How to Use the さ (Sa) Particle in Japanese: A Complete Guide

Understanding particles are essential for becoming good at Japanese. Each particle has its own connotation and grammatical function. The さ (sa) particle has two primary uses: to add inflection and emphasis to a sentence and to modify adjectives into nouns. This article will go over both of these functions and how to use さ (sa) in detail. 

Using さ (Sa) in Sentences

Japanese particles such as の (no), と (to), を (o), が (ga), and は (wa) are used in sentences to tie nouns, verbs, and adjectives together.

In contrast, particles like よ (yo), ね (ne), だ (da), and さ (sa) are used at the beginning, middle, or end of sentences to change their inflection and tone. 

Much like the よ (yo) and ね (ne) particles, we can use さ (sa) in sentences to assert or to emphasize an idea or sentiment.

Beginning a Sentence with さ (Sa)

さ (sa) can be used as a sentence opener to bring attention to an idea or sentiment. When used at the beginning of a sentence or statement, the particle さ (sa) can mean anything from “hey, come, come now, go on, well, well then, and let’s see.” It can be like the “hey” in “Hey, what was the name of that restaurant again?” Or it can be like the “well” in the sentence, “Well…let me think about that.”

Like these words in English, we generally want to use さ (sa) at the beginning of emotional or exclamatory sentences in casual situations with people we are close to or of the same social standing. Let’s look at how to use さ (sa) naturally with some examples.  

Examples:

1. 、どうぞ楽にしてね。
(Sa, dōzo raku ni shite ne.)
Well then, make yourself at home.  

2. さあ、行こう!
(, ikō!)
Come on, let’s go!

3. さあ…どうだろう?
(Sā…dō darō?)
Hmm…who knows?

As shown in the sentence examples above, さ (sa) can also be stylized as さあ (), さぁ (), and even さー (). These different spellings elongate the pronunciation of さ (sa) and emphasize its meaning even more in sentences. 

The written forms of さあ () and さぁ () are commonly used at the beginning and end of sentences while さー () is often used in very casual conversation and slang talk. However, they are all pronounced the same when speaking. Using any of these spellings over the regular さ (sa) will help give more flair and personality to your Japanese sentences; just remember to avoid using them in most formal situations!

A good example of the nuance of this is with the phrase, “あのさ (ano sa),” which is a common way to get someone’s attention. It’s similar to “Hey” or “About that….” in English.  

With あのさ (ano sa), the meaning would be something like, “Hey.” 

If you were to extend the “a” sound to あのさあ (ano sā – or さぁ ()/さー ()), the nuance would be similar to “Heeeey….” in English. Let’s take a look at the difference.

Examples: 

あのさ、ホテル予約した?
(Ano sa, hoteru yoyaku shita?)
Hey, did you book the hotel?


あのさぁ、ホテル予約した?
(Ano sā, hoteru yoyaku shita?)
Hey…did you book the hotel?

Using さ (Sa) Within in a Sentence

さ (sa) is also used to bridge together sentences with multiple clauses and make them sound more natural. In these instances, the particle さ (sa) is generally placed after a clause or conjunction. 

Examples:

1. 今夜のパーティーに行きたいけど、勉強しなきゃ。
(Konya no party ni ikitai kedo sa, benkyō shinakya.)
(Ohhh…) I want to go to the party tonight, but I have to study. 

2. 本当、嘘じゃないよ!
(Hontō sa, uso janai yo!)
It’s true (man/yo/dude), I’m not lying!

3. 隣の犬がすごくうるさくてさー、一晩中吠えていて寝られない。
(Tonari no inu ga sugoku urusakute , hitobanjū hoeteite nerarenai.)
(Dude…)The neighbor’s dog is so annoying, it barks all night long, and I can’t sleep.

When you use さ (sa) in this way, it makes the sentence more casual. It also slightly changes the nuance of the sentence. Let’s look at what would happen if we took out the さ (sa) from the first example:   

今夜のパーティーに行きたいけど、勉強しなきゃ。
(Konya no party ni ikitai kedo, benkyō shinakya.)

This is just a statement that says, “I want to go to the party tonight, but I have to study.”

With the さ (sa) particle, the nuance changes:

今夜のパーティーに行きたいけど、勉強しなきゃ。
(Konya no party ni ikitai kedo sa, benkyō shinakya.)
(Ohh…)I want to go to the party tonight, but I have to study. 

Using the さ (sa) particle acts to express your emotion in casual conversations.  

Ending a Sentence with さ (Sa)

Moreover, the particle さ (sa) can be used at the end of sentences to reinforce an idea or sentiment and add inflection or charisma to a statement.

Examples:

1. 着飾らなくていいよ、どうせ正式なイベントじゃない
(Kikazaranakute ii yo, seishiki na event janai sa.)
You don’t have to dress up. It’s not a formal event anyway (y’know?).

2. 人生は冒険なの
(Jinsei wa bōken nano sa!)
Life is an adventure (man/y’know)!

3. 彼氏はコーヒーにスパイスを入れるのが好きなんだよ、ナツメグやシナモンとかさぁ
(Kareshi wa kōhī ni spice o ireru no ga suki nan dayo, nutmeg ya cinnamon toka .) 
My boyfriend likes putting spices in his coffee (y’know), like nutmeg and cinnamon.

What’s the Difference Between さ (Sa) and Other Particles?

さ (sa) works similarly in function to よ (yo) and ね (ne), but what exactly is the difference between these three particles? While they may seem interchangeable at a glance, each one possesses its own subtle connotation. 

