The mysterious case of the double wo (を) particle

By | March 9, 2018

Japanese particles can be tricky because of their many usages and combinations. For example 「で」 can be seen with other particles in the two-particle pair 「では」or 「での」 or even in the 4-particle combination 「ならではの」.

On the other hand, the 「を」 particle (written as ‘wo’ or just ‘o’), is one of the most straightforward to learn. Not only are there few combinations involving it (the only one I can think of is 「をも」which is used mostly in literary Japanese), but を is relatively simple to understand: it comes after the direct object of the sentence, in other words the thing the verb is acting on.

In case this particle is new to you, here is a basic example sentence:

  • リンゴ食べた。 (ringo wo tabeta)
  • (I) ate an apple.

Here the direct object is “apple” which is what the verb “ate” is acting on. Often the direct object is a physical object like this, but it can also be something abstract like a thought (考え, 思い, 思想, etc).

In this article I wanted to focus on one of the only tricky things about the wo particle, which is when you see it used twice in a sentence. There are two variations: serial and embedded.

“Serial” means to use to wo particles one after another, where the verb is bundled close to each “wo” it is associated with. Here is an example:

  • バナナ買ってお店出た。 (banana wo katte omise wo deta)
  • (I) bought an banana and exited the store.

Here the first wo applies to “bought” (買って, technically “buy and…” since it is the “te” form of 買う) and the second applies to 「出た」 (exited).

However, the “embedded” way to use the wo particle is a little trickier. Let’s look at an example sentence:

  • 彼はボール自信持って投げ込んだ.  (kare ha boru wo jishin wo motte nagekonda.)

I remember how I was confused the first time I saw this sort of grammar. You might think that two actions are being applied to one verb, but things are complicated by the fact that there are actually two verbs here (持って and 投げ込んだ).

Fortunately, this isn’t too bad once you understand the pattern. Essentially there is a verb+wo particle+verb set embedded within another phrase. Using brackets can help you see things better:

  • 彼はボールを [自信を持って] 投げ込んだ
  • He threw the ball [with confidence].

Here, the 「自信を持って」 is a phrase that means “with confidence” and is stuck inside of the sentence 「彼はボールを 投げ込んだ」. Sometimes you will see a comma before the first “wo” to help clarify this, but not always.

While it’s good to learn to understand this pattern, I should mention that it is more used more informal writing and less in speech (I can’t think of an example when I’ve used this pattern in everyday conversation) Also, when it is used, you generally see set phrases like 自信を持って, 勇気を持って, 時間をかけて employed.

As a final note, you can see similar grammar in English where a word or phrase is embedded and set off by commas, em-dashes, or parentheses in the middle of a sentence. For example:

  • After a busy day we went to the (often crowded) bar on 1st street.


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5 thoughts on “The mysterious case of the double wo (を) particle

  1. Clara

    Thank you, this is a very helpful post.

    バナナを買ってお店を出た。 (banana wo katte omise wo deta)
    (I) bought an apple and exited the store.

    I just wanted to bring to your attention that you were buying a banana in Japanese, but an apple in English.

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks! I got my fruits mixed up (:

      Just corrected it.


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