Similarly, と can be used for successive actions where one activity immediately follows another, like "As soon as X happens, Y happens." For example:
- As soon as I ate food, I left for shopping.
In this case, what と does remains the same ー it shows that each activity happened in such quick succession that they occured together. It suggests those actions are tightly packed, with one happening immediately after the other.
Since this use is a bit advanced, it has its own page dedicated to explaining it. If you want to learn more about the use of と in strong casual relationships, check out Particle と (Conditional).