Wild Nihongo!
か Particle

か Particle

か Particle Japanese Grammar Lesson

Grammar Type: Particle

Essential Meaning: Either X or Y / Is X Y? (or is X not Y?) (marks alternatives or indicates that a sentence is interrogative)


  • As an alternative marker:
    • Noun1 か Noun 2 (か)
      • E.g. バスか電車(でんしゃか) [Either by bus or by car]
    • (Verb / い-Adjective) informal + か
      • E.g. べるか [Either X eats or… ]
      • E.g. さむいか [Either X is cold or…]
    • な-Adjective Stem / Noun + [X / です] + か
      • E.g. しずかか [Either X is quiet or…]
      • E.g. 先生せんせいですか [Either X is a teacher or…]
  • As a question marker:
    • (Verb / い-Adjective) + か
      • E.g. べるか [Does X eat?]
      • E.g. はなしますか [Does X speak?]
    • (な-Adjective Stem / Noun) + [X / です] + か
      • E.g. しずかか [Is X quiet?]
      • E.g. しずかですか [Is X quiet?]
      • E.g. 先生せんせい [Is X a teacher?]
      • E.g. 先生せんせいですか [Is X a teacher?]


  • The particle か is used to mark alternatives. It is also used to mark interrogative sentences (which is really just a special case of marking alternatives in which the second alternative is omitted). Generally speaking, if か connects to the main predicate, it is an interrogative marker; if か connects to an embedded noun or subordinate clause, it is an alternative marker. The two uses are described below:
  • か as an alternative marker:
    • As an alternative marker, か is used to compare or contrast two alternative options. It roughly equates to “Either X Or Y” in English. The alternatives may be nouns or they may be sentences.
      • E.g. Nouns: わたし電車でんしゃかバスかで [I will go by train or by bus.]
      • E.g. Sentences: べるかはなすかどちらかにしなさい。[Eating or speaking: please just do one or the other.]
    • In the structure Noun 1 か Noun 2 (か), the second か is typically omitted. Also, the two sentences must have informal predicates since they are subordinate clauses. The particle cannot be used in these sentences for the same reason.
      • E.g. にくたかかったかマークがにくきらいだったかどちらかだ。[Either the meat was expensive or Mark didn’t like meat.] Note that both of sentences used as alternatives are informal and both take the particle.
    • In the structure Sentence 1 か Sentence 2 (か), the sentences can not be interrogative. それとも should be used in such cases instead. The difference between か and それとも is that か marks alternatives, while それとも connects alternatives. それとも can optionally be included with non-interrogative sentences in conjunction with か.
      • E.g. *これはあなたのですかかわたしのですか。[Is this yours or is it mine?] か can not be used to connect two questions.
      • E.g. これはあなたのですか。それともわたしのですか。[Is this yours. Or is it mine?]
      • E.g. にくたかかったか。それともマークがにくきらいだったかどちらかだ。[Either the meat was expensive or Mark didn’t like meat.] それとも is optional in this case because the alternatives are not questions.
      • E.g. わたし一緒いっしょますか。それともここにいますか。[Will you come with me? Or will you stay here?] それとも is necessary here because the two alternatives are questions.
  • か as a question marker:
    • か as a question marker is likely one of the first Japanese grammar concepts that you were exposed to. It is used to indicate that a sentence is a question. To be more specific, a Japanese interrogative sentence is simply a listing of two alternative options in which the second alternative is implicit rather than explicit. For example, consider this sentence:学生がくせいですか。それとも学生がくせいじゃないですか。[Are your a student. Or, are you not a student?]. This is an example of か as an alternative marker, but it is redundant since the second alternative is implied by the first. We can simply drop the second alternative and write 学生がくせいですか。[Are you a student?]. Similarly, マークは大学だいがくへいきますか。それともきませんか。[Is Mark going to university? Or is he not going to university?] can simply be written as マークは大学だいがくきますか。[Is Mark going to university?]. This is how interrogative sentences work in Japanese.
    • Notice that か as an interrogative marker can be used with both formal and informal predicates.
    • In informal language, か may be dropped altogether. In such cases, a rising inflection is used to indicate that the sentence is interrogative.
      • E.g. みにく? [Shall we go get a drink?]
    • In indirect sentences in which the speaker quotes or paraphrases an interrogative sentence, the quoted interrogative sentence retains its か particle.
      • E.g. わたしはテリーにナンシーが日本にほんくかといた。[I asked Terri whether Nancy is going to Japan.]
      • E.g. わたしはジョンにだれたかとたずねた。[I asked John who had come.]
    • When な-Adjective + Copula is in the informal form (e.g. しずかだ, かわいいだ), the だ ending comes across as confident and assertive. When paired with the question-marker か, there is a conflict in meaning between the assertive だ and the interrogative か. For this reason, だ tends to be dropped with な-Adjectives.
      • E.g. しずかか [Is X quiet?] and かわいいか [Is X cute?] are preferable to しずかだか or かわいいだか.

Example Sentences:

わたし電車でんしゃかバスかでく。[I will go by train or by bus.]

トムがくかメアリーがくかどちらかだ。[Either Tom or Mary will go.]

わたし毎朝まいあさジュースかミルクをむ。[Every morning, I drink juice or milk.]

それはボブかマークがします。[Either Bob or Mark will do that.]

手紙てがみくか電話でんわをかけるかどちらかしてください。[Either write a letter or make a phone call, please.]

マークは大学だいがくきますか。[Is Mark going to university?]

わたしはテリーにナンシーが日本にほんくかといた。[I asked Teri if Nancy is going to Japan.]

あなたは学生がくせいですか。[Are you a student?]

これはなんですか。[What’s this?]

友達ともだち漢字かんじむずかしいかといた。[My friend asked if Kanji is difficult.]

ぼく山崎やまざき先生せんせい昨日きのうなにったかわすれてしまった。[I forgot what Yamazaki-sensei said yesterday.]

わたしはケンにおかねしたかどうかおもせない。[I can’t remember whether or not I lent money to Ken.]

WILD Examples:

In this example, the interviewer says the follow line repeatedly: てけてけてけです The words are gibberish, but the か particle makes it clear that she is asking a question to the wrestler. This song is from a famous game called Rhythm Tengoku.

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