https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7

Japanese particles: が vs は?

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Cross posted to Duolingo's Japanese and English forums

The matter of が vs は came up HERE. But, it really is a topic that deserves it's own discussion without getting lost within another.

Here is a video that covers a little about the difference between subject and topic. It starts around 3:05

After a bit of a read around, I learned that は is the Topic particle, and people often refer to が as the Subject particle. Or if you are Tae Kim, you hate that because it's wrong and instead call it the Identifier particle. (According to Tae Kim's Japanese Guide. Under: Basic Grammar/Lesson 2.

I'm interested in exploring this Identifier Particle idea. It still feels very slippery, but slightly more graspable than this idea that .が is a subject particle. I think if I could have more conversation about it, that would make it more clear.

Help a bunny out? ^_^

Bunny and friends

4年前

25コメント


https://www.duolingo.com/yukkiisan
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Hello! Usagiboy7 - san. Your question is very unique and it is the quite difficult one because these words are so simple.

I read a dictionary by my side. It has two opinions. One is that surely「が」leads the subject, and 「は」 leads the theme or the topic. Second is that 「が」leads first information, and「は」leads something previously covered. But these explanations are not enough even for us.

I want to say you that get out from the idea of “subject―「主語」(shugo)”. The word and thought come from Europe. It can’t explain Japanese clearly. In Japanese grammar 「が」and 「は」are stipulated as「助詞」( joshi ). 「助」means help.「詞」means words. It helps other words to construct a sentence, to suggest emotion or view by speaker, and to complete the sentence.

○「が」is categorized「格助詞」( kakujoshi ). 「格」means case. Kakujoshi modifies the case of the word.

格助詞 が の に を(o) へ(e) と より から で

For instance「私が歩く。」(I walk.) is constructed two core words, 「私(I)」and 「歩く(walk)」. 「が」only specifies that 「私」is the nominative case―「主格」(shukaku). I personally think that is why「が」emphasizes the text.

●「は」is categorized 「係助詞」(kakarijoshi). 「係」means relation. Kakarijoshi modifies the predicate of the sentence.

係助詞 は(wa) も こそ でも しか か さえ すら

For instance「私は歩く。」(I walk.) is constructed also two core words, 「私(I)」and 「歩く(walk)」. But「は」continues「私」to「歩く」, and supports all over the sentence.

When someone compares only two words, 「は」and「が」 , he will be confused. As well I am. This time I learned the difference by myself for your question. Thank you. These are all as far as I know. And it is only in instant my understanding. I’m afraid that I cause confusion or misunderstanding. Is there anyone else to explain it better and more detailed? ^_^

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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Yukkiisan, thank you for being courageous and posting this explanation. I appreciate the time and dedication you put forth to discover these things and to share them with us. どうもありがとうごうざいます!<(^^)><( )><(^^)>

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/yukkiisan
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どういたしまして! リンゴットをありがとう。(^_^)/

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/hideki
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Looks like we will need one whole skill for learning が vs は in Japanese < English course :)

Generally speaking, Japanese てにをは is so difficult to master that even a native speaker could make mistakes.

See also: 日経ウーマンオンライン:「てにをは」は意外に間違えやすい

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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Hideki, just a small reminder about that skill for learning が vs は you mentioned considering. ^_^

1年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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どうもありがとう、Hidekiさん!(せんぱい・先生?)

多くのParticlesがあります!O.O

Such a skill would very helpful and much appreciated. :Particles が難しいと思います。^^'

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Kippis
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By the way for your last sentence I'd prefer 「Particles 難しいと思います」 because the topic "Particles" is something that has already been mentioned and you're adding new information ("I think it's difficult") to it. (See my previous comment)

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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Thank you Kippis! I'm glad I practiced in public so I could make that mistake. I was thinking I could use it to add emphasis. But, I was misunderstanding the way in which が could add emphasis. I appreciate you helping me. :)

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Kippis
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In fact it's mostly about which information (topic≒subject or predicate) is new rather than emphasizing (and anyway the new information tends to be emphasized). If you really want to emphasize something in Japanese you'd often add adverbs etc.

By the way I wonder if you checked out my comment on this post, because I feel lonely without your reply ;-)

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Kippis
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Native speaker here.

I saw Tae Kim's guide (I hadn't seen it before), and I think it explains the は and が very well.

To put it in the way I explain :

Both 「X は Y」and「X が Y」can be translated as "X is Y" (or X does Y if Y is a verb), but

if X has already appeared in the context and the speaker wants to add some information (=Y) about X, then he/she uses "は".

  • 太郎: あなたの仕事何ですか? "What is your occupation?" literally: "Your occupation is what?"
  • 花子: 私先生です。      "I am a teacher."

In the second sentence, 花子 (Hanako) uses "は" because it is explicit that the topic X is I =私 (To be precise it's "My occupation = 私の仕事", but there's no confusion with the change or omission) and that it is her occupation that is being questioned. 太郎 (Taro) used "は" too in his first question because he is asking to add information Y about the topic X which he already knows.

It may be worth adding that you could omit the subject 私 in the second sentence and say 「先生です」.

  • 青い。    "The sky is blue."

