"The water is cold."


June 10, 2017

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Why が here and not は? :)


It depends on the context in which the sentence is used. As far as I can see, は seems to be generally only used after the topic in question is introduced into the conversation (or on things which the listener can safely be assumed to know about such as general categories like "dogs" or names like "Japan"). So if you say 水はつめたいです, that would probably be understood as either "the water (the one we have been talking about before) is cold" or "water (in general) is cold". But if you mean some specific water which had not come up in conversation before (for example if you test the temperature of a pool), が would be preferred.

Native speakes please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong :)


Non-native speaker, but I think this way - が is like "the", は like "a". "Do you own the dog or the cat?" 猫が. "Guess what. I have a cat." 猫は。


Not native speaker, but been practicing with native Japanese speakers. Wa and ga don't translate to articles. These are like markers. Now that I think about it, I don't think there's 'a' or 'the' in Japanese. wa = marks the topic

What I do to make it easier is:

wa= as for this, about this Watashi wa John desu - As for me, it's John.

Watashi no namae wa John desu. About my name/As for my name, it's John.

ga = object of adjectives (there are probably other uses, but for beginners, it'll help us get by). - x GA y, I think of y as something​ that would describe x in some way

It also helps to pay attention to what words it usually comes with (ex. ga arimasu, abilities/can do like hanasemasu)

Inu ga ooki desu. The dog is big.

Inu ga imasu. The dog exists/is existing. = There is a dog.

*I think of this as if it's describing that the dog exists

Now, compare it with: Inu wa doko desu ka. About the dog, where is it? = Where is the dog?


This confuses me because right before i came across 水が冷たいです i was given パンは熱いです. Both have an object being described by an adjective so why does one use が and the other uses は?


Both -は and -が are grammatically correct and should be accepted by Duolingo. However in a real situation only one of them would be appropriate depending on the context. Marking the water with -は makes it the topic of the sentence, about which you give the new information “it is cold.” Marking it with -が means just marking the water as the grammatical subject of “is cold” but not the topic of the sentence as a whole, suggesting that the water is (part of) the new information.

For example, if you just took a swim in the pool and your friend asks you how you liked it, the appropriate answer would be 水冷たい. Your friend knows about the water you are talking about and you are just conveying new information about its temperature. However if somebody gave you a couple of cups with different beverages and asked you which one is cold, you would answer 水冷たい because here “water” is itself the new information you convey, which means it cannot be the topic.

However on Duolingo we don’t get any context so both versions should be accepted.


@RandySWebb - Exactly the same two sentences in a row for me. Duo wanted が for water, and は for bread. No wonder the purple haired lady looks pissed off ;-)


For example, if you just took a swim in the pool and your friend asks you how you liked it, the appropriate answer would be 水は冷たい. Your friend knows about the water you are talking about and you are just conveying new information about its temperature.

With all due respect, 「水が冷たい」 is actually more appropriate. In reality, you normally don't even mention water, you would just respond by saying,「うん、冷たい」.


Again, native speakers please correct me, but personally I feel は almost never corresponds to "a" in English, precisely because it tends to be used only after the thing has been brought up already. So there often is a "the" or something else like a possessive pronoun. For example:

  • 私は犬と猫を飼っています。犬は白くて、猫は黒いです。'I have a dog and a cat. The dog is white and the cat is black.'

But if you ask me that's more a coincidence rather than は or が corresponding closely to English articles. It's a by-product of the fact that は tends to mark definite noun phrases and those are often marked with "the" in English (although it could also be something else, like a possessive or demonstrative pronoun). Also は can mark indefinite nouns, in which case we would usually be talking about a general category which the listener can be expected to know about, for example:

  • 猫は鼠を食べる。 'Cats eat mice.'

