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Thread: Understanding は and が Particles

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    Default Understanding は and が Particles

    My brain is hemorrhaging trying to figure out how to properly use は and が. In school, my teacher told me that は is used when you're talking about a non-exclusive subject and が is used when you're specifically talking about one thing or subject. She also mentioned that は is used to introduce a new subject. It sounded easy enough to me but I just did a particle exerise using は and が and I pretty much failed it. Could someone help explain how to use these particles properly?

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    Why don't you put up your particle exercise?
    It's easier to explain with examples.

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    well, が is more contextually specific.

    try to think of は as "as for."

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    As animeyay-san said, it's easier to deal with examples.

    For starters, consider the following:

    >彼はバナナをたべた >He ate a banana
    >彼がバナナをたべた >It was him who ate a banana / The person who ate a banana was him

    The latter example implies that, out of several people, it was that one specific person who had eaten the banana. The former has no such implication.
    "If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, and a person who commits a felony is a felon, then God is an iron."

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    These are the exercises. I was having most trouble with the last exercise.
    http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn...ticlesintro_ex

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    私はいます
    I have (something)

    私がいます
    (Something) has me

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    Quote Originally Posted by HairyCockroach View Post
    These are the exercises. I was having most trouble with the last exercise.
    http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn...ticlesintro_ex
    One good tip to remember: は puts the emphasis on what follows it, while が puts the emphasis on what precedes it. When you have a question, the question word (e.g. who, what, how, where, etc.) will logically always be the emphasis of the sentence, so usually only the question words can take が in questions.



    ジム) アリス  誰? [Jim: Who is Alice?]
    ボブ) 友達だ。彼女  アリスだ [Bob: A friend. SHE is Alice.]

    >アリス  誰?
    The question word is 誰, so naturally the topic アリスcannot take が, but must take は to shift the emphasis to 誰.
    If you reverse the word order, you would have 誰がアリス?, in which case the question word 誰 takes が.

    >彼女  アリスだ
    This is the response to the question, so 彼女 replaces 誰, but retains the particle が.
    In this case, the emphasis is on "SHE", as in SHE is the person you were asking about.
    彼女はアリスだ, with emphasis on "Alice", would be a good reply to "彼女は誰?" ("Who is She?").



    アリス) これ  何? [Alice: What's this?]
    ボブ) それ  鉛筆。 [Bob: That's a pencil.]
    アリス) あれ  鉛筆? [Alice: Is that also a pencil?]
    ボブ) あれ  ペンだ。 [Bob: That one is a pen.]

    >これ  何?
    Again, in a question, usually only the question word takes が. The topic これ must take は.

    >それ  鉛筆。
    The emphasis is on the answer to the question ("pencil"), so それ takes は since "that" is not the emphasis of this sentence.

    >あれ  鉛筆?
    も means "also", "too". When も is used, は is always dropped, while が and を are regularly dropped (but could be retained for added emphasis).

    >あれ  ペンだ。
    The emphasis is on "pen", as in, "That is A PEN!", not anything else.




    アリス) 図書館  どこ? [Alice: Where is the library?]
    ボブ) ここ  図書館だ。 [Bob: THIS PLACE is the library.]
    アリス) そこ  図書館じゃない? [Alice: That place is not the library?]
    ボブ) そこじゃない。図書館  ここだ。 [Bob: Not there. The library is HERE.]

    >図書館  どこ?
    Again, the question word is どこ, so the topic 図書館 must take は to shift the emphasis to どこ.

    >ここ  図書館だ。
    The library is HERE, not anywhere else.
    "ここは図書館だ" simply means "This is the library", and would be an acceptable reply to the question "ここはどこ?" (Where is this place?)

    >そこ  図書館じゃない?
    In this case, は functions more as a contrast particle: That place, as opposed to here, is not the library?

    >そこじゃない。図書館  ここだ。
    The emphasis is on "here": The library is HERE!

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    That explanation really helped me out. I think I'm starting to grasp how to use those two particles. I'm going to try those exercises again and see how well I do.
    Thank you very much for explaining this difficult concept to me. I appreciate the effort you took to help me with it.

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    The best explanation/translation I've heard is that 'ga' is the 'underline' or 'capital' particle. As is in puts the word before it in CAPITALS and therefore places importance on that specific word. Whereas 'wa' can be thought of as 'about', eg: "watashi wa"... about me....

    I'm doing an online course called 'Japanese Through Anime' taught by Ken Cannon. I find he explains things really simply and in ways I can understand.

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    in the end, は is more open ended while が is concrete specific

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    Quote Originally Posted by ParaParaJMo View Post
    in the end, は is more open ended while が is concrete specific
    I understood that part. I'm just finding it difficult to learn WHEN to use each particle.

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    Its all in the verb and the context.

    I have found it less to be はor が and more を or が which is where transitive and intransitive verbs come into play or in english "I closed the door" vs "The door closed". You use が because は would make no sense.

    Usually when you use が in place of は you are using the verbs aru or iru instead of desu, or if you use desu you are omitting another part of the sentence which the が then implies.
    Last edited by Yuki457; 04-03-2013 at 07:59 AM.

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    There are two cases:
    1) が and は are not interchangeable in the clause.
    The upside is that it is much more clear which one you have to use. The downside is using the wrong one will lead to a misunderstanding.

    2) が and は are interchangeable in the clause.
    The upside is that you'll be understood even if you sound unnatural. The upside is it is not quite clear which one to use.

    (1) happens for intransitive verbs and adjectives where が to make the direct object (rather than を) had the clause been a transitive verb.
    In these cases を isn't used, and は, に, には are used to mark the subject. Grammar dictates which one you use here.


    (2) is tricky, and I can only give a weak heuristic.
    a) Use which one you knows works by experience: If you see a sentence using either one, then just play it safe and use that sentence.
    b) If it's a nested clause, use が.
    c) If you're identifying who/what did something or asking a question in similar nature, use が.
    Here "identifying" is a bit vague, though I think it's more appropriate than "emphasis". I'd say が implies intent to identify, and intent to identify implies emphasis, which is why が implies emphasis.
    If you are asking "who/what did it" or answering such a question, not using が is strange. If you're assigning blame or credit, using が makes more sense. It has sort of a "it is X that...", "X is the one who..." feeling to it.
    d) Otherwise use は.

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    Default Re: Understanding は and が Particles

    As a beginner I invented my own cheat rule: Whenever I hesitated between WA and GA, then I said GA, because my experience told me so. It worked quite well


    All particles WA, GA, O, NI, NO, MO, TO, DE, KA indicates the grammatical role of the PRECEDING noun (or preceding phrase for TO, DE, KA in some cases).

    GA/O indicates that the preceding noun is the subject/object in the sentence.

    WA indicates that the preceding noun is the topic of the sentence the main thing/person the sentence intends to describe. (WA also indicates contrast, when you compare things/persons - a less common use than topic.)

    Very common is that the subject is also the topic. Then GA is substituted by WA. So in most cases there is an invisible GA hidden under the WA. This is common when the sentence starts with a person: watashi, anata, Endou-san, Heipo-san. (Type Endou Heipo in Youtube)

    Remember: In computers, a pointer points to a certain memory address. In Japanese, ALL particles points to the PRECEDING noun/phrase. Its as simple as that.

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