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を vs. は

Discussion in 'Learning Japanese' started by dhmkhkk, Sep 13, 2017.

  1. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    Hi there,

    could someone explain me the difference between を and は in the following examples:

    私は スポーツを します。
    なにか スポーツは しますか。

    I understand that "sport" is a direct object here, so it should always be accompanied by を...
     
  2. Toritoribe

    Toritoribe 禁漁期
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  3. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    Thank you, that's a great article!! Till now I have only gathered bits and pieces about wa/ga particles. could you maybe clarify a few things for me please:

    1. So, if I understand correctly:

    にほんご は むずかしい です -> As for Japanese, (it's) difficult
    にほんご が むずかしい です -> (from all the lanfuages in the world) It is Japanese which is difficult (and no other language)

    2. In the article there was one example where they used few 'wa' particles in the same sentence:
    わたし は きのう は ちゅうしょく は とらなかった ん です

    It was explained that each は except the one with わたし has a meaning of the contrast (I didn't eat lunch yesterday, and not today; I didn't eat lunch and not breakfast)

    My queston is: if I want to say a normal neutral sentence with no contrast connotaion, would it be correct to say "わたし は きのう ちゅうしょく を とらなかった ん です"

    Same with:
    -おおさか に いきます - I'm going to Oosaka
    -おおさか には いきます - It is Oosaka I'm going to (and not Tokyo)

    3. About my example なにか スポーツは しますか。 I understand what is implied by a topicalized object, but I don't understand why one would want to do this here.
    What I have seen so far is when you omit the topicalized part, the rest of the sentence makes sense on its own. For example,

    ちゅうごく けいざい には もんだい が ある。 It makes sense if I only say もんだい が ある. =There is a problem.
    にほんでは じしん が よく おきます。 ----> じしん が よく おきます= earthquake occurs often.

    But if you omit the topicalizen part of なにか スポーツは しますか, it will be just しますか left. "do you do". Is it enough? Ah I hope so much you understand what I mean...
    Would it be correct to say なにか スポーツを しますか?

    Thank yo so so much for your help!
     
  4. Toritoribe

    Toritoribe 禁漁期
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    1)
    The meaning/nuance differs depending on the context. For instance, は can be the contrastive marker in the first sentence, and can mean "Japanese is difficult, but other languages are not so".

    2)
    Yes.

    3)
    Yes, なにかスポーツをしますか makes sense, of course. The reason you can't omit スポーツは is because スポーツ is necessary in that sentence. Similarly, your example sentences don't make sense when the necessary word is topicalized and omitted. For instance, you can't omit the topic 問題は in 中国経済に問題はある or 地震は in 日本で地震はよく起きます.
    Also, notice that the topic is not なにかスポーツ but just スポーツ. In fact, you can change the word order, and rephrase the question as スポーツはなにかしますか without changing the meaning. Incidentally, なにかしますか can be valid as a question. The meaning is different from the original, though.

    I've seen a learner in this forum who thought that "the topic" was something like out of the sentence, didn't have any function in the sentence and was just add there. Are you also thinking like this, maybe? If so, it's wrong of course. For instance, 中国経済に and 日本で both indicate the location, which is not essential to make a valid sentence, as I wrote. That's why the omitted sentences still make sense. However, as you can see, although the omitted version is still valid, what the sentence describes is not the same as the original.
    Check again the example sentences in the site I linked above. All the topics have function, and は can be replace with other particles in each sentence (the nuance is changed from は, though).
     
  5. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    1. Yes, I think this could be it. Not "any function", but like it's only meaning is to draw attention to the topic. What I mean is, for instance you eat a cake. And you think it's delicious. Then you say "おいしい です". Or you can say "ケーキは おいしい です". As for the cake, it's tasty. It's like you are emphasizing that it's the cake which is tasty and not something else, even though it's clear from the context. That's why I have a feeling it can be omitted sometimes.

    Of course in the example with chinese economy and japanese earthquakes if you omit the topic you cannot understand what the person is talking about exactly. But if two people were talking about Japan and let's say why one person wants to move to another country, saying "じしん が よく おきます", I would say it is not necessary to add "in Japan". Am I missing something?

