A particle is a pseudo-word which has no meaning, but a function in maintaining order in a sentence. Particles tie directly into the concept of sentence structure, as they are used to mark where certain parts of the sentence lie in relation to others.
Japanese sentence structure is Subject, Object, Verb. That's all you should really worry about in Japanese, as the rest of the sentence can be in horrible disrepair, but as long as the Subject is first, Verb last with the Object somewhere in the middle, and so far as an introductory course is concerned, YOU'RE SPEAKING JAPANESE!!
The particles are as follows:
- は (wa) marks the topic of a sentence (equivalent to English "as for ..." or "speaking of ..."). (Note: When は is used as a particle it is pronouced "wa", not "ha".)
- が (ga) marks the subject of a sentence.
- を (wo) marks the direct object of a sentence (usually inanimate). When を is used as a particle it is usually pronouned "o" (i.e. with a silent w).
- へ (e) specifies the direction of an action. When へ is used as a particle it is usually pronounced "e" (i.e. with a silent h).
- か (ka) indicates a question when used at the end of a sentence.
- の (no) is used to create a modifier phrase or possessive term (equivalent to English 's).
- な (na) marks an adjective that, typically, is derived from a foreign language.
- も (mo) - "also" (substitutes for wa, ga, or wo).
- で (de) - "by means of", "in"/"at" for actions, "and" (not used often)
- に (ni) denotes place, "in"/"at" for existence.
- と (to) - "and", object of "say" or "think".
- や (ya) - "and" for an incomplete list.
- から (kara) specifies the starting point of an action.
- まで (made) specifies the ending point of an action.
- 月曜日から金曜日まで働きます。 [I] work from Monday to Friday.