Translation:Do you write letters?
I think the better answer that I'm beginning to see is that はdoes not mark the subject. Instead it marks the topic of the sentence. It would be the equivalent of 'about blank'. So "About movies, do you watch (them) ?" is 「映画 (えいが) は 見ます か。」So therefore a more smooth sentence in English "Do you write letters?" is 「手紙 は 書きます か。」 The object marking particle を isn't used because the object is inferred and therefore left out. After all, it looks quite redundant to write 「手紙 は 手紙 を 書きます か。 」 " About letters, do you write letters?"
-post is long, but I hope it helps.
(edit) - 手紙 is てがみ or letter in kanji. Thanks @mariodez and @anonamoose52. - (/edit)
Correct, は marks the topic not the subject. が Is used to mark the subject. And yes, you can have both in the same sentence.
but what happens if you "extend " the sentence to include あなた？wouldn't it be あなたはてがみ(を/が)かきますか？
I think you might be a little fuzzy on the use of particles は、が、 and を. But your sentence is almost correct. From what I understand of Japanese, your sentence should flow as "あなた(は/が)てがみをかきます. If you wanted to make 'letter' the topic and still use 'you' as the subject of the sentence (though it would be a little redundant), then I think the sentence would be divided differently. てがみは… あなた が かきますか？Something like that.
I still don't get it. I think the easiest way is just to say :手紙を書きますか？ What do you think?
When it's a question or a negation, the particle は tends to be used. If you were making a positive statement (I write letters), you'd use を.
Can someone explain why は is used here instead of を? I would think that てがみ would still be the direct object here
I think its because it's talking about letters in general. So "on the subject of letters, do you write them?" instead of "I write a/this letter". 手紙を書きます Would be if you'd actually written a letter.
If thats is so, The correct answer is gramtically wrong in english "Do you write a letter?" → "Do you write letters?"
Japanese doesn't actually distinguish plural from singular very much. There are words for plural like 'these' and 'those' but they aren't used very often. And unlike in English where plural forms are conjugated (typically by adding 's'), I'm told that Japanese doesn't conjugate plural forms of words. So the translation is very context dependent on whether there are letters or just one letter. Therefore the question can be loosely translated either way.
I think what Julian ment is that because letter(s) are the topic, it uses a different particle then を(the particle for objects). Instead it uses the は (topic marking particle) to show that the conversation topic has changed to letters.
No, "Do you write a letter?" asks if someone is writing any letter in general, thus you use は.
I don't think that makes sense in English. "Did you write a letter?". "Do you write letters?". "Are you going to write a letter?". "Should i write a letter?". Not "Do you write a letter?".
These are just example sentences used to teach/learn. It would be wastefull to always use context. "I send her a package every month"...That's nice. Do you write a letter?" = Perfectly good English. (Although maybe still missing some context)
は (the topic marking particle) can override を (the object particle), but only if は was being used to intentionally change or bring up the topic of letters. There are other uses of the は.
Look at this site for a comprehensive understanding of は and が. (The more you know...) http://nihonshock.com/2010/02/particles-the-difference-between-wa-and-ga/
Yes, 紙 is paper in both. 手紙 (letter) is Hand Paper. 折り紙 (origami) is Paper Folding
Why "the letter" is wrong? And "a letter" right? When I ask someone about the letter that I've told he/she to write before, how can do it?
How do you know if a question is directed to a person other than yourself or to yourself?
Usually you'd just have to determine it from context. In this question, the speaker is probably not asking someone else whether the speaker will write a letter.
Because that's not what the Japanese sentence says. The verb is in the simple nonpast form, not the potential form.
Not sure.... I suspect that there is a different phrase to make a suggestion. If you had changed your question to say "Shall we write a letter?" then I would point out the correct translation for that would be 手紙は書きませんか？As it is however, I don't know what the answer to your question is. I'd like to see an answer myself.
I would say the Japanese sentence for your sentence would be along the lines of "(わたしは)手紙を書きましょうか", but it would change depending on context/why I am saying it.
The verb 書くin its base form without any conjugations means "to write". So the sentence here with just parts would read "(implied noun) about letters write?" (or in the common tongue, "does (noun) write letters?). When the word "shall" comes in, it adds meaning that was not there in the question, the change being reflected as "SHOULD (noun) write letters". The sentence then isn't asking about if X simply writes letters, but if it's a good idea whether or not X writes letters...
A bit confusing and long winded, but I hope it helped. There probably are other, better reasons out there と思う.
Why is "Do you write a letter" wrong? Sorry my English is bad, it might be worse than my Japanese.
Because letter is marked by the particle は, which means it is not talking about one letter but rather letters in general. "Do you write a letter?" means that you only wrote one letter.
"letter" in your sentence should be plural with 's'. Try "Do you write letters?".
I've reported this one as "doesn't sound correct", but in reality it doesn't even play in my browser. I had to press the "play slowly" symbol to hear it.
I'm a little confused. I thought "to write" was "kaite," not "kaki." Is "kaite" a more polite form or something?
I think I understand. So, "I am writing a letter" would be "tegami o kaite masu" but "I write letters" would be "tegami o kaki masu." One is describing an action you're doing now, and one is describing something you do normally, but are not necessarily doing right now. Do I have that right?
Yes, but bear in mind that "tegami o kaite masu" is a common contraction of "tegami o kaite imasu." The "i-" can also be dropped in "tegami o kaite rasshaimasu" ("You, sir, are writing a letter." If you used "orimasu" instead of "imasu," you could kick out the "-e" and say "tegami o kaitorimasu." (And, btw, "kakimasu" is one word, without the space.)
"Are you going to write a letter?" Should have been another possible answer. I'm realizing more and more from these questions that you can't translate Japanese without context.
That implies intention, which is a different sentence construct (つもり) that you will learn later in the course