が corresponds to the indefinite article even less because it doesn't have as much of a restriction in that regard than は. It simply marks a subject which is not the topic and can be definite or indefinite:

  • 私は妹がいます。'I have a sister.' literally: 'As far as I am concerned, there is a little sister.' ("I" is the topic and "have a little sister" is information about that topic. So "little sister", being the subject of います 'exists' but not the topic, is marked with が.)
  • 彼女は髪が長いです。 'She has long hair.' literally: 'As far as she is concerned, the hair is long.' ("She" is the topic, "hair" is just the subject of "(is) long".)*

So the main question you have to always ask yourself is: What is the topic, the main focus of what I am saying – the thing that I am providing information/asking about? That thing will be marked with は. Conversational flow usually dictates that that thing has to be something that the listener can be expected to already know about – a lot of the time either something which has come up before or a general category. If there is a subject in the sentence which is not the topic, it will get が.

I hope that helps.

* Of course, the last English sentence could also be translated literally as 彼女の髪は長いです。 'Her hair is long.' The difference is that in this case "her hair" as a whole is the topic, so I would expect that the next sentence will also be about her hair. In the previous version with "her" as a topic you could go on describing other things about her – or you could make "hair" the new topic in the next sentence if you want to.


An anecdote from a university teacher: The "wa vs ga" question is something that has had research papers written on it. Don't get too bogged down in the precise distinction between them because even the natives don't know the exact differences.


I think very simply wa is for topic and ga for subject. This means if you were to use wa here, you would be referring to water in general (the topic water) and not the specific water that you are drinking or otherwise interacting with. It would be like saying all water is cold. If you want to be specific to what you are interacting with you would use ga as they did here.


Although the terms "topic" and "subject" are the most common words used to describe は and が, I don't think those terms are very useful in trying to explain their usage to English speakers, as the grammatical subject in English doesn't really work similarly to how the が particle works.

E.g. In the English sentence "He is John", there's no question that "he" is always considered the subject of the sentence. But that sentence could well be translated as 彼はジョンです in the context of providing a person's name. Saying が is the subject particle can easily mislead people into thinking they should use が when they shouldn't.


Maybe but the question is what would be the alternative? If you want to match English syntax onto the corresponding Japanese sentences, you have to conclude that が sometimes marks the subject and sometimes the object (私は犬好きです "I like dogs"), while は usually marks the subject but sometimes the object (映画あまり見ない "I don't often watch movies), the possessor (彼髪が長い "His hair is long"), or something which doesn't have any more than a loose hazy connection to the clause at all (僕だめです "As for me it won't do"). Is that really more helpful?

I think the better solution is not to try and fit the Japanese sentence into the English pigeon hole but rather do one’s best to understand how Japanese sentences work. So the above sentences become:

  • 私は犬が好きです “as far as I am concerned, dogs are likable”
  • 映画はあまりみない “as as movies are concerned, [I] don’t watch [them] very much”
  • 彼は髪が長い “as far as he is concerned, the hair is long”
  • 僕はだめです “as far as I am concerned, it won’t do

True, the Japanese structure does take a lot of getting used to (and the concept of “topic” in particular is indeed something fairly foreign to European learners; I took quite some time getting used to it as well. But once it clicks you realise that it’s a really neat thing to have!) And maybe it does help to take a middle approach and learn along the lines of “the Japanese equivalent of the English construction x is y, which literally means z”. But if you ask me, if you try and view Japanese exclusively through the lens of English, you’re doomed to failure.


One alternative, given by Tae Kim, is calling が the "identifier" particle. That could clear up some confusion for beginners.


I personally am not so sure if it does because “identifier” requires explanation as well. I prefer the approach of analysing how Japanese expresses certain concepts differently from English. But of course different methods work better for different people ;)


Yes, but "subject" also requires an explanation because it is different from the concept of a subject in English. They're similar, I guess, but not the same. Any name you call it, unless there is an English equivalent, it will need an explanation. Fortunately, Tae Kim gives that explanation well. And you use that term that you call it (whether it be "subject" or "identifier") to explain how the structure is different in Japanese than English. The two are not mutually exclusive. One can teach how the structures differ whether you call it one term or the other. I'm just suggesting that the "identifier" term may avoid confusion with the English "subject" term. But either one can get the job done.


Yes, but "subject also requires an explanation because it is different from the concept of a subject in English.

