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を Particle (Space)

を Particle (Space)

を Particle (Space) Japanese Grammar Lesson

Grammar Type: Particle

Essential Meaning: In / On / Across / Along / Over / Through


  • Spatial Noun + を
    • E.g. 公園こうえん [Through the park]
    • E.g. そら [Through the air]


  • を (Space) marks the physical space (e.g. a park, a roadway, a pond, the air overhead) upon or through which a movement takes place. Sentences with を (Space) will contain a spatial noun marked by を (Space) as well as a motion verb (e.g. とおるる [To travel along], あるく [To walk], はしる [To run], のぼる [To climb], ぶ [To fly]). Note that を (Space) does not reveal anything about where the action begins or ends (this function is performed by other particles such as に (Direction), から (Starting Point), and まで).
  • The physical space may be a preposition of location such as まえ [Forwards], した [Underneath], or みぎ [Rightwards], referring to the area above something, behind something, to the right of something, etc.
    • E.g. つるがみずうみうえんでいます。[The crane is flying over the lake (i.e. the crane is flying through the space above the lake).]
    • E.g. うえて。[Look upwards (i.e. look over the space above you).]
  • One noteworthy usage of を (Space) is with verbs such as る [To see / To look at] and く [To face] that imply a movement of one’s gaze, body position, etc. across a space rather than a physical movement from one location to another. As an illustration, the sentence “Bob looks upwards.” implies that Bob moves his gaze up and then continues to look over the area above his head. In other words, “upwards” is not the specific destination of Bob’s gaze, but rather a general space through which his gaze moves.
    • E.g. ボブがうえる。[Bob looks upwards.]
    • E.g. まえいて。[Face forwards.]
    • E.g. したて。[Look downwards.]
  • There is a subtle difference in meaning between に (Direction) and を (Space). Namely, に (Direction) marks a specific destination (similar to the English preposition “To“), while を (Space) marks a space or surface through or over which a movement proceeds. In the above example with Bob, if we had used に (Direction) instead of を (Space) (i.e. *ボブが上にる。[Bob looks to upwards.]), it would suggest that “upwards” is the destination of Bob’s gaze. In other words, when Bob’s gaze arrives at an upward position, he can stop looking. This is clearly not what the sentence is meant to convey.
  • The difference between を (Space) and に (Direction) is especially pronounced with the verb のぼる (To climb / To ascend).
    • E.g. わたし階段かいだんのぼった。[I climbed up the stairs.] In this case, を (Space) indicates that the speaker ascends along the surface of the stairs.
    • E.g. わたし階段かいだんのぼった。[I climbed to the top of the stairs.] In this case, に (Direction) indicates that the top of the stairs is the destination of the speaker’s movement.
    • E.g. ドンは東京とうきょうタワーをのぼった。[Don climbed up the side of Tokyo Tower.] Here, を (Space) indicates that Tokyo Tower is the surface upon which Don climbed (potentially implying that the scaled it). This is grammatical, but probably not what the speaker was intending to say.
    • E.g. ドンは東京とうきょうタワーにのぼった。[Don ascended to the top of Tokyo Tower.] Here, に (Direction) indicates that the top of Tokyo Tower is the destination of Don’s movement.
  • を (Space) is also similar to the で (Location) particle. Both particles mark the location where an action takes place, but there are some important differences. The differences are:
    • (1) で (Location) can be used with any action verb, while を (Space) can only be used with verbs of motion. Consequently, で (Location) corresponds to the stationary prepositions “At“, “In“, or “On“, while を (Space) corresponds to the dynamic prepositions “Through“, “Across“, “Over“, etc.
      • E.g. 図書館としょかん勉強べんきょうする。[I study at the library.] Studying is not a verb of movement but rather a stationary activity, so で (Location) is the appropriate particle here.
    • (2) で (Location) generally implies choice on the subjects part (i.e. he or she has deliberately chosen to perform the action at one place and not at another for some reason.) を (Space) does not share this implication.
      • E.g. ジョンはプールがきらいだからたいていかわおよぐ。[John doesn’t like pools, so he usually swims in the river.] This sentence discusses John’s deliberate and discriminatory choice to swim in the river rather than in the pool, so で (Location) is the appropriate particle.
    • (3) で (Location) generally indicates that the purpose of the action is the action itself, whereas を (Space) implies that the action is performed in pursuit of some other purpose.
      • E.g. ジョンはかわおよいでげた。[John swam across the river in order to escape.] を (Space) implies that the purpose of John’s swimming in the river is not to swim, but to escape.
      • E.g. ジョンはプールでおよいだ。[John swam in the pool.] で (Location) implies that John entered the pool merely to swim, and not for some ulterior purpose.
  • One idiomatic construction to note (which defies the above rules) is that に (Direction) is typically paired with the verb がる [To turn].
    • E.g. みぎがる。[Turn right.]
    • E.g. ひだりがる。[Turn left.]

Example Sentences:

わたし五番街ごばんがいあるいた。[I walked along Fifth Avenue.]

公園こうえんとおってかえりましょう。[Let’s walk through the park on the way home.]

日本にほんではくるまみち左側ひだりがわはしります。[In Japan, cars drive on the left side of the road.]

WILD Examples:

The title of this song is とうのぼるネコ [the cat that climbs up a tower]. Listen for the following lyric: ねこねこねこねことう(を)のぼる。[A cat, a cat, a cat, a cat, climbs up a tower]
This song is called そらとりのようにけるかぜのように [Like a Bird Soaring Through the Sky, Like a Breeze Blowing Through a Field] This lyric can be heard in the chorus.
In this song, you can hear the lyric 廊下ろうかはしるな[Don’t run through the hall.]
This song is called うえむいてあるこう [I look upwards as I walk]. The idea is that the singer looks upwards as he walks in order to prevent his tears from streaming down his face.

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