Japanese: Topic Marker(は)versus Object Marker(を)


I am a bit confused about when to use the Topic Marker or the Object Marker in certain Japanese constructions.

Take for instance this simple sentence "I eat vegetables":

Should I say: 野菜は食べます。 Or 野菜を食べます。

It seems like both constructions are right? And if they are, what would be the difference in meaning? Which one is less marked, i.e. more "normal" to use?

Further (though I know this goes into Ga/Ha territory), Could you ever say something like this: 私は野菜が食べます。 Or 私が野菜は食べます。

Many thanks for your help!

August 5, 2019


は, not わ.

は can replace other particles, both 野菜は食べます and 野菜を食べます are grammatically correct. The difference is in the name, は marks the topic; in 野菜は食べます, 野菜 doesn't lose its function as object but it does have the addition function of being the topic, i.e. the thing you're talking about. For clarity you can often translate it as "as for"; "as for vegetables, I eat them". It may sometimes be used to imply a "as opposed to other stuff". を just marks the object and nothing else. 野菜を食べます -> "I eat vegetables". You're not talking about the veggies per se, you're explaining your own preferences; you are the topic.

私は野菜が食べます isn't correct. が marks the subject, the thing that does the verb. 野菜が食べます -> the vegetables eat (in which case, get out of there quickly). 野菜は私が食べます is technically correct, but sounds a bit weird if you're just trying to say "I eat vegetables". It could work if you've got leftovers after a party, someone asks "who'll eat the veggies?" and you reply "I will". Something like that.

August 5, 2019


August 5, 2019

So the topic marker is actually は (romanised as ha) but it's pronounced like "wa".

Think about it like this: the topic is what's being talked about. Sometimes it's also the subject. Let's go with "I eat vegetables".

I eat vegetables. I is the topic/subject. Vegetables is the object (the object of a sentence is what is being "verbed" as my Japanese teacher taught me; you're eating the vegetables in this scenario).

Let's write it now in Japanese. 野菜を食べます。Bear in mind that usually you can leave out 私は if it's understood we're talking about you. You would never say 野菜は食べます unless you have some weird mutant vegetables that have started eating something.

As for your ha/ga territory question, neither of those feel very natural nor are they correct.

August 5, 2019


August 5, 2019

Should I say: 野菜は食べます。 Or 野菜を食べます。

As ayamedori, says, both are grammatically correct. It really depends on the context. (私は)野菜は食べますcan be said in a conversation if you're talking about other things that you eat/don't eat : "as for vegetables, I eat them, but I don't eat stewed plums..."

As a novice Japanese speaker, it's safer to stick with 野菜を食べます.

August 7, 2019

For learning the difference/nuance for some of the particles, check out the Japanese From Zero youtube channel. George has a few videos explaining this (は and が, を, の, etc.). Even as someone who took Japanese in college his explanations really stuck with me.

August 10, 2019
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