Sure, if a learner is not familiar with the grammatical term “subject” it requires just as much explanation. But it has the advantage that they can take that terminology and directly apply it for other languages. If we invent a new term for Japanese on the other hand, it’s only useful for Japanese (and maybe a few other languages with very similar syntax, most notably Korean).

There are certainly sometimes situations where a language works so differently from others that inventing a new term is less confusing than trying to squeeze it into existing terms which don’t quite fit. It’s just that I personally think that we don’t have such a situation with Japanese -が. But this is a personal opinion of course ;)


Please note that が is used for non-topic subjects. The main problem, I think, is that Duolingo never gives us enough context to tell us what is the topic.


Context we don't get.

は marks the topic ("as for x, ...")
が marks the subject ("x [verb] ...")
を marks the direct object ("x [verb that actually affects the object in some way (I think)] ...")

So you'd use は to answer the question "What does the water feel like?"
(The water) feels cold.

You would use が to answer the question "What feels cold?"
The water feels cold.

You probably can't use を to answer this question, unless there is a transitive verb in Japanese for "cold".


Is 冷たい only "cold to the touch" and 寒い only when you talk about the weather? Or is there another difference?


For anyone that can't read those kanji they are:




From a chinese perspective, 冷 means cold. 寒 means freezing cold.


冷たい means cold to the touch, 寒い means cold and 涼しい is cool.


@Digicrests: Thanks - that is very helpful.


If it's cold to the touch, it's 冷たい。When native speaker went into a cold pool they would react with 「冷たい!」




I believe you are correct. Like if it's winter and it's cold out, then you'd say 寒い, and if you drink something cold, you'd say it's 冷たい.

However, one thing I'm not sure about, that hopefully someone can tell me, is what to say when you get into water (ocean, pool, etc.), and it's cold. I think it's 寒い, but I can't remember.


If I compare with Korean: They have chagapda 차갑다 and chupda 춥다. The former is when you touch something (including eating or drinking, so ice cream would also be chagapda). The latter is a general "all around" cold feeling; you would use it for the weather as well as when you get into cold water (or something similar). So assuming that they are at least close equivalents to 冷たい and 寒い respectively, I guess water you swim in would also be 寒い. Maybe we'll find a native speaker to comment on that?


Chinese will use 冷.


So, I don't know if this has already been asked, but is there any particular rule as to when one uses が or は to indicate the subject? Can I just use whichever? Does it depend on the level formality?


Basically, Japanese splits its sentences into topic and comment. The topic is the thing you’re talking about, the comment is the new information about that thing. The topic is marked with は, the subject with が – unless the subject is simultaneously also the topic, in which case は takes precedence.

So yes, there is a difference between は and が and in many situations only one of the two is correct. That being said, the question of what is the topic of a given sentence often depends on the context – which you don’t have in isolated sentences such as those on Duolingo.

To give you an example: Suppose you want to say that Mr Tanaka has long hair. This could be translated in two ways (ignoring issues besides topicalisation, such as politeness):

  1. 田中さんのかみは長いです。 (lit.: As for Mr T’s hair, [it] is long.)
  2. 田中さんはかみが長いです。 (lit.: As for Mr T, [his] hair is long.)

Both of these contain exactly the same information, but in 1. the topic is Mr Tanaka’s hair, whereas in 2. it’s the whole person Mr Tanaka. 1. would be appropriate as an answer to the question how Mr T’s hair looks, or if you want to continue talking about his hair specifically. 2. would be appropriate if you are talking about Mr T as a whole and the sentence about his hair is only part of that description.

The problem is, you don’t have that context information in Duolingo. The only option is to accept several different translations which can make it seem like they are exactly equivalent, which they aren’t. It’s simply that Japanese makes a distinction which English does not (at least not as systematically).


What's wrong with tsumetai mizu desu? In other sentences, adjective, noun, desu works fine.


つめたい みず です doesn't mean The water is cold. It means - It is cold water. みずは つめたい です means The water is cold.


