Anyone have an eli5 of は and の in sentences?

There’s so many examples online but I still just don’t seem to get this one (or sentence structure overall in Japanese). I have no idea why and it may be because I don’t actually understand the fundamentals of language overall (like verbs/nouns/adjectives) like I can read up what it means but my English is constructed without the thought of them.

Basically, I have trouble with order and wording, especially on の combos.

For example:
I am a Toyota employee.
I use: “watashi ha toyota no kaishain desu”
Makes a lot of sense to me in how I’m learning, I being the first topic than “ha” particle and then N1 clarifier の N2Main desu.

But the next question I have is:

My teacher’s name is Yamashita.

My initial guess is “わたしせんせい の なまえ やました です”
In order of (topic being about mine) - (clarifying is a teacher) - (clarifying more we’re talking about name) - (lastly main point is the name itself).

But apparently the answer is “わたし せんせい の なまえ やました です。” so would I be correct in the order of words and I just don’t fully understand the particle (as I usually put topic marker at the start?).

Thanks for any advice!

I may not be the best qualified to answer this, but I believe both sentences are correct, but have different meanings. I think your guess would mean something like, I am (a student of) the teacher whose name is やました, though this would probably be expressed as わたしはやましたせんせいですor わたしはせんせいのやましたです。わたし is the topic, as indicated by its placement before は.

But you want to express an idea where the topic is your teacher’s name, not yourself. Hence the noun before は in the answer sentence is わたしのせんせいのなまえ.

Essentially the topic marker will always come after the topic of the sentence. In this case that topic is a name, more specifically your teacher’s name.


You should read Tae Kim’s guide to は here and の here.

Try to remember that particles affect whatever comes before them. So by saying


you are making わたし the topic of the sentence. In this scenario の functions as 's (to show possesion or a link between the two nouns). So


means my teacher. So string them together and you get:


My teacher <-- topic of the sentence.

And so finally


My teacher’s name <-- topic of the sentence


I think what you’re not quite understanding is the nature of particles. Particles define the function a word plays in a sentence - in English, we use word order and prepositions for that purpose, but in Japanese, they use particles. Particles are post-positions, they modify the word or phrase that precedes them. Since the particle modifies the word, not word order, you can rearrange sentences as you like without changing the meaning, provided the right particles stay with the right words (with the caveat that if you’re too random, it starts getting confusing).

Sentences aren’t formed by going (noun)は(something), but rather (topic of the sentence)は(sentence). Often the topic is just a single noun, as in your first sentence, but sometimes it’s something more complex. For example: 父が買った車は赤いのです = the car that my father bought is the red one. Here, the clause 父が買った (= my father bought) is modifying 車 (= car), but the whole assemblage “the car that my father bought” is the topic of the sentence, so the は comes after 車.

(The の in this sentence is functioning as a placeholder pronoun - it stands in place of a noun I’ve already brought up, in this case 車. It functions exactly the same as the “one” in the English translation.)

It’s more like “I am a teacher named Yamashita”, but even then it’s a weird phrasing.

This is “I am Yamashita-sensei.”


My mind is blown, for some reason, I just assumed only had a single word as a topic, it never occurred to me that you can connect them with to make a proper full-blown topic. Thank you so much!


Thanks so much, this is it, I never realised the was everything before it, and for some reason just assumed it was only the single word before it. Thanks mate!


One thing that helped me out here: most of the time the topic is not the same as the one who does the action. the topic is what we’re talking about.

in this sentence the topic is the name of the teacher, not the fact that he/she is your teacher. the sentence answers the question: what’s his/her name?

trying to see a sentence as an answer to a question can help define the subhect and the topic.

hope this helps.
keep it up

1 Like

forget the 私は
私はソニーの社員です means ”no fkn clue about you mofos, but as for ME, i am a sony employee"


This was one of my big Japanese AHA moments. All particles are like this. I’m too lazy to look up examples at the moment, but it’s not unusual to have what looks like an entire independent sentence with a particle stuck at the end.

1 Like

This is probably a terrible way to do this, but if I ever have trouble with a sentence I will try reading it backwards. For example, “わたしのせんせいのなまえはやましたです” read backwards basically says, “Yamashita (is) the name of teacher of me.” I wouldn’t recommend using this logic for writing out sentences, but it can help when reading especially when you can’t trace what particles denote what.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.