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"Do you write letters?"


June 11, 2017



It shouldn't be wo instead of wa?


With は (wa), it makes てがみ a subject. So it would roughly translates to "As for letters, do you write them?"


は marks てがみ as a topic/theme, not a grammatical subject.


What is the difference between a topic and a grammatical subject in this case?


In Japanese, a "topic" only means "the thing I'm going to talk about here", anf it doesn't necessarily "do" anything. Therefore it's not a subject, which has to be the one performing an action. A letter can't write itself, so it can't be a subject.


For instance i wrote "手紙を書きますか"

What would be the difference in the meaning?

Thakns in advance for your help and your explanation


I find it a bit hard to picture circumstances where one would ask either question but I would be inclined to take your version as "Will you/are you going to write a letter?" as opposed to do you ever do such a thing.




I think the stressed word would be different in English if you used wa it would be like "do you write letters" and if you used (w)o it would be "do you write letters". 百パーセントたしかじゃないけど。


I think both are correct, but I found this a bit surprising too.


both are correct, but the meaning is slightly different


This is what I have understood so far (correct me if i'm wrong): が ga is used when: 1. in connection with arimasu/imasu 2. in connection with like (好き) は wa is used, when: 1. something is described by an adjective 2. The sentence is a negation or a question を wo is used when: 1. the verb interacts with the object (eating, buying, writing something) 2. with kudasai (ください)

As far as i noticed these rules ALWAYS apply in duolingo up to this lesson.




手紙 letter

手 hand

紙 paper

  • 糸 thread, string

  • 氏 clan, family

書 write

  • 聿 writing brush

  • 日 sun, day


Thank you. Duo would be so much better if this was in each of the Tips!


That last letter should be か, not が.


I think the difference between wa and wo is that wa is about things in general "Niku wa tabemasen" = I don't eat meat "Niku wo tabemasen" = I do not eat the meat/I will not eat the meat. If it was wo here, it'd be "Will you write the letter?", but it's asking if you write letters at all.


Interesting enough, 描きand 書き are written in the same way (かき), but 描き is 'to draw', while 書き is ’to write’


The importance of learning kanji.


My Japanese teacher says it should be を because the letter cannot write.


Your Japanese teacher should probably understand that は is a topic marker, not a subject marker.


Exactly, and は has priority over を, if the topic is also the object.


My Japanese teacher is native Japanese, so I'll take her word for it.


I don't get why the particle は is used here instead of を. It looks like the letter is writing. Can someone please explain that?

  • 1176

The way i understand it, は marks the topic, not the subject or object. When the topic is also the subject or object, this marker can replace either one of those ones (が or を). So it's more like "Concerning letters: Do you write (them)?". It could technically also be "Concerning letters: Do they write?", and only context helps you decide which one it is.

Using は instead of を (or, in some other context, が) puts more emphasis on the word before it, and allows the listener to omit that word in their reply, since it is now the topic of the conversation.


This is very helpful, thank you! I thought with は it could only mean "do letters write?". but the way you described it makes my see now why it is both.


I understand that in Japanese language context is everything, so, I've got two questions here:

  1. based on all comments written here, it is impossible to say 'the letter writes'. It's an abstract sentence, but let's say a letter is an object that can do an action, how do we say that in a sentence?

  2. I also think it should be 'wo' and not 'wa' , for BEGINNER level, and this thing will change with more advanced Japanese skill, because certain particles work with certain verbs and can't be changed casually just like that. Is that true?

  3. asking the 1st question made me realize that maybe the point of this whole thing is that the sentence will translate into something depending on the context, always. Is it true? For example, the sentence "Tegami wa kakimasu" can only mean "I write letters" because the letter can't write. "Asagohan wa tabemasu" can only mean "I eat breakfast" because the breakfast can't eat. and "wa" particle can be changed into "wo" and that will emphasize different part of the sentence.

however: "Kare wa mimashita" will mean "He saw" and "Kare wo mimashita" will mean "I saw him"

NOW I have looked up grammar rules and this is about "WA" particle from Tae Kim's blog: https://itazuraneko.neocities.org/grammar/taekim.html#24%20The%20%E3%80%8C%E3%81%AF%E3%80%8D%20topic%20particle "Example 2

ボブ: ジョンは明日? Bob: John is tomorrow?

アリス: ううん、明日じゃない。 Alice: No, not tomorrow.

Since we have no context, we don't have enough information to make any sense of this conversation. It obviously makes no sense for John to actually be tomorrow. Given a context, as long as the sentence has something to do with John and tomorrow, it can mean anything. For instance, they could be talking about when John is taking an exam."

and about "WO": https://itazuraneko.neocities.org/grammar/taekim.html#39%20The%20direct%20object%20%E3%80%8C%E3%82%92%E3%80%8D%20particle

"The first particle we will learn is the object particle because it is a very straightforward particle. The 「を」 character is attached to the end of a word to signify that that word is the direct object of the verb. This character is essentially never used anywhere else. That is why the katakana equivalent 「ヲ」 is almost never used since particles are always written in hiragana. The 「を」 character, while technically pronounced as /wo/ essentially sounds like /o/ in real speech. Here are some examples of the direct object particle in action.


  1. 魚を食べる。 Eat fish.

  2. ジュースを飲んだ。 Drank juice. "


let's say a letter is an object that can do an action, how do we say that in a sentence?

「手紙さんは手紙を書きます」"Mr. Letter writes a letter."

「手紙さんは書きます」also works.

Also think it should be 'wo' and not 'wa'

I like to imagine that there is a を behind the は in this sentence, it just happens that は is usually used for generic questions and it supersedes the を in this instance. Anyways, it seems like you found your way into the logic and I'm rather late on my comment ;)


Long ago, this 手紙は would have been 文をば!


Is it possible to say "tegami wo kakimasuka?", intead of wa? (sorry I do not have the japanese keyboard).


I belive yes, but the meaning would change a bit.

If you use は you are specifying the topic that you are talking about. Hence: 手紙は書きますか would means do you write letters?

But, if you use を then you are specifying the subject. 手紙を would means you are mentioning "the letter(s)" in the context of your ongoing conversation.

Hope this helps


Good Japanese for "Letters; do you write them?"


Does 手紙を書きますか not をrk?


Should, but that would をrk better for "Are you going to write a letter?" ors "Will you ..."


lol Thanks. I must have bumped the JP keyboard button on accident on the last part.



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