Question about verb nominalizer のは・のが

So I got this example in Bunpro:
この仕事をするのは私だ

My question is, formulating it that way puts emphasis on the fact that I am the one doing the job, is that correct ?
Say I write it:
私はこの仕事をする

First of all, is that correct japanese ?? If so, my understanding is that this simply states what my job is, whereas the first one puts an emphasis on stating who is doing the job. Is that correct ?

Thank you !

1 Like

In a way, yes. You see a lot of explanations about topic vs subject, and emphasis on the left vs emphasis on the right, but here’s the way that made the most sense to me:

は vs が is, among other things, about where the information you want to give is.

With は, you’re basically saying "to the left of this is what we’re talking about, to the right of this is the information I want to give you about that. With が you’re essentially flipping that around.

So when you say この仕事をするのは私だ, you’re saying that この仕事をするの is the context for the information you want to give me. The actually relevant bit of information is 私だ. In a wordy sort of translation, it’s a bit like “On the topic of the one doing this job, the thing I want to tell you is it’s me”

Similarly when you say 私はこの仕事をする the relevant or new information is not that you’re talking about yourself. The relevant information is what you’re telling people about yourself, namely: you’re doing this job (as opposed to another job, or no job at all, or you saying you’re wearing green pants).

If you were to say 私この仕事をする, however, that means you’re giving people the information that it’s you doing this job, and not someone else. この仕事をする is the context for the information you’re giving, essentially, that’s not the “variable” part of the information you’re giving - you’re giving some information about doing this job, and that information is you’re the one doing it.

And sure, emphasis is one way of describing that, but emphasis is also a bit of an ambiguous term and doesn’t really clarify this - at least, not to me.

Does that help?

(Also keep in mind, I’m not fluent - there may be massive mistakes or misconceptions in there)

7 Likes

For this, it’s also possible to imply that there may be other people present who are doing something else, because は can also be used for comparisons and contrast (when you’ve got two or more in a row).

I’m not sure I would call the second half the ‘context’, but I guess that is one way to see it. Using が answers the question「だれがする?」(‘who does it?’), and in that sense, I guess it should come as no surprise that we write なにが and だれが in questions, and we don’t use は instead, because that’s where the new information is coming in.

Another way of seeing it is that the version with が is more factual, like a sort of observation. は, on the other hand, can be used for judgements or thoughts about something, though I guess that doesn’t really apply here.

PS: I feel like I have は and が down pretty well, but just a few days ago, I had a really long discussion with a friend about a Tweet in which I used は instead of が for something, so perhaps I haven’t quite grasped everything yet. I’m still not convinced that I was wrong, especially because one of the clauses was phrased in such a way that only は could have worked, but perhaps it was still awkward. I think I would have used が in the first half if it has been alone. Funnily enough, when I asked if he would still have found it weird if I swapped out 私は (which I used to preface the whole thing and indicate that my examples were personal) for something else, like 私の場合は, he said it might not be as strange, no. We’ll see, I guess? I honestly feel like I should perhaps create a HiNative account just to see what native speakers think.

2 Likes

Blockquote My question is, formulating it that way puts emphasis on the fact that I am the one doing the job, is that correct?

Yes, that is absolutely correct. To quote directly from the まるごと Textbook:

Blockquote V/ イA/ ナA (plain form) のは、Nです。 This sentence pattern emphasizes N.
私はステーキがすきです。 I like steak.
私が好きなのは、ステーキです。What I like is steak.

With V=verb, A=adjectove, N=noun.

Hope it helped.

Honestly there are so many intricacies to は vs が I think by the time you have it 100% down you can just go and collect an honorary doctorate in Japanese linguistics :joy:

A HiNative account can definitely help, even if only to confirm what sounds natural and what doesn’t.

Yeah, I’ll admit, I wasn’t too sure about that wording either. It’s not as if it can’t hold new information entirely, or it’s not relevant information at all (I mean, in Japanese that’d just mean you’d omit it anyway in many cases), so “context” may not be quite the right term but I couldn’t really think of a better way to contrast it with my explanation of は and keep things somewhat simple.

1 Like

Yeah, but I mean, I suppose it can be the context. If a job is already being discussed, and the only new piece of information is that ‘I’ am doing it, then 私が on its own, while probably not a complete sentence, is a sufficient answer (in an informal setting), and that’s precisely because the context of discussion is the job.

1 Like

Pretty much this. I find it to be possibly the hardest part of Japanese so far, because it’s very context dependent and sometimes both は and が work, but they mean different things slightly.

1 Like

Either that or you’ll be cursed to understand it perfectly but never be able to completely explain it. :wink:

1 Like

It’s like monads - the more you understand it, the harder it becomes to explain :smile:

Or like quantum physics - if you think you get it, you don’t :joy:

2 Likes