よ (Yo) Vs. ね (Ne) Vs. さ (Sa)

よ (Yo)
ね (Ne)
さ (Sa)
散歩に出かける
(Sanpo ni dekakeru yo!)
I’m going out for a walk!
散歩に出かける
(Sanpo ni dekakeru ne.)
I’m going out for a walk, okay?
散歩に出かける
(Sanpo ni dekakeru sa.)
I’m going out for a walk.

As we can see from the chart above, よ (yo) works much like an exclamation mark and introduces new information to the listener. ね (ne) carries a more interrogative tone, almost as if you are asking for confirmation (I’m going out for a walk, okay?). さ (sa), on the other hand, invokes assertion and insistence.

Another point to keep in mind is よ (yo) and ね (ne) are also commonly used in formal situations, while さ (sa) is usually reserved for casual situations. さ (sa) can also have a bit of a youthful charm to it, as boys and young men may prefer to use さ (sa) in casual conversation with buddies while girls may elect to use the more tonally neutral よ (yo) and ね (ne). That being said, it is very common for women to use さ (sa) as well, especially when talking to their close friends or family.  

These subtleties are important to keep in mind when differentiating between Japanese particles.

Using さ (Sa) with Other Particles

さ (sa) can also be combined with other common particles like ね (ne), な (na), and て (te) to convey different meanings.

さ/さあ
(Sa/Sā)
+
(Ne)
=さあね
(Sā ne)
Who knows?
さ/さあ
(Sa/Sā)
+
(Na)
=さあな
(Sā na)
Beats me (a more impolite version of さあね)
さ/さあ
(Sa/Sā)
+
(Te)
=さて
(Sate)
Well then
さ/さあ
(Sa/Sā)
+さ/さあ
(Sa/Sā)
=さあさあ
(Sā sā)
Come, come! 

Let’s take a look at some sentences that use these particle combinations:

Examples:

1. 「クララさんの誕生日はいつ?」「さあね。」
(“Clara-san no tanjōbi wa itsu?” “ ne.”)
“When is Clara’s birthday?” “Who knows.

2. さぁな、先生に聞けば?
( na, sensei ni kikeba?)
Beats me, why don’t you ask the teacher?

3. さてさて、どうしようかな。
(Sate sate, dōshiyō kana.)
Well, well, what to do.

4. さあさあ、始めよう!
(Sā sā, hajimeyō!)
Come on then, let’s start!

Using さ (Sa) with Adjectives

The second primary function of the さ (sa) particle is nominalization. Much like the “-ness” suffix in English, さ (sa) can be placed at the end of adjectives to modify them into nouns. For example, you can use it to turn adjectives like 辛い (karai – spicy) into nouns like 辛 (karasa): spiciness.

Using さ (Sa) with Na-Adjectives

Na-adjectives are adjectives preceded by the な (na) particle when modifying a noun or pronoun in a sentence. We can convert na-adjectives into nouns by replacing the な (na) particle with the さ (sa) particle.

Na-Adjective + さ (Sa) Examples:

Na-Adjective+ さ (Sa)Noun Form
綺麗な (kirei na):
pretty, clean
+ さ (sa) 綺麗 (kirei sa): prettiness/cleanness 
元気な (genki na):
lively, healthy, energetic
+ さ (sa) 元気 (genki sa):
livliness, heath/healthiness, energy
複雑な (fukuzatsu na):
complicated
+ さ (sa) 複雑 (fukuzatsu sa): complicatedness

Example:

静かな図書館
(Shizuka na toshokan)
The silent library

図書館の静か
(Toshokan no shizuka sa)
The library’s silence

Using さ (Sa) with I-Adjectives

I-adjectives are adjectives preceded by い (i) when modifying a noun or pronoun in a sentence. We can convert i-adjectives into nouns by replacing the last い (i) with the さ (sa) particle.

I-Adjective + さ (Sa) Examples:

I-AdjectiveRemove final い (i)+ さ (Sa)Noun Form
新しい (atarashii):
new 
新し (atarashi)+ さ (sa)新し (atarashi sa):
newness
寒い (samui):
cold (weather) 
寒 (samu) + さ (sa) (samu sa):
coldness (weather)
美味しい (oishii):
delicious
美味し (oishi) + さ (sa) 美味し (oishi sa): deliciousness

Example:

子猫は可愛い
(Koneko wa kawaii)
The kitten is cute

子猫の可愛
(Koneko no kawai sa)
The kitten’s cuteness

Below are some examples where the さ (sa) particle is used to nominalize adjectives:

Examples:

1. 太陽の暖かは気持ちいいです。
(Taiyō no atataka sa wa kimochi ii desu.)
The warmth of the sun feels nice.

2. 一番好きな色はシアン、色の鮮やかが綺麗だと思うから。
(Ichiban suki na iro wa shian, iro no azayaka sa ga kirei da to omou kara.)
My favorite color is cyan because I think the vividness of the color is pretty.

3. この机の長は短すぎですよ。
(Kono tsukue no naga sa wa mijika sugi desu yo.)
This desk’s length is much too short.

4. 桜は美しでは何にも劣らない。
(Sakura wa utsukushi sa de wa nani ni mo otoranai.)
Cherry blossoms are second to none in beauty.

Let’s Review!

To recap, let’s go over the さ (sa) particle’s two main functions. Firstly, さ (sa) can be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence to add emphasis and assertion. さ (sa) can also be used to add flair and personality in casual conversation. Secondly, さ (sa) can be placed after na-adjectives and i-adjectives to modify them into nouns. 

It may seem a bit overwhelming keeping track of the さ (sa) particle’s various uses and functions at first, but don’t be discouraged! さ (sa) is commonplace in Japanese conversation; you will get used to hearing it in TV, movies, or face-to-face chats and become well-acquainted with its varied nuances in time. 

Interested in learning more? Be sure to check out our other Japanese language guides!

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