Grammatical particle

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In grammar the term particle (abbreviated PTCL) has a traditional meaning, as a part of speech that cannot be inflected, and a modern meaning, as a function word associated with another word or phrase to impart meaning.

Traditional meaning[edit]

A particle is a part of speech that cannot be inflected, that is it can be neither declined nor conjugated. It is thus a broad category that can include various parts of speech. In English, the term particle is most commonly used for an adverbial particle,[1] the preposition that follows the verb in phrasal verbs such as run through ("I have run through my earnings"), see through ("She is seeing the merger through"), or take off ("The business is about to take off").[2] In the wider sense of uninflected parts of speech, it may include: adjectives and adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjection. In addition, verbs in the infinitive form (to walk) and the definite article the are uninflected, and so may be considered particles.

Modern meaning[edit]

In modern grammar, a particle is a function word that must be associated with another word or phrase to impart meaning, i.e., does not have its own lexical definition. On this definition, particles are a separate part of speech and are distinct from other classes of function words, such as articles, prepositions, conjunctions and adverbs. Languages vary widely in how much they use particles, some using them extensively and others more commonly using alternative devices such as prefixes/suffixes, inflection, auxiliary verbs and word order. Particles are typically words that encode grammatical categories (such as negation, mood, tense, or case), clitics, or fillers or (oral) discourse markers such as well, um, etc. Particles are never inflected.[3]

Related concepts and ambiguities[edit]

Depending on context, the meaning of the term may overlap with concepts such as morpheme, marker, or even adverb as in English phrasal verbs such as out in get out. Under a strict definition, in which a particle must be uninflected, English deictics like this and that would not be classed as such (since they have plurals and are therefore inflected), and neither would Romance articles (since they are inflected for number and gender).

This assumes that any function word incapable of inflection is by definition a particle. However, this conflicts with the above statement that particles have no specific lexical function per se, since non-inflecting words that function as articles, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections have a clear lexical function. This disappears if particles are taken to be a separate class of words, where one characteristic (which they share with some words of other classes) is that they do not inflect.[4]

In other languages[edit]


The following particles can be considered the most prominent in Afrikaans:

  • nie2: Afrikaans has a double negation system, as in Sy is nie1 moeg nie2 'She is not tired PTCL.NEG' (meaning 'She is not tired'). The first nie1 is analysed as an adverb, while the second nie2 as a negation particle.
  • om and te: Infinitive verbs are preceded by om and te, e.g. Ek hou daarvan om te lees 'I enjoy it PTCL.INF PTCL.INF read' (meaning 'I enjoy to read/reading').
  • se or van: Both se and van are genetive particles, e.g. Peter se boek 'Peter PTCL.GEN book' (meaning 'Peter's book'), or die boek van Peter 'the book PTCL.GEN Peter' (meaning 'Peter's book').
  • so and soos: These two particles are found in constructions like so groot soos 'n huis 'PTCL.CMPR big PTCL.CMPR a house' (meaning 'as big as a house').


In Chinese, particles are one of two major word classes. The other class includes noun, verbs and adjectives. Linguists do not agree on whether or not Chinese pronouns and adverbs should be classified as particles.


A German modal particle serves no necessary syntactical function, but expresses the speaker's attitude towards the utterance. Modal particles include ja, halt, doch, aber, denn, schon and others. Some of these also appear in non-particle forms. Aber, for example, is also the conjunction but. In Er ist Amerikaner, aber er spricht gut Deutsch, "He is American, but he speaks good German," aber is a conjunction connecting two sentences. But in Er spricht aber gut Deutsch!, the aber is a particle, with the sentence perhaps best translated as "What good German he speaks!"[5] The particles appear more often in relaxed spoken and casually written registers of German.[citation needed]

Japanese and Korean[edit]

The term particle is often used in descriptions of Japanese[6] and Korean,[7] where they are used to mark nouns according to their case or their role (subject, object, complement, or topic) in a sentence or clause. These particles may function as endings and therefore as bound morphemes rather than independent words, in particular in Old Japanese.[8] Some of these particles are best analysed as case markers and some as postpositions. There are sentence-tagging particles such as Japanese and Chinese question markers.


In Latin, particles are the adverb, the preposition, the conjunction and the interjection (a word that has emotion).[9][10]

Polynesian languages[edit]

Polynesian languages are almost devoid of inflection, and use particles extensively to indicate mood, tense, and case. Suggs,[11] discussing the deciphering of the rongorongo script of Easter Island, describes them as all-important. In Māori for example, the versatile particle "e" can signal the imperative mood, the vocative case, the future tense, or the subject of a sentence formed with most passive verbs. The particle "i" signals the past imperfect tense, the object of a transitive verb or the subject of a sentence formed with "neuter verbs" (a form of passive verb), as well as the prepositions in, at and from.[12]


Thai also has particles.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ron Cowan, The Teacher's Grammar of English with Answers: A Course Book and Reference Guide, Cambridge University Press, 2008. p. 670
  2. ^ Jennifer Seidl, English Idioms: Exercises on Phrasal Verbs, Oxford University Press 1990. pp. 7-9.
  3. ^ McArthur, Tom: "The Oxford Companion to the English Language", pp. 72-76, Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-214183-X For various keywords
  4. ^ Interjections
  5. ^ Martin Durrell, Using German, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition (2003), p. 156-164.
  6. ^ List of Japanese particles
  7. ^ List of Korean particles
  8. ^
  9. ^ E. A. Andrews: First Lessions in Latin; or Introduction to Andrews and Stoddard's Latin Grammar. 6th edition, Boston, 1844, p.91. Quote: "322. The parts of speech that are neither declined nor conjugated, are called by the general name of particles. 323. They are adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections."
  10. ^ B. L. Gildersleeve & G. Lodge: Gildersleeve's Latin Grammar. Dover, 2008, reprint of the 3rd edition of 1894, p.9. Quote: "The Parts of Speech are the Noun (Substantive and Adjective), the Pronoun, the Verb, and the Particles (Adverb, Preposition, and Conjunction)"
  11. ^ Suggs, Robert C. The Island Civilizations of Polynesia. 
  12. ^ Foster, John. He Whakamarama: A Short Course in Maori. 
  13. ^ Large list of Thai particles and exclamations with explanations and example sentences.