In grammar the term particle (abbreviated PTCL) has a traditional meaning, as a part of speech that cannot be inflected, and a modern meaning, as a function word associated with another word or phrase to impart meaning.
Related concepts and ambiguities
Depending on context, the meaning of the term may overlap with concepts such as morpheme, marker, or even adverb as in English phrasal verbs such as out in get out. Under a strict definition, in which a particle must 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).
This assumes that any function word incapable of inflection is by definition a particle. However, this conflicts with the above statement that particles have no specific lexical function per se, since non-inflecting words that function as articles, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections have a clear lexical function. This disappears if particles are taken to be a separate class of words, where one characteristic (which they share with some words of other classes) is that they do not inflect.
Particle is a somewhat nebulous term for a variety of small words that do not conveniently fit into other classes of words. The Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language defines a particle as a "word that does not change its form through inflection and does not fit easily into the established system of parts of speech". The term includes the "adverbial particles" like up or out in verbal idioms (phrasal verbs) such as "look up" or "knock out"; it is also used to include the "infinitival particle" to, the "negative particle" not, the "imperative particles" do and let, and sometimes "pragmatic particles" like oh and well. Another example is the word "so" in the adverb "so far".
In other languages
The following particles can be considered the most prominent in Afrikaans:
- nie2: Afrikaans has a double negation system, as in Sy is nie1 moeg nie2 'She is not tired PTCL.NEG' (meaning 'She is not tired'). The first nie1 is analysed as an adverb, while the second nie2 as a negation particle.
- om and te: Infinitive verbs are preceded by om and te, e.g. Ek hou daarvan om te lees 'I enjoy it PTCL.INF PTCL.INF read' (meaning 'I enjoy to read/reading').
- se or van: Both se and van are genetive particles, e.g. Peter se boek 'Peter PTCL.GEN book' (meaning 'Peter's book'), or die boek van Peter 'the book PTCL.GEN Peter' (meaning 'Peter's book').
- so and soos: These two particles are found in constructions like so groot soos 'n huis 'PTCL.CMPR big PTCL.CMPR a house' (meaning 'as big as a house').
In Chinese, particles are one of two major word classes. The other class includes nouns, verbs and adjectives. Linguists do not agree on whether or not Chinese pronouns and adverbs should be classified as particles.
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 German well," 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!" The particles appear more often in relaxed spoken and casually written registers of German.
Japanese and Korean
The term particle is often used in descriptions of Japanese and Korean, 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. 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.
Polynesian languages are almost devoid of inflection, and use particles extensively to indicate mood, tense, and case. Suggs, discussing the deciphering of the rongorongo script of Easter Island, describes them as all-important. In Māori for example, the versatile particle "e" can signal the imperative mood, the vocative case, the future tense, or the subject of a sentence formed with most passive verbs. The particle "i" signals the past imperfect tense, the object of a transitive verb or the subject of a sentence formed with "neuter verbs" (a form of passive verb), as well as the prepositions in, at and from.
In Tokelauan, ia is used when describing personal names, month names, and nouns used to describe a collaborative group of people participating in something together. It also can be used when a verb does not directly precede a pronoun to describe said pronouns. Its use for pronouns is optional but mostly in this way. Ia cannot be used if the noun it is describing follows any of the prepositions e, o, a, or ko. A couple of the other ways unrelated to what is listed above that ia is used is when preceding a locative or place name. However, if ia is being used in this fashion, the locative or place name must be the subject of the sentence. Another particle in Tokelauan is a, or sometimes ā. This article is used before a person’s name as well as the names of months and the particle a te is used before pronouns when these instances are following the prepositions i or ki. Ia te is a particle used if following the preposition mai.
Thai also has particles.
- McArthur, Tom: "The Oxford Companion to the English Language", pp. 72-76, Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-214183-X For various keywords
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-09-21. Retrieved 2008-04-07. Interjections
- Leech, Geoffrey. A Glossary of English Grammar. Edinburgh University Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-7486-1729-6.
- McArthur, Thomas Burns; McArthur, Roshan (2005). The Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press. Particle. ISBN 9780192806376.
- Martin Durrell, Using German, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition (2003), p. 156-164.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-03-03. Retrieved 2009-10-29. List of Japanese particles
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2009-03-06. Retrieved 2008-04-07. List of Korean particles
- "conf.ling.cornell.edu" (PDF). cornell.edu. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 July 2010. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
- E. A. Andrews: First Lessions in Latin; or Introduction to Andrews and Stoddard's Latin Grammar. 6th edition, Boston, 1844, p.91. Quote: "322. The parts of speech that are neither declined nor conjugated, are called by the general name of particles. 323. They are adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections."
- B. L. Gildersleeve & G. Lodge: Gildersleeve's Latin Grammar. Dover, 2008, reprint of the 3rd edition of 1894, p.9. Quote: "The Parts of Speech are the Noun (Substantive and Adjective), the Pronoun, the Verb, and the Particles (Adverb, Preposition, and Conjunction)"
- Suggs, Robert C. The Island Civilizations of Polynesia.
- Foster, John. He Whakamarama: A Short Course in Maori.
- Simona, Ropati (1986). Tokelau Dictionary. New Zealand: Office of Tokelau Affairs. p. Introduction.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-03-12. Retrieved 2009-11-16. Large list of Thai particles and exclamations with explanations and example sentences.