This is a general statement. In such statements, especially in dictionaries, you would see sentences using "は". The readers or listeners should already have the topic X in their mind, and should be more interested in the additional information Y.

If Y, i.e. the feature, state or motion of something/somebody has already been mentioned and the speaker wants to say what/who (=X. You could say "subject" in the English way) that something/somebody is, then he/she uses "が".

  • 太郎: 誰先生ですか?     "Who is the teacher?"
  • 花子: 私先生です。      "I am the teacher."

I believe this example is quite clear. Notice that I've translated 先生 into "the teacher" as opposed to "a teacher" in the case of "は". This time in the second sentence, you can omit the predicate 先生 and say 「私です」.

  • 見て、空赤い。   "Look, the sky is red."

In this case neither the topic X nor its description Y has been aforementioned, but the speaker wants to draw attention to the topic 空, therefore using "が".

To put it into a nutshell, if you want to give new information about or emphasize the predicate, use "は". If it's the subject, use "が". I won't say that this works for every case, but it should help for most cases.

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Rhythmialex
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Thank you. You made it very clear and helpful. :)

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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Thank you for this explanation!

One of the difficulties I have had is that even in English, topic vs subject is difficult. I am not well versed in how to talk about the mechanics of language in general. So, I did a search and read some contradictory things about subject vs topic. However, I believe I've understood that it is that topic is more general thing we are talking about and subject is more specific? So, the topic being cars and the subject being which car is the main focus at a given time while discussing the more general topic?

Also, I have a hard time following long explanations. But, I feel that I am much further on my way to understanding "は" vs "が" than I was before. :)

I will keep doing trial and error. I hope that people will be patient with me, as you were when offering clarity on my sentence below. :)

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/S.Chx
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Hmmm.. The usage of "は" and "が" is tricky. I remember my Japanese teacher told us it's hard to truly figure out the exactly difference between this two but try to feel.
He also gave us a story - 「桃太郎」(Not exactly same as our teachers version but almost) to let us feel the difference. Try to read it over and over again and see if it helps. ;)

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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Thank you very much for your comment and the link! I am at school, so I'll look at the link later. If this discussion disappears, I hope you don't mind I post a picture of your comment and the link in the English counterpart discussion. :)

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/S.Chx
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お願いします, I hope it will help more Japanese learners. ;)

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Mutuc
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The way I learned it was in regards to emphasis. For instance "は" resembles "as for" or "in regards to." On the other hand, "が" is more declarative, more focused on the exact identification at hand, as in "this (subject) is what applies!" I thought I could explain it, but looking back.... sorry I'm learning Japanese too, and it is often tricky.

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/kiookii

I also thought of trying to explain it as you did, but came to same conclusion as you did. ;-)

The question of the difference between "は" and "が" is a big one. I have heard and seen many English speakers ask this question. I have asked the question to many Japanese, and no one seems to be able to really give me a clear answer. Most end their explanation (if they even tried) with "I don't really know." Kippis-san's explanation is the best I have seen, even from textbooks (I have read Tae-kim's, but many years ago, so I don't remember). I have read similar explanations, but not put all together as Kippis-san put it.

The way I seem to be learning how to use them is by Mutuc's "as for" or "in regards to" explaination, which I first ran across many years ago. When I read that it was the first real breakthough for me in this question. However, after that it has been S.Chx's "try to feel" approach -- kind of how a native speaker learns.

Just wanted to put in my two cents to let contributors and other helpers know what an important question this is.

I hope that it is given good attention in the Japanese for English course! Thanks for all the hard work!

3年前

https://www.duolingo.com/hirohiro0709
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I am a man わたし は おとこです I am the man わたし が そのおとこです。 ももたろう は ももからうまれた、ももたろう が ももからうまれた。 が は ももたろうを emphasize. The sentence has almost same meanings but slightly different. Many Japanese confuse to use {a} {the} .It seems the same nuance.

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Rhythmialex
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が は ももたろうを emphasize.

Just for those who cannot read this sentence. @hirohiro0709 said that: が emphasized on ももたろう.

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/hirohiro0709
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I`m sorry.I think that is the problems of Japanese translation systems. So you can not read the sentence. Momotaro ha momokara umareta,momotaro ga momokara umareta. The two sentences have almost same meanings . But in the later sentence Momotaro is more emphasized . Generally Ga emphasizes subjects

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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This difference between a and the seems like a good example of how to approach は and が. I'm very glad you pointed it out. It hadn't occurred to me to think of it that way before. ^_^

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/pinkinu

I am a fluent Japanese speaker but gosh..its really hard to explain the usage. Interesting question

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Sakura9208

ありがとう!very useful!

4年前

https://www.duolingo.com/Shadowtail117

So does it lie in emphasis? The way I'm understanding it, 「が」would correspond with "the" and 「は」to "a". E.g.:

「私は学生です。」"I am a student." 「私が学生です。」"I am the student."

I know this thread has died down recently, but if someone can give me feedback, I'd appreciate it! ^_^

11ヶ月前

https://www.duolingo.com/Arachnje
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Yes, the difference is in the emphasis. は alerts you that information will be given about a topic, while が emphasizes the relation between the subject and the information given about it.

私は学生です: As for me, I’m a student.
私が学生です: I am the student

11ヶ月前
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