Our first grammar lesson will be a simple one about the particle “は (wa)” and the particle “が (ga)”. We use the particle “は (wa)” as a topic marker and the particle “が (ga)” is a subject marker. The topic is often the same as the subject but not necessarily. The topic can be anything that a speaker wants to talk about. In a sense it is similar to the english expression “as for” or “speaking of”. Here are a couple of examples.
- Watashi wa gakusei desu.
- I am a student.
- (As for me, I am a student.)
- Nihongo wa omoshiroi desu.
- Japanese is interesting.
- (Speaking of Japanese, it is interesting.)
Beside being a topic marker, “は wa” is used to show contrast or to emphasize the subject. For example:
- Biiru wa nomimasu ga, wain wa nomimasen.
- I drink beer, but I don’t drink wine.
The thing being contrasted may or may not stated, but with this usage, the contrast is implied. For example:
- Ano hon wa yomimasen deshita.
- I didn’t read that book (though I read this one).
Particles such as “に (ni)”, “で (de)”, “から (kara)”, and “まで (made)” can be combined with “は (wa)” to show contrast. (This usage is called double particles.) For example:
- Osaka ni wa ikimashita ga, Tokyo ni wa ikimasen deshita.
- I went to Osaka, but I didn’t go to Tokyo.
- Koko de wa tabako o suwanaide kudasai.
- Please don’t smoke here (but you can smoke there).
“が (ga)” is used when a situation or happening is just noticed or newly introduced. For example:
- Mukashi mukashi, ojii-san ga sunde imashita. Ojii-san wa totemo shinsetsu deshita.
- Once upon a time, there lived an old man. He was very kind.
In the first sentence, “お爺さん (ojii-san)” is introduced for the first time. It is the subject, not the topic. The second sentence describes about “お爺さん (ojii-san)” that is previously mentioned. “お爺さん (ojii-san)” is now the topic, and is marked with “は (wa)” instead of “が (ga).”
When a question word such as “who” and “what” is the subject of a sentence, it is always followed by “ga,” never by “wa.” To answer the question, it also has to be followed by “ga.” For example:
- Dare ga kimasu ka.
- Who is coming?
- Maeda san ga kimasu.
- Maeda is coming.
“が (ga)” is used for emphasis, to distinguish a person or thing from all others. If a topic is marked with “は(wa),” the comment is the most important part of the sentence. On the other hand, if a subject is marked with “ga,” the subject is the most important part of the sentence. In English, these differences are sometimes expressed in tone of voice. Compare these sentences.
- Maeda san wa gakkou ni ikimashita.
- Maeda went to school.
- Maeda san ga gakkou ni ikimashita.
- Maeda is the one who went to school.
The object of the sentence is usually marked by the particle “を (wo),” but some verbs and adjectives (when expressing like or dislike, desire, necessity, envy, fear, etc.) take “が (ga)” instead of “を (wo).” For example:
- Ringo ga hoshii desu.
- I want an apple.
- Nihongo ga wakarimasu.
- I understand Japanese.
The subject of a subordinate clause normally takes “ga” to show that the subjects of the subordinate and main clauses are different.
- Watashi wa Maeda san ga kekkon shita koto o shiranakatta.
- I didn’t know that Maeda got married.
Now let’s review what we have learned about “は(wa)” and “が (ga).” は (wa) is used as a topic marker and when contrasting things while が (ga)” is used as a subject marker, with question words, to emphasize, instead of the particle を (wo),” and in subordinate clauses.
I hope that this lesson is super helpful to you when trying to make sentences in Japanese. As always if you have any questions you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below! Remember to keep practicing and you will be able to do it! Until next time Japanese language learners!