A really good は vs. が explanation


#1

I found this guy’s explanation of は vs が really enlightening and pretty fun to read as well.

https://www.reddit.com/r/LearnJapanese/comments/6u2gaf/let_me_try_and_explain_は_and_が_for_you/


#2

Thanks for the share! I need all the exposure I can get for は and が since I’m still uncertain when to use them.
I’m not stressing TOO much about not knowing enough yet though, since even Japanese people have a hard time explaining when to use which :stuck_out_tongue:


#3

Haha I’m the one who wrote this. Glad you enjoyed it.


#4

Here’s another good explanation: https://8020japanese.com/wa-vs-ga/


#5

Thanks for putting this together! It is very well written.

I do have one question, though.

In your “definitive が” section, you explain “You can’t use は in the last sentence because that would imply that A doesn’t know if anyone else besides B (in this case just C) in the group likes sushi. That’s why when B first answers, he uses は because he doesn’t know if C likes sushi or not.”

So if that’s the case, then why doesn’t C use が when stating that they don’t really like sushi if they already know that B does and B is the only other person in question? Is it because they don’t know yet if A likes sushi? Or is C using は in attempt to make it clear that they don’t know whether or not A likes sushi and they are trying to open up the conversation to that fact?


#6

Sorry for the late reply.

So if that’s the case, then why doesn’t C use が when stating that they don’t really like sushi if they already know that B does and B is the only other person in question? Is it because they don’t know yet if A likes sushi?

Yes. C doesn’t know if A likes sushi so he uses は.

Or is C using は in attempt to make it clear that they don’t know whether or not A likes sushi and they are trying to open up the conversation to that fact?

Yes. Seems like you have answered your own question.

Also, since this whole conversation is a social thing, you probably would want to avoid using が anyway if speaking about yourself (unless you’re specifically answering a question such as “who did bla bla”) since it tends to be a pretty emphatic particle. A is making a neutral, objective statement at the end about B and C’s sushi preferences.


#7

This was the article that cracked it for me, was just about to post it. Leaves nothing unanaswered.


#8

Wow that article was incredible!

I have to admit though that I was eagerly anticipating the writer’s explanation of は being used in negative sentences … and it never came.

But THIS:

As a side note, notice how the way we express these ideas in English is with the word “have”, not “be” or “exist”. This is further evidence of the indirect nature of the Japanese language. In Japanese, I don’t own my sister, just as “he” doesn’t own money. My sister and money exist on their own; they just so happen to do so in a way that relates to me and him, respectively.

This reflects a broader cultural and linguistic difference that actually shapes the way we view the world. Generally:

In English, people do and own things.
In Japanese, things happen and exist.
I’ve often thought about the chicken-and-egg situation that this represents – did the Japanese culture of indirectness evolve due to the structure of the language, or did the language evolve to make vague expression easier? I suspect the answer is both, as ultimately, language is culture.