Particle や

    • Particle
    や is used to list multiple items (usually two or three) as examples. It implies that there are more items on the list that you haven't mentioned.

    Table of Contents

    The Basics

    The particle や joins two or more nouns and presents them as examples. In other words, it implies that the nouns are just a few things from a longer list, and there are more that you haven't mentioned.

    Let's say you are at a farmer's market and you run into your teacher. When your teacher asks you what you've got, you can say something like:

    • トマトバナナストロベリーです。
    • I've got tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, and so on.

    You're using the particle や just to give some examples of what you're buying. It lets the listener know there are more items not specified here. In other words, if your teacher were to peek into your shopping basket, they'd probably see more than just those fruits and vegetables. So far, so good?

    There are things you need to keep in mind though. The first thing is that the particle や carries a somewhat formal tone and it's more commonly used in writing. In speaking, it's often replaced with the colloquial とか. So if it was a friend of yours instead of a teacher you ran into earlier, you might've said something like:

    • トマトとかバナナとかストロベリーだよ。
    • I've got tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, and so on.

    Another point to consider with や is how it differs from the particle と. You may already be aware, but と can also be used to list things and works just like "and" in English. The difference is that we use や for incomplete lists, while と is used for exhaustive lists. So, if all you bought were those fruits and veggies and you wanted to list each of them, you'd use と:

    • トマトバナナストロベリーだよ。
    • I've got tomatoes, bananas, and strawberries.

    Make sense? If you'd like to read more on the particle と, check out its dedicated page. Otherwise, let's move on to the patterns of use for the particle や!

    Patterns of Use

    Noun + や + Noun

    や gets used to list two or more nouns, such as ペン (pen) and 本 (book). So if you want to describe what's on a desk, you can say:

    • デスクには、ペン本がある。
    • There are things like pens and books on the desk.

    If you want to list more than two items, you can simply repeat や. Let's add ハサミ (scissors) to the above list and see how it works.

    • デスクには、ペンハサミがある。
    • There are things like pens, books, and scissors on the desk.

    や can also combine longer noun phrases, such as 本を読むこと (reading books) and 音楽を聴くこと (listening to music).

    So if you want to talk about what you like to do, you can say:

    • 私は [本を読むこと] [音楽を聴くこと] が好きだ。
    • I like things like reading books and listening to music.

    Again, in this case, や indicates you also have other things you like to do.

    If you list verbs or adjectives without turning them into noun phrases, you'll need to use not や but たり, like:

    • 日曜日は、本を読んだり音楽を聴いたりしていた。
    • On Sunday, I spent my time reading books and listening to music.
    • 子供達は、静かだったりうるさかったりする。
    • Sometimes kids are quiet and sometimes they're noisy.

    When using たり, actions or conditions are listed as though they occurred as part of a flow. However, when they're listed as noun phrases with や, each action or condition becomes more independent. As a result, it's more common to use たり when simply expressing what you did or how someone behaves, like in the above examples.

    Beyond the Basics

    Quantity + や + Quantity

    In English we might say "one or two" to express an approximate amount of something, and we can do the same thing in Japanese with the help of や. You can use や to list examples of (small) quantities, often accompanied by counters, in order to indicate an approximate amount.

    For example, say you are a bookworm who reads very quickly. To boast about this, you can combine 一冊 (one book) and 二冊 (two books) with や and say:

    • 本の一冊や二冊なら一日で読めちゃう。
    • I can read one or two books in a day.

    Let's look at another case. Assume you feel that because we live in a globalized world, people should study different languages. To express this thought, you can combine 一つ (one thing) and 二つ (two things) with や and say:

    • 今の時代、外国語の一つや二つは勉強しておいた方がいい。
    • In this day and age, it's better to learn a foreign language or two.

    In case you don't know, 冊 and つ in the above examples are called counters. There are different types of counters for different types of nouns. In Japanese, if you want to count something you'll normally use a combination of the numeral and the type-specific counter. For more information on counters, check out our article on Japanese counters.