What is the difference in the meaning between the particles "же" and "-то"?

For example,

Он же не пришёл. Vs. Он-то не пришёл.


3 Answers 3


Thaaaaats a million-dollar question. :)

Particles have some specific uses. Learn them. As to the general outline:

  • in a converstation there is information you know and someting new. A message. There is also some background knowledge (lots of stuff) and some information currently activated in you mind
  • же in such context points to the information you think a listener should know about your object but seems to have activated the opposite. For example, "Он же не пришёл" implies that the listener knows that a person did not come but fails to use that in current situation (i.e. acts as though the person came). Usually when "же" is used, the information that should be known and the information that the listener seems to use are mutually exclusive.
    • note that "же" is also used in "тогда же" (at the same time as), "те же" (the same people/objects), "там же" (right there, at the place already mentioned) and so on. "Он же" can sometimes be a member of that group, though, that requires some context and syntax.
  • то is a contrasting particle used when you discuss diferent statements that suit different "objects". The information "A-то has property B" is (you think) known to the listener but not activated, so you draw attention to it. That does not mean that the listener thinks elsewise! Here you have "не пришёл" as a characteristic. Using "-то" you can make an object to stand out as the one possessing that property or ask a question about that:
    • Он-то не пришёл = "Well, he, of all people, has not come".
    • А он-то пришел? = "And as for him, did he come?"

Difficult, I know. But it is hard to give a more detailed explanation when the question is THAT generic.


I think you can boil it down to how focused the emphasis is. With -то it's narrowed down to a single word, while же acts more on the whole message. To me the both particles have contrasting feel to them, just the more focus, the more contrast.

Some examples (bracketed is even more contrast):

- За работу!
- Он не пришёл.

He was supposed to come but never did, and apparently this makes the work impossible.

- За работу!
- [Но] он же не пришёл!

Why would you ask to start working when the guy is not here? (I guess this "assumed" sentence is what Shady_arc meant by saying "listener should know about your object but seems to have activated the opposite")

- За работу!
- [Но] он же не пришёл!
- [Это] он-то не пришёл?!

He in fact did come. It's totally improbable a person like him wouldn't.

The context is important but simply put он же не пришёл = [the reason is the fact] he didn't come, он-то не пришел = [everybody came but] he didn't come.


же - yet, after all, at last
то - that, this, the
Он же не пришёл. - же puts accent at "came" (he didn't came after all)
Он-то не пришёл. - whereas то is rather a pronoun than a pointing particle, a version of the word "that". and is directing thus at exactly at who we talking about. if you wish may think of it as of english particle 'the' in a way. then one of possible translations would be as follows - that he then didn't came

  • I agree that "-то" makes accent on "He", but I'm not so sure that "же" makes accent on coming. I would rather say that it only indicates that the event didn't happen.
    – Artemix
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 8:20
  • I don't think that explanation for "-то" makes sense in any language. You sure its derivation from "that" provides some understanding the way you describe it?
    – Shady_arc
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 12:34

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