Particle (grammar)

In grammar, a particle is some kind of function word that is not inflected but lacks a precise lexical definition. Depending on the chosen definition, particles do or do not serve as a separate part of speech and are either distinct or not distinct from other classes of function words, such as articles, prepositions, conjunctions and adverbs.


Particles are mostly words that help to encode grammatical categories (such as negation, mood or case), clitics or fillers or (oral) discourse markers such as well, um, etc.

Particles are never inflected.[1] For example, the English infinitive marker to and negator not are usually considered particles.[by whom?], although a case could be made for considering not to be an adverb.

It appears to be disputed whether any function word incapable of inflection is by definition a particle, or whether particles are a separate class of words, one of whose characteristics (which they share with some words of other classes) is that they do not inflect.[2] However, if the first definition is used, it conflicts with the statement (above) that particles have no precise lexical function, since non-inflecting words which function as articles, prepositions, conjunctions, etc. do have lexical function.

Related concepts

Depending on its context, the meaning of the term may overlap with such notions as "morpheme", "marker", or even "adverb" as in phrasal verbs such as out as in get out. Under a strict definition, which demands that a particle 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).


Infinitival and adverbial particles

  • the infinitive to, as in to walk, although this can also be viewed as an integral part of the infinitive form of the verb
  • adverbial portions of phrasal verbs, such as off in we put it off too long, although these can also be viewed as adverbs or prepositions.

Interjections, sentence connectors, and conjunctions

If a particle is defined simply to be any function word which cannot be inflected, then conjunctions, prepositions and interjections would be classed as particles (at least in English) although they are traditionally classed as separate parts of speech based on their function. The English definite article the would also be a particle as it is uninflected.

Other languages

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!"[3] The particles appear more often in relaxed spoken and casually written registers of German.

The term particle is often used in descriptions of Japanese[4] and Korean,[5] 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.[6] 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. Thai also has particles.[7]

See also


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