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Lesson 3.2, Wa and Ga

Maggie JJapanese GuruFri, 25 May 2012 11:11:28 +0000
In this lesson, Sayaka asks, "O sake o nonda koto ga arimasu ka?"
And Kenny replies, "O sake o nonda koto WA arimasen."

Why don't they both use the same particle?
Suppose Kenny wanted to say that he himself has never drunk sake, but his brother drinks it every day. Would he then say, "Watashi wa o sake o nonda koto ga arimasen, demo..."
Pascal PJapanese GuruFri, 25 May 2012 20:29:40 +0000
Hi there,

This question pops up a lot.

The difference between GA and WA is that GA is the subject marker, while WA is the topic marker.

GA follows the subject of the sentence, which WA is then used to provide information or qualify a subject that has already been identified.

Consider: "O sake o nonda koto GA..." the subject of Sayaka's question is simply being identified as "the action of having drunk sake".

In Kenny's response, he is now qualifying the previously identified "action of having drunk". He qualifies the subject identified as one that "doesn't exist" (ie. arimasen".

So basically:
GA identifies a subject in a sentence. When wanting to provide further information about the subject, WA is used.

Another, easier way to think about it is in terms of emphasis that the two particles place. GA emphasizes the subject before it, while WA emphasizes the information after it (though WA is still a particle and hence is immediately after the topic of the sentence).

For example, if someone asks me "Anata WA dare desu ka?" I would respsond "Watashi WA Pascal desu". In both cases the WA proceeds the emphasis of the sentence. In the question it is "Who?" and in my response it is "Pascal".

Another case may be "Pascal GA dare desu ka?". In this case GA is used to mark "Pascal" before it. The emphasis is on who PASCAL is. My response would be "Watashi GA Pascal desu", since I'm emphasizing that I am Pascal.

In the case of Kenny's brother, I think Kenny could say "Watashi WA o sake o nonda koto GA arimasen GA ani-san WA mainichi nomimasu."

The two WAs here I'm actually using to indicate contrasting terms, which is a function of the WA particle. The first GA serves the same function as in Sayaka's question, ie. to identify the subject before it/ place emphasis on the "act of having drunk". The second GA indicates a contrasting clause and has the effect of saying "but". You don't generally find Demo in the middle of sentences.

I think my explanation is right. My Japanese is a bit rusty right now, so any corrections are welcome.

Cheers,
Pascal
コッドGreen Star Japanese MasterSat, 26 May 2012 06:38:55 +0000
Great explanation as always Pascal-san. I presonally got a bit tired of re-explaining the ga vs wa problem so many times around
Pascal PJapanese GuruSat, 26 May 2012 08:38:57 +0000
@コッド

Yeah, I think I might save this explanation to a text document in case someone asks again in the future =P
Sunday nJapanese NoviceThu, 31 May 2012 05:43:05 +0000
Hello,

I always confuse between WO and GA. May you explain what is different thing of both GA and WO?

Best Regards,
Sunday,
Pascal PJapanese GuruThu, 31 May 2012 08:19:03 +0000
No problem.

GA is the subject marker of a sentence, while WO or O is the direct object marker.

As I said above, GA follows the subject of the sentence.

For example

-Anata wa nani o yonde imasu ka? /What are you reading?
-Watashi ga ryokou no panfuretto o yonde imasu. I'm reading travel brochures.

In the first sentence, WA establishes the sentence topic of the sentence as "Anata". The "nani" is followed by "o" because the interrogative "what" is actually considered the object of the sentence.

In the second case, GA highlights the subject,"I" of the sentence, while "o" again marks the direct object as "travel brochures".

Also as an example, think of the difference between "Watashi ga taberu" and "Watashi o taberu". The first means "I eat" with I as the subject, but the second makes me the object and means "(something) eats me". So you really need to know where to use each particle. They can completely change the meaning of a sentence!

(Also, when you want to ask a separate question, it might be better to start a new topic for it; that way others who also have the same question can search for it.)
Maggie JJapanese GuruSat, 02 Jun 2012 13:19:20 +0000
Arigato gozaimashita, Pascal-san! Your explanation is very helpful. The example with the names is particularly illuminating.

I think one reason we English speakers have so much trouble with wa and ga (aside from the fact that the whole concept of markers is completely foreign to us) is that the particles have multiple functions, as you mentioned at the end of your post. So after learning one of these functions, we run across them serving another function and are baffled.

Another issue is that, as I'm now seeing, the usage of wa and ga is not entirely grammar-based but also indicates emphasis and emotion.

Also, as an English speaker I had it drilled into me that every complete sentence has a subject and a verb. So when something is called a "subject marker," I kind of expect to find it in every sentence, following the subject of the sentence. But in Japanese, some sentences have WA, some have GA, and some don't have either one. Clearly, the Japanese concept of "subject" is different from the English one.
Maggie JJapanese GuruSun, 03 Jun 2012 13:01:42 +0000
With my new-found knowledge, I'm now attempting to analyze another sentence:
"Anata wa nihongo ga hanasemasu ka?"

Since this is the beginning of a conversation, WA is obviously not marking information about a topic already identified. So let's say it's emphasizing the following word, i.e. "nihongo."

As for GA, it is marking "nihongo." I guess you could say "nihongo" is the subject of the sentence, but it's not the grammatical subject. From an English grammar perspective, the subject is "you" and the direct object is "Japanese."

So it seems to me that it might be equally valid to say:
"Anata wa nihongo o hanasemasu ka?"

... because "nihongo" seems to be the direct object. Am I right?
Pascal PJapanese GuruSun, 03 Jun 2012 16:46:26 +0000
You would be correct in English.

The problem is that Japanese grammar is so radically different, trying to make parallels to English grammar is often futile.

The sentence "Watashi wa nihongo o hanashimasu" means "I speak Japanese", but more literally it means "As for me, I speak Japanese". "Nihongo" is the direct object and hence is followed by "o".

The major difference with "Watashi wa nihongo GA hanasemasu" is that this literally means "As for me, Japanese is/can be spoken".

"Hanasu" meaning "to speak" is turned into "is spoken" "Hanaseru". The passive forms of verbs can also be used to indicated potential, and hence when wanting to say "Can speak Japanese", you'll literally be saying something more like "Japanese can be spoken".

You may also see the sentence structure " Vdic + koto ga dekiru" to mean "Can do something". This is a set expression, and its grammar shouldn't be analyzed extensively.
Suffice it to say, it means literally "I am able to do the act of doing something".

So yep. While English grammar rules very rarely apply to Japanese, other than transitive/intransitive verbs and some other things, the fact that Japanese is a language heavily built around particles (which include wa, ga, o, and many others), and that these particles often don't translate directly into English means that if you try to literally translate a Japanese sentence into English, or analyze the grammar, you'll often end up confused and with even more questions.
Maggie JJapanese GuruSun, 03 Jun 2012 19:07:49 +0000
Ahhh... it's the passive form. Suddenly it all makes sense.
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