You are right - it is the difference between an adj modifier and an adj complement. Whether they may mean semantically the same thing in some contexts is irrelevant becasue in other contexts big differences can ensue (eg "He is a fine man" and "the man is fine")


I was told that 水 specifically meant cold water. If that is true, then this sentence makes no sense as it is basicly saying "this cold water is cold".


It only sounds that way in English because “cold” is repeated. The water could well be cold by 水 standards. Or it could be cold subjectively. For example, say we’re talking about the water in a swimming pool (which is usually too cold to be termed お湯). Then I could stick my toe in and exclaim: 水が寒い! It’s the same thing as saying “the icecream is cold” in English. Even though icecream is always at sub-zero temperatures, I can still call it “cold” in relative terms: Colder than expected.

水 is also the generic term for water as a substance in general, so if you were, say, a chemist doing an experiment, it would also make sense to describe your 水 as 寒い.


There's that infamous が particle again.


What is the difference between つめたい and さむい. If my understanding is correct, the both mean cold and I've heard さむい more. Is it only for weather or something?


So you use 冷たい if you were to refer to water being cold to the touch right? Is there also a different version for hot? Or would you just say 暑い


As far as I know a little bit of both. “Hot to the touch“ is still あつい but it’s spelled as 熱い then; the Kanji spelling 暑い is only used for feeling hot due to the general surrounding temperature.

[deactivated user]

    How is there no お in front of 水?


    Attaching お before a noun isn't usually obligatory, it's a way of showing respect to the noun. Tea, for example, is usually お茶 because there's a lot of cultural history behind drinking tea.


    I think ga is being over used. From my personal experience wa is used to indicate the subject of a sentence and is used much more frequently than ga. Ga is used to further emphasise the subject of a sentence, to indicate the secondary subject of a sentence, to indicate the subject of a subordinate clause or when it's required when used with certain verbs, adjectives etc eg. Naninani ga dekimasu or Naninani ga suki.


    Actually, は is for the topic that can span multiple sentences and が is for the subject which is usually only in that specific sentence to emphasize the subject it's talking about.


    can i also say 水は instead of 水が ??


    I think it would be like the difference between "Cold water (水がつめたい)" and "Water is cold (水はつめたい)." [Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think it makes a huge difference which one you use}


    Since we don’t have any context, -は and -が could both be correct. -は marks the water as the topic of conversation about which you then give some information. So you would use it if the water is the main thing you’re talking about, or if you’re making a contrast between the water and something else. -が just marks a subject which is not the topic. So you would use it for example if the water being cold is not the main point but just part of a bigger picture, or if you’re bringing the water up for the first time so you couldn’t make it the main topic yet (you can only do that with things which are “old information”).


    During my classes I've learned that が is used when saying something has/posses something. は is basically a translation of English words are or is. For example, 猫は白い です would be the cat is sleepy. However when using the particle が you would use it like this -> 眠い 猫 が います, I have a sleepy cat. I don't know if this is understanding but I hope it helps. Oh! What are some examples you have questions about. I can help out more that way.


    I am not a native speaker but in this sentence in particulary I think that using "ga" instead of "wa" is linked to a context we can imagine. I am in a restaurant, I drink a glass of water, and I feel the cold. It is my personal experience: water is cold in a subjective way. So may be the full sentence would be: "Watashi wa mizu ga stumetai desu"

    (For me) the water is cold. And the same for other adjectives suki desu. Please native speaker correct me because i am.really not sure


    Why is it the other way round for saying "it is hot tea"??

    The answer is A Zu I, o cha desu


    It’s a different sentence structure: “The water is cold.” vs “It is hot tea.” And as it happens, that means in the order of the noun and the adjective gets reversed in English as well.


    Why phrase 「冷たい水です」is marked as wrong?


    That would be "It is cold water" equating "cold water" with some unknown subject "it"
    水が冷たいです is "The water is cold" equating the subject "water" with "being cold"


    Right before this one, there was "gohan wa atzui des". And this one mizu ga sumetai des. What's the difference between these two that one gets wa other gets ga?


    Please have a quick scan over the thread; your question has been answered before.


    The Kanji for Like has radicals Woman and Child Hate has radicals Woman put together. Well played japanese.

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