    2. Ok, this is definitely something I can't really grasp yet. Like, how would you replace "wa" in this example: お名前は何ですか.

    3. Another example which I find really confusing is this one:
    ドア が 閉まります

    Shouldn't there be "wa" instead? Isn't "ga" used to introduce something new? I imagine the situation where I am standing in an elevator and am seeing the actual door, and then a woman's voice says "the door which is absolutely new to you will appear in front of you and close". But I am definitely missing something again.... :/

    Thank you!
     
  6. Toritoribe

    Toritoribe 禁漁期
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    1)
    Your understanding is correct. In the same logic, 何かしますか works completely fine when both the speaker and listener already know what they are talking about is "sports", right? Actually, all the words can be omitted if it's obvious from the context in the first place. It's not limited to the topic. So-called うなぎ文 (わたしはうなぎだ) is a well-known example of this phenomenon. These kinds of sentences are common in Japanese. The page I linked above gave a similar example 私はお茶です. It's usually explained as "only necessary part is said", not "unnecessary part is omitted", though. Thus, speaking strictly, it's not an omission. (A linguist said 我々は言う必要のないことを省略するのではない。言わなければならないことを言うのだ。"We don't omit things we don't need to say. We say things we have to say.")

    2)
    お名前 is the subject in that question, so お名前が何ですか can be valid in a context. Needless to say, ケーキは is also the topicalized subject in ケーキはおいしいです.

    3)
    See the explanation ii. Neutral Statements in the following page.
    http://www.imabi.net/theparticlegai.htm

    アメリカで日食が起きます is a good example. This sentence describes a (near) future event, unlike a general statement アメリカで日食は起きます. Now you can see why が, not は, is used in that sentence?
     
  7. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    3. No I'm sorry it's getting worse in my head...

    アメリカで日食が起きます -> this one I understand. If "wa" was used, it would be really generalized "As for America, there are eclipses..." When you use "ga" it gets more certain about a definite period in time, like "an eclipse is about to happen".

    But what confuses me is the neutral statement. Here is an example from the website you referenced:
    火星は赤です。
    日本は島の国です。

    Both are extremely neutral. Why is it "wa"? I always come across statements like "wa and ga are completely different, you should never mix them up!" but what I see here in these 2 examples (and probably in every neutral statement) they are completely interchangeable.
     
  8. Toritoribe

    Toritoribe 禁漁期
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    火星は赤いです。 is an adjective sentence. When は is used there, it describes a general state of the topic, so it means that Mars is always/usually red. On the other hand, が describes the temporary state in adjective sentences, thus, 火星が赤いです。 expresses that Mars the speaker observes now is red, for instance.
    日本は島国です。 is a noun sentence, and the noun after は is the focus of the sentence. Thus, 日本は島国です。 is an explanation about characteristic/property of the topic "Japan"; Japan is an island nation. When が is used in a noun sentence, the focus is put before が, thus, what the speaker want to say mostly in that sentence is 日本 in 日本が島国です。. Actually, 日本が島国です。 corresponds to 島国は日本です。 in meaning, i.e., it's used in a situation where they are talking about island nations, and what country is an island nation among some countries.
    e.g.
    先生: 日本、韓国、中国の中で、島国はどの国ですか。
    生徒: 日本が島国です。(= 島国は日本です。)
    Teacher: What country is the island nation among Japan, China and Korea?
    Student: Japan is the one./It is Japan.


    As you can see, the function of は/が is different among noun sentences, adjective sentences, or verb sentences, and furthermore, the meaning differs also depending on the context. Actually, は/が issue is one of the hardest things to grasp for non-native learners. It's not simple, indeed.
     
  9. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    Hmmm ok so to sum it up (sorry it's just like a note for me for future reference):

    1. Adjective sentences:
    は -> the topic is described in general (Mars is usually/always red)
    が -> the quality of the subject is perceived by the viewer/speaker; temporary state (right now)

    2. Noun sentences:
    は -> the emphasis is on the part which describes the topic (as for Japan, it's an island nation)
    が -> the emphasis is on the subject (It is Japan which is an island nation)

    3. What about verb sentences then?
    a) transitive (even though it's more が vs. を)
    b) intransitive
    Any difference in meaning:
    ドア が 閉まります?
    ドア は 閉まります?
     
