Home Forums Tips, Hacks, & Ideas For Learning Japanese は and が are going to give me a heart attack…

This topic contains 7 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  vlgi 10 years, 11 months ago.

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    Zachary Walz

    Hey all–

    I don’t know why I just can’t wrap my head around は and が. I understand that you use は if you’re emphasizing what’s coming after, you use が to emphasize what comes before.  I also know that が is used if you’re referring to something unknown for the first time.  My question is, when do I have to “reinsert” the different topics back into a conversation using the particles?

    For example: “I like my car.  It is a Honda Fit.  I bought it for $5.”

    Now the first sentence will not have 私は because it is implied that it is me, correct?
    Then, with the second sentence, do we need a は or が at all?  Because we were talking about my car… but the overall “topic” at this point is still me.  So does the sentence have to start with 車は or それは?
    And THEN, for the third sentence, since we just got talking about the car and not me anymore, do I have to reintroduce 私は?

    My guess at this:
    “私の車が好きです。 それは「Honda Fit」です。私はそれを5ドルで買いました。”

    I just feel like this I’m putting a lot of words in there when I don’t have to.  But not sure how to deal with multiple “subjects” (myself and my car, in this case).



    は is the topic marker – it indicates the topic of conversation.

    が is the subject marker – it marks the subject of a sentence. Note here that “subject” is a grammatical term that means “this noun is the doer of the verb” (as opposed to the object, which is the doee). “Subject” and “topic” are not synonyms in this context – the topic of conversation is not always the subject of a sentence. (For some reason, though, in ~は~が constructions, が marks the object – still haven’t worked out why, but those aren’t the most difficult sentences to understand, so you’ll get the hang of it. I’m about to use one anyway.)

    In your example, the topic is 私. We’re talking the entire time about your feelings for the car, and your actions regarding the car. You don’t need to keep using それ, because it’s fairly clear from the context that you’re still talking about the car (and you wouldn’t use それ anyway, unless it was either phisically closer to the listener, or you somehow don’t feel emotionally close to the car.) So:


    Kinda feeling like this explanation is more confusing than most… Wonder if it’s just a bad example to explain it with?



    Although I still have trouble with this, I found nihonshock’s explanation way more helpful than “は if you’re emphasizing what’s coming after, you use が to emphasize what comes before”:


    What worries me more is that there seems to be confusion amongst Japanese.

    Frequently on Lang-8 I see corrections on the same sentence say は & others say が.




    In my opinion, mastering particles is very difficult. There are not that many basic particles, but there are so many rules and exceptions. Especially with は and が! I found that using books by many different authors helps,a bit. ‘The Dictionary of Basic Japanese’, if you don’t get too confused by the explanations, is perhaps the most thorough. ‘A Dictionary of Japanese Particles’ by Sue Kawashima is very good too. My advice, don’t rely on only one source for your Japanese knowledge. No author is that good.



    The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar? Or are you referring to a different book?


    Don’t worry. Even people who have been studying for many years mess up particles ^^ While books are great, and explanations of them can help, it is only by seeing them used that you will figure out the subtle differences in use.



    Yes, thank you Joel. ‘The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar’ by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui. Also, ‘A Dictionary of Japanese Particles’ by Sue Kawashima.



    wa and ga aren’t just used for emphasizing what comes before and after. They can be used for highlighting comparisons, linking sentences …

    A simple way to understand one aspect of wa vs ga is to consider how they emphasize, but don’t think that is all wa and ga are used for, because if you see it used elsewhere in a different way you’ll get confused.

    Generally the more Japanese you do the better you’ll get at understanding wa and ga, get a good grammar book that explains the different usages as well. and do lots of reading and writing practice.

    In my experience many learners get caught up on things like wa vs ga and on and kun and all manner of technicalities.

    Just forge on instead of getting caught up and a lot of things become clearer when you learn more. Teaching and learning always starts by making very simple generalizations and then later blowing them out of the water with specific information.

    Also don’t think there is a single right way to do wa and ga, there are stylistic choices and preferences, different dialects and levels of Japanese and context are all factors.

    • This reply was modified 10 years, 11 months ago by  vlgi. Reason: for great justice
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