Japanese Grammar

Parallel Markers: と, や, か, and とか

Parallel Marker と

Last time, you learned the functions of the particle から: Starting Point, Source, Raw Material, and State Before Change. So far, you have learned the usages of the particles assuming the number of subjects or objects is just one. In this lesson, you will learn expressions where there are more than one subject or object by using parallel markers: と, や, か, and とか.

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Parallel Markers: と, や, か, and とか: Expressing “and” and “or”

Table of Contents
Parallel Marker と
Parallel Marker や
Parallel Marker か
Parallel Marker とか

Here, you will learn only parallel markers which can be used for nouns. This is the difference between Japanese and English. You can use “and” and “or” for any part of speech in English, but Japanese doesn’t allow you to do so. Regarding the ones for verbs, you will learn them in other sections.

Parallel Marker と: A and B (and nothing else)

[わたしは / が] リンゴオレンジを べる / べます
Topic/Subject Objects Verb
[I will] eat apples and oranges (and nothing else).

The function is to list nouns which have similar meanings or are of similar types. The point here is that と indicates you have listed everything. Here are more examples.

ひらがなカタカナは簡単かんたん(だ / です)。
Hiragana and Katakana are easy.
なかさんやまもとさんはえいべんきょう(する / します)。
Tanaka-san and Yamamoto-san will study English.
学校がっこうしょかんほんを(む / みます)。
[I will] read books at school and the library.

Supplementary Learning

If you would like to list more than two nouns, you continue to add と between additional nouns.

わたしなかさんやまもとさんはえいべんきょう(する / します)。

Some people prefer to replace the second (and the third, if any more) と with “、”, though both of the expressions are natural. This is applicable for other parallel markers, too.

わたしなかさん山本やまもとさんはえいべんきょう(する / します)。

Parallel Marker や: A and B (and something else)

[わたしは / が] くつぼう う / います
Topic/Subject Objects Verb
[I will] buy shoes and a hat (and something else).

The function is to express “and.” The difference between と and や is that や doesn’t list everything, that is to say, there has to be something unlisted. Here are more examples.

きょうしょしょ必要ひつよう(だ / です)。
Textbooks and dictionaries (and something else) are necessary.
ケンシンジはバスケットボールがき(だ / です)。
As for Ken and Shinji (and someone else) , basketball is the one they like.
フルーツデザートを(う / います)。
[I will] buy fruits and dessert (and something else).

Supplementary Learning

If you would like to emphasize the existence of unlisted things, you can attach など with the last noun. That sounds slightly more formal.

[I will] study law, history, etc. at the university.

Parallel Marker か: A or B

[わたしは / が] えいイタリア はじめる / はじめます
Topic/Subject Object Verb
[I will] start [learning] English or Italian.

The function is to express one of the two (or more) like “or.” In the above example, you will start learning ONLY English or Italian. Here are more examples.

きょう大阪おおさかに(く / きます)。
[I will] go to Kyoto or Osaka.
かわうみで(およぐ / およぎます)。
[I will] swim in the river or the sea.
わたしあねが(うたう / うたいます)。
I or my elder sister will sing songs.

Supplementary Learning

か is sometimes placed after the last noun, though there is no difference.

きょう大阪おおさかに(く / きます)。
かわうみで(およぐ / およぎます)。
わたしあねが(うたう / うたいます)。

Parallel Marker とか

寿司すしとかてんぷらとか ほんしょく 美味おいしい(です)
Example Topic/Subject Predicate
Japanese cuisine like Sushi and Tempura are delicious.

The function is to list examples. This can roughly be translated as “things like A and B.” The concept is similar to や, which leaves something unlisted. However, や is more formal than とか.

サッカーとかきゅうとかスポーツを(する / します)。
[I will] play sport like soccer and baseball.
5時ごじとかろくとかあさべんきょう(する / します)。
[I will] study at times in the morning like 5am and 6am.

You can use とか just like や. The meaning is almost same, but とか is used with more colloquial expressions.

しおとかとうを(う / います)。
[I will] buy [things] like salt and sugar.
公園こうえんとかえきで(うたう / うたいます)。
[I will] sing songs at [places] like parks and stations.

Advanced Topic: Practical Usage

This is often heard in conversation in order to show examples. For instance, if someone says “I want to eat something delicious,” you can reply “寿司すしとか (like Sushi)?” The following sentence patterns are ones you will learn later, but briefly check how とか works.

うみとかかない / きませんか)?
Won’t you go [somewhere] like the sea [with me]?
What about [somewhere] like mountains?
As for mountains, is it Mt. Fuji (or any other ones)?


  1. と can express A and B (and nothing else)
  2. や can express A and B (and something else)
  3. か can express A or B
  4. とか can list examples: Things like A and B

Although we have mentioned some usages in the advanced topic section, you don’t have to memorize them right now. All you need to know is what we have summarized above. Now, you can express various things with plural subjects and objects. Next, you will learn the particle の, which means you will almost complete Japanese particles. Great job!

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