  10. Toritoribe

    Toritoribe 禁漁期
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    Unlike noun sentences or adjective sentences, が is more commonly used in verb sentences. が indicates the subject, and the sentence describes a movement, action or phenomenon. This kind of sentence is a neutral description sentence, and が used in these sentences is called 中立叙述の"が" (が of neutral description). Actually, the topic is one of the information in this neutral description sentence, where the focus of the next sentence is put on to continue the conversation.
    e.g.
    昔々、あるところに、おじいさんとおばあさんが住んでいました。(a neutral description sentence)
    おじいさんは山へ柴刈りに行きました。 (おじいさん is the topic quoted from the previous sentence. This topic sentence describes the action of the topic here.)

    If が is used for already-know information instead of は, が emphasizes the exclusive nuance. For instance, if おじいさんが山へ柴刈りに行きました。 follows the first sentence above, it emphasizes "it is the old man who went to the mountains to gather firewood, not the old woman or someone else." This が is called 指定の"が" (が for specifying). Actually, が in noun sentences is this 指定の"が".

    Incidentally, 私, あなた or これ/それ/あれ are treated as already-known information even if it's not mentioned previously. Thus, は is the most common for these words even in verb sentences, and が works as the specifying one. See the following threads in detail.
    は, が and を what's the difference between the following sentences? | Japan Forum
    STILL confused about は and が; example sentences | Japan Forum

    As you can see, verb sentences are more complicated than adjective sentences or noun sentences. The function of は/が can be different depending on the context, therefore the meaning is often ambiguous just by a stand alone sentence. In other words, ドアが閉まります and ドアは閉まります can have different nuance depending on the situation where they are used. (neutral description, general statement, a near future event, an explanation about already-known information, emphasizing "the door", contrasting "the door", etc., etc.)

    Notice that these explanations are just a summary. Textbooks teach these things gradually in proper way and appropriate order. That's why we repeatedly recommend using decent textbooks as a learning material. I don't think you can fully understand these essential grammatical issues just by translating Japanese song lyrics or from answers to the questions you come across in your mind randomly in the forums like here, as I pointed out previously.
     
  11. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    Thank you, that's awesome! I've read the threads you linked and learned that ga is used in adjectival and adverbial clauses. It even makes sense to me now :emoji_smile:

    Did I understand you correctly: が of neutral description is used in the verb sentences, since が in noun/adjective sentences has a little bit of differentiative meaning?

    Yes, you've told me about books already... the point is, I am not sure which book I should get. As I told you previously, I now have 2 books -> "Japanese Living Language" and "Japanese for busy people" (which I bought ages ago). Both of them have a ton of exercises, which I worked through, and I personally find them a good learning material. But the "wa/ga" part wasn't described as profoundly as I'd wish it to. I've also looked through "Genki" table of contents, and there are a lot of things which I know already and I wouldn't want to spend money (I personally find Genki really expensive) on something I have learnt already. I've also got a book "A dictionary of basic japanese grammar" (S.Makino) which is really good, so I started just reading it like a novel :emoji_smile: The problem with the books though is that you have nobody to ask. And I'm not trying to flatter you, but your explanations are REALLY good, and you also provide examples... you are so much better than any book. :emoji_blush:So thank you very much for your help!
     
  12. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    I have just read this article and I think it made a click in my head.
    The Difference Between the Particles "wa" and "ga" - 80/20 Japanese

    The explanation about the context bubble is really great. That's why it's ドアが閉まります, and not は -> the door is not a context. It's not like somebody talked about this particular door before and now it is clear from the conversation before. It's a door which wasn't mentioned before and it is doing an action - it is closing (itself). As you mentioned before, a neutral statement.

    I also think that the explanation "The purpose of marking the subject (shukaku 主格) of a sentence in Japanese is to indicate information that is newly registered to the speaker, and that information is thus being distilled to the listener(s) as new information." I think it is quite misleading... because for me it means like comparing articles a/the, which I personally find wrong for the Japanese language.

