を (Direct Object) Japanese Grammar Lesson
Grammar Type: Particle
Essential Meaning: Direct object marker
- Noun / Noun Phrase + を
- E.g. ミルクを [~Milk]
- E.g. ミルクとジュースを [~Juice and milk]
- を (Direct object) is the accusative case marking particle. It marks the direct object that a transitive verb acts upon in a sentence. For example, in the sentence “Bob ate a bagel.“, “Bob” is the subject, “ate” is a transitive verb, and “bagel” is the direct object that the transitive verb acts upon. Thus, bagel would be marked by を in Japanese.
- E.g. ボブがベーグルを食べました。[Bob ate a bagel.]
- Transitive verbs tend to express the subject’s agency or volition over some action, and the を particle brings attention to this fact. To put it another way, を (Direct Object) emphasizes the fact that some action does not simply occur; the subject MAKES it occur.
- E.g. ボブが虫を食べました。[Bob ate a bug.] The implication of を (Direct object) in this case is that Bob purposefully ate the bug; it didn’t just fly into his mouth.
- Note that there are certain verbs (such as 分かる [To understand]) that are transitive in English but intransitive in Japanese. Due to this intransitivity, 分かる does not take を (Direct object); instead, it follow the ~は~が structure.
- E.g. 私は英語が分かる。[I understand English.]
- Typically, indirect objects co-occur with direct objects. It wouldn’t make sense to say “I gave to him.” We need to specify the direct object that is being given. However, there are certain transitive verbs of communication (e.g. 話す [To speak], 電話する [To call], 会う [To meet]) that can break this rule and appear with an indirect object and WITHOUT a direct object. These sentences resemble English prepositional phrases.
- E.g. ジムはビスに電話した。[Jim called Beth (i.e. Jim called to Beth).]
- E.g. 僕は昨日田中さんに会った。 [I met Tanaka-san yesterday (I met with Tanaka-san yesterday.]
- In certain constructions (e.g. ~たい, てある, られる / える), を (Direct object) is interchangeable with the subject marker が.
- E.g. ミルクを/が 飲みたい。[I want to drink milk.]
- E.g. 日本語 を/が 話せる。[I can speak Japanese.]
- E.g. 窓 を/が 開けてある。[The window is open.]
- を cannot occur more than once in a clause, regardless of whether it is を (Direct object) or を (Space). Thus, in the causative construction, the causee must be marked by に if another element in the same clause is marked by を.
- If the direct object is presented as a topic or as a contrastive element, を is replaced by は. In other words, は takes precedent over を when both fit with a noun.
- E.g. 日本語は知りません。[I don’t know Japanese.]
- E.g. その本はもう読みました。[I already read that book.]
私は日本語を勉強している。[I am studying Japanese.]
前田さんは昨日車を買った。[Maeda-san bought a car yesterday.]
何を飲みますか。[What are you drinking?]
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