は vs が
I have seen many questions about は vs が or vs other particles or no particle. A dedicated discussion is perhaps helpful. At least I would have something to refer to constantly. Below is my reply to a sentence which a few people found useful. I am not native Japanese nor linguist but just another learner. It would be great if native Japanese would join to help explaining.
The first thing I want to say beforehand is は is NOT a subject indicator (with respect to the verb). It has no direct relationship with the phrase before it being the subject or not. Forget about it if you would like to move on.
は is used for making a topic, so you use は when you do need to make something a topic. That's it.
今日 買い物に 行きます。
I go shopping today.
(Today is just an information)
今日は パスタを 食べたい。
I want to eat pasta today.
(More precisely Talking about today, I want to eat pasta. Perhaps I usually eat rice everyday, today is special and I want to bring it up as a topic.)
You are beautiful today!
(…What? Did I use to look awful?)
The easiest way I've found to think of は and が is this: は establishes the context of a sentence, while が is what the sentence is about.
It helps a lot to teach yourself to think of は as a way of saying "as for [preceding thing]":
私は行きます [わたしはいきます]= "As for me, I'll go."
And also to remember how は and が work with adjectives. Specifically, I've found 好き (likable) and 嫌い (unlikable, which is actually too soft a term to really capture the meaning, but is the closest we have in adjective form) to be very helpful:
私は本が好きです [わたしはほんがすきです] = "As for me, books are likable." / "I like books."
彼はおかしが嫌いです [かれはおかしがきらいです] = "As for him, sweets are unlikable." / "He hates sweets."
As you can see with these sentences (in their more literal translations, at least), は establishes what the sentence is in reference to (the context), while が marks the subject (what it's actually about).
I'm not sure how helpful this will be to anyone else, but it's what finally helped it "click" with me, so hopefully it'll be of use to someone else. 皆頑張って [みんながんばって]!
One request @magicallymagic: as a public service to those of us who are just starting to learn kanji (=me) and are still struggling with kanji look-up, could you include kana, at least for the kanji not covered by the course?
Of course! I edited the post to include kana versions of the sentences.
Thank you magicallymagic and Scott.
I have found a website explaining about this subject. It is probably destined for teachers for N2 level ? Anyhow let's have a quick walk-through. (I will expand it.)
(1) Description for a noun
We use が when we want to enrich the description for a noun (we would use a That clause in English to do it.)
これは帽子です ＋ 私は買いました
This is a hat ＋ I bought it
これは私 は→が 買った帽子です
This is the hat that I bought.
When comparing 2 things, we use は.
1.Hiragana is easy 2.Kanji is difficult
3.Hiragana is easy, but Kanji is difficult
The first 2 sentences each talks about the characteristics of something. We use が. When we compare them side-by-side, as in the 3rd sentence, we use は.
Yesterday I got a cold, but today I am fine.
This is also true when the other thing is implied.
We can say,
to indicate that we do not only mean a characteristic of Kanji is its difficulty, but we are implicitly comparing it with similar elements, say, Hiragana.
(3) At sight vs In mind
For something before us, use が;
For something out of sight, use は
There is a chair on your side (we can see the chair before us)
Is there a chair in your room ? (We are outside or far from your room)
A. Where is he? B: He is in the classroom (We do not see the person we talk about)
Is it raining? (We cannot see the weather outside)
Oh it is raining! (We can see the weather outside)
We use が for emphasis. See the example of Scott above. (Thanx)