    The "proper" explanation for me would probably be: "wa" is ungrammatical, it is just there to give some context so that it's clear which person/thing the whole statement is about. You can usually omit it and the other person wills till understand the sentence. "ga" is a grammatical particle which HAS to be in the sentence (I would say this is the most important part) and cannot be omitted, since the sentence will get unclear otherwise. Like, when you are standing in an elevator and a woman's voice says "閉まります", the statement is unclear since there was no previous context about the door. Does it make sense, what do you think?

    The thing which then doesn't make sence are ありますか/ありません sentences. At least that's what they teach you in books, that in negative and question sentences you cannot use が but have to use は instead:

    1.いっかいに レストラン は ありますか。
    2.いっかいに レストラン は ありませン。
    3.いっかいに レストラン は/が??? あるかな。

    Situation: we are talking about how awesome this shopping center is, so the topic would be the shopping center. And then I suddenly ask "is there a restaurant on the 1st floor?" The restaurant is new, I cannot omit it... why is it は?
     
  13. Toritoribe

    Toritoribe 禁漁期
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    No. Your understanding is wrong. Unlike in English, the subject is not essential in Japanese sentences. Also, the topic can be necessary depending on the situation. See the post linked below for example.
    筆者は友人と話... / 自分はなぜ... / も / 玲姉 | Japan Forum

    As I wrote in my previous post, not only the topic but also the subject, object, target, location or anything can be omitted (or more correctly to say, "don't need to say") when it's obvious from the context. Of course even just 閉まります works perfectly fine in the situation where が is required, for instance the speaker is warning with a loud voice for the listener(s) in front of the door (ドアは doesn't work well in this case).

    A new information can be the topic when it's related to the previous sentence and the speaker and listener easily guess the relation.
    e.g.
    A: 暗くなってきたね。
    B: でも雨は降ってないよ。
    A: It's getting dark.
    B: But it's not raining.

    The person A doesn't mention "rain" at all, but A and B both have a knowledge that it might begin to rain when the sky gets dark, so "rain" is treated as an already-known information.

    I haven't ever learned Japanese from English textbooks for non-native speakers, but I know a member who used Genki in this forum. He said he thought basic grammar explained in the book, but his Japanese drastically became natural through exercise along the book.
    I remember another member. He used an intermediate textbook, but he seemed to lack knowledge of some very basic grammar. I asked him if there was any explanation for instance about the difference between 二時 and 二時間 in his book, but he complained that the explanation was not there. Now I think that probably because the textbook is for intermediate learners, and the author of the book would judge intermediate learners must know those basic things. Actually, he is the one who thought the topic was something out of the sentence like you. You might think that you already know what is explained in Genki, but I believe it's worth reading. If you have questions in the book, you can ask it here, as many members do.
     
  14. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    Ok I guess you are right... I'll go buy Genki. Otherwise I will always go round and round about the same elementary-level things. Thanks :emoji_smile:
     
  15. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    Hi again :emoji_smile: I've finally gotten the Genki course (and am loving it so far). So I'm following you friendly suggestion to ask questions if there is something in the book which I don't understand. It's particles again...

    I photographed 2 pictures from 2 different books: Japanese Living Language (with blue lines) and Genki describing the "は/が" particles when used with あります/ ありません/ ありますか. They are kind of contradicting in my opinion. The first one states that in negative and question sentences が should be substituted with は. Genki says it's always が. Could you please explain it to me?

    20171001_203352.jpg 20171001_203412.jpg
     
  16. Toritoribe

    Toritoribe 禁漁期
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    Simply the first book is wrong, or at least the explanation is insufficient. There is no problem with 山田さん(に)はお兄さんいますか or 山田さん(に)はお兄さんいません. The nuance differs depending on the context, but generally は works as the contrastive marker in these expressions. The same goes to the example sentences in Genki. は is used as the contrastive marker there.
     
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  17. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    continuing on the topic of wa/ga particles... 2 neutral statements:

    1. ドア閉まります
    2. この電車横浜にとまります

    Both are equally neutral... so could you please help me understand why? Thank you!
     
  18. Toritoribe

    Toritoribe 禁漁期
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  19. dhmkhkk

    dhmkhkk Kouhai

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    omg you are so fast! Thank you, that totally makes sense...
     

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