How to translate this ilk?

アリスは 食べる. Would it just be alice eats? I am reading TaeKim’s guide and it says, “as for alice, eat.” which makes no sense.

It does mean “Alice eats.” However, the reason why they wrote it the way they did was to demonstrate what the は actually does.

は denotes whatever word/phrase it’s attached to as the topic of the conversation. In other words, it is literally what you are talking about. So “アリスは食べる” is almost like saying, “I’m now going to start talking about Alice, who eats.” Most textbooks shorten this to “As for X, it does Y.”


Why when I listen to native speakers talk, do I not hear は IN every sentence to denote the subject? Do they simply omit it?

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They often omit the topic once it has already been established. が is the subject particle, は is the topic particle


I’ve only studied slightly longer than you (I’m assuming) but from what I understand the Japanese like to omit things when speaking. You’ll often hear it joked about as “Japanese are mind readers”. I believe everything but a verb can be removed and still be logical in Japanese.


Sometimes it is not correct to use は. If the listener has no idea who Alice is, then アリスは食べる would be a weird sentence to blurt out.

In other words, Alice needs to brought up in the conversation somehow before you mark her as the topic.


Hum so I topic marker SHOULD always be included but it doesn’t need to when the Topic has been previously “marked”?

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So if I were to say 私は野菜です, I am a vegtable, that would be incorrect as a first statement to someone since I have not made myself the topic somehow? (I don’t know too much vocabulary right now lol)

Things that are physically present and visible to the listener are already “introduced” in some sense by being physically present. So you could say 私は without saying something else.


As others have said, the topic is often implied. Japanese is a highly contextual language, meaning speakers and writers say little and imply a lot–you have to do a lot of reading between the lines. Often, when you’re talking about yourself, you don’t even have to use 私は–unless you’re comparing yourself to other people or were talking about another topic immediately before.


I believe you can remove the verb plenty of times too and still be understood.


Heh, not sure! Now we both gotta brace for new knowledge. :man_student: :man_student:

This is something I’m still trying to grasp, but don’t always assume something like A は B です means A is B.

This is an example Cure Dolly has used. Say you’re in a restaurant and the waiter comes up to you and asks you for your order. 私はうなぎです. You’re not saying I am an eel, but its more like as for me, eel it is. So you’re basically ordering eel.

Edit: Also check this out. I really like the way the images depict the differences of は and が.

And another lovely example…


Because subject and topic are different.

Topics, as I said, are the what you are literally talking about in the conversation. In Japanese, you don’t usually use actual pronouns when referring to people or things. That’s what the topic is for. Once you bring up a topic, you don’t have to use は and that word/phrase again until you bring up a new topic of conversation.

In other words, once you say “アリスは食べる” it’s implied that everything from then on will be about Alice, so you don’t have to say “アリスは” again. I could say, “アリスは食べる。飲む。” and the second sentence would still be about Alice. But if said “アリスは食べる。 私は飲む。” that means we’ve switched to talking about me.

As for subjects, they are what we typically think of in English. It’s the noun/phrase that does something. They are marked by the が particle. The topic is often the same as the subject. But sometimes we can’t use a subject as a topic. This is if it is new information is added to the conversation. So I can’t say, “アリスは食べる” if the person I’m talking to has no idea who Alice is and she isn’t present. I would have to say “アリスが食べる” because when you introduce a new piece of information you use が to mark the subject. From then on, you can use は to mark Alice as the topic because you both know who she is now.

I hope this helps some. It might be a little confusing but は/が are two of the most confusing particles. However, they are two of the most important ones too, so I would make sure you study them both heavily.


I wrote a comparison some time ago here:

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The way I would probably translate it for fluidity’s sake in English is “Alice will eat” or “Alice? She’ll eat” or “Alice is eating” or “Alice will be eating.” Grammatically, it’s more like, “As for Alice, [she] eats.”

Let’s say you are at a 食べ放題 and you have a group of people. You are trying to figure out who is eating, who is drinking, and who will be doing both. Alice is in the group and you are speaking up for her. You say アリスは食べる to quickly interject Alice’s preference into the discussion so there isn’t a mix-up. The subject is Alice. However, if you said アリスが食べる, it would have a connotation that sounds more like, “ALICE will eat” or “Alice alone, unlike everyone else, will be eating.”


I’m sure this will make more sense in the future, when I have more knowledge of Japanese grammar, but it still is a little weird to me that there is no future tense and that a lot has to be implied, since I minored in college in Latin where everything is spelled out exactly how it should be said, you just have to notice what endings/conjugations/surrounding text is used.


Technically, English doesn’t have a dedicated future conjugation either. :smile:


I must admit I find it interesting that English speakers complain of the lack of a dedicated future tense inflection in Japanese. :slight_smile: But I find it more surprising that Japanese introductions, taught in English, never seem to mention the parallel between will and -(o)u. Both are modal auxiliaries with many meanings, including volition, probability, future… the big difference being that in English, nowadays, will is mostly about future or probability, I guess, while -(o)u is mostly volition or probability.

Anecdotally, in Sansom’s Historical Grammar, he has this to say about -(a)mu, the ancestor of -(o)u: “MU is usually described as forming a future tense, but it is more accurate to say that it denotes probability.”

If we take a step back, I like to think the languages are not as far apart as we’re sometimes told… or at least they differ in ways that are not that unfamiliar. On that topic, it’s just my opinion, but I am sceptical of the whole trend of “explaining Japanese in isolation” (usually termed “the Japanese way”). I believe there is much to be gained from comparatively studying the language, taking advantage of things you know already. Oh well…


The biggest advantage we have as adults is that we can already take in information from speech and writing. Why would people prefer to infer things vaguely and possibly attach the wrong meaning to them instead of being told something clearly? I don’t get it. We might need background information to understand the explanation well, but it’s worth it and it’s transferrable.

Yes!!! That!! The ‘probability’ explanation of the -(o)u form honestly makes a lot more sense to most of its usages than the name ‘volitional’ does. In my opinion it’s closer in meaning to ‘would’ and ‘could’
(and even ‘should’ in certain usages) than to what English-speaking teaching sources teach (ie, pure volitional).