Question about the は-; and の-particle

I just started studying grammar through Genki 1 (on my own). The first chapter focuses on the は and の particles and even though I feel like I understand the function of these two particles, I was a little bit confused by how to decide which one to use in certain situations.

1.メアリ-さんはアリゾナだいがくのがくせいです。(Mary studies in the University of Arizona.)
2.メアリ-さんのせんこうはにほんごです。(Mary majors in the Japanese language.)

My question is why have the は and の particles “switched places” in these two examples. Is it because that in the first example the fact that she studies is the “main point” of the sentence. But then I don’t really understand why this doesn’t apply to the second example.

I’m sorry if it’s a stupid question and if you didn’t understand what I’m trying to ask, please ask me to clarify. Any help would be appreciated!

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More literal translations of these two examples are

  1. Mary-san is a student at the University of Arizona.
  2. Mary-san’s major is the Japanese language.

Note the positions of the word “is” in my translations. In the first sentence, the topic is Mary-san, while in the second sentence, the topic is Mary-san’s major. Which is why the topic marker は comes after メアリさん in the first sentence, but after せんこう in the second.

(Side note, Japanese doesn’t use hyphens between names and honorifics - it’s just メアリさん not メアリ-さん)


Just out of curiosity, were those translations provided by the textbook?

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の is the possessive particle. It’s the equivalent to “'s” in English. Mary’s major is Japanese.

Other examples:
メアリーさんのほん Mary’s book
たけしさんのペン Takeshi’s pen

EDIT: Submitted before finished writing post.

は is the topic particle. There isn’t an equivalent in English, but in some cases, it is similar to the verb “to be”.

メアリーさんのせんこうはにほんご Mary’s major is Japanese
メアリーさんはアメリカ人です Mary is American

In your two example sentences, the first one is talking about Mary. She’s the subject. In the second sentence, the subject is Mary’s major. In the Genki books, they have grammar lessons explaining the grammar in the dialogue lessons. I hope this helps!

And in the Japanese keyboard ー is supposed to be long as opposed to - on the English keyboard.

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No they weren’t, I came up with them myself. :sweat_smile:

I think it was confusion between a dash and the vowel lengthener usually seen at the end of the name メアリー.


Oh, and here are the translations of your sentences:

Mary is a University of Arizona student. (Mary is a student of the University of Arizona.)
Mary’s major is Japanese.

Ahh, this explanation makes it seem so much more clearer to me, thanks a lot! (Regarding the hyphens, I wonder why the book uses them if it’s incorrect :thinking: )

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The ー at the end of メアリー indicates a long vowel, similar to words like ラーメン and タクシー.


Yeah I read through the grammar lessons but I felt as if you and Belthazar explained it in a way which was clearer to me, so thanks a lot for that!

Ohh, I see. For some reason I have never realized that there are two different versions of - and —. Thanks for your help!

That’s just the だ copula being omitted, not は being the verb be.


In English there is a hyphen (-) as well as em and en dashes (longer dashes). In Japanese, it’s a vowel lengthening marker and looks like this: ー. You can write it with your IME by pressing the hyphen key while in kana entry mode.

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And also the figure dash, horizontal bar, and minus sign, all of which are (apparently) slightly different. Different lengths and/or different heights above the baseline.

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Good point… I mostly made this post because it looks like when OP typed the longer dash, they typed an EM dash (?) instead of the vowel lengthener. Just wanted to help in case they didn’t know how to type it.


Yeah I have a Finnish keyboard so it’s a little confusing for me. Is there a way to type ー when your keyboard is in English mode?