Tae Kim's Grammar Guide - Particle Exercise with 「は」, 「も」, 「が」


I am currently working with Tae Kim’s grammar guide and today’s topic is “Particles”. The first exercises leave me struggeling already… Choosing the right particles:

ジム) アリス 誰?
Jim: Alice (is) who?

ボブ) 友達だ。 彼女 アリスだ
Bob: Friend (she is). She (is) Alice.

I don’t know why the second sentence is が nor do I know what Bob wants to say.
Can anybody enlighten this stupid individual that doesn’t even get the basic sentences? :upside_down_face:

Everyone seems to have their own preferences for how they initially translate these particles in their head to help them make sense. (I guess, ideally you’re thinking in Japanese, not translating in your head, but while learning, I think it’s just natural).

Tae Kim’s example translations are purposefully very literal, so that you can transition to thinking in Japanese sentence structure faster. But don’t be afraid to use what works for you. For me, it helps to think of it like this:

Jim says: As for Alice, who is she?
Bob: (She is) A friend. She is the one who is Alice.

I think the implication of the exchange is that Bob mentioned someone named Alice in the conversation he was having with Jim. Jim wanted to know who Alice is. (As for Alice / that person you just mentioned, who is she?). Bob first answers generally: she’s a friend. Then he points out a woman (presumably in the same room) and says, she (the person he’s pointing at) is the one who is Alice.

Tae Kim is very upfront in the early chapters about how we really don’t know EXACTLY what is happening in the conversation snippets he provides, because context is everything / the way Japanese marks topics, pronouns, etc., is different from English.

I have made lots of progress in WK this year, but I am perpetually stuck on just repeating the early chapters of Tae Kim myself, so I am pretty familiar with this part. Not an expert by any means, but can relate to the situation you’re in well.


は marks Alice in the first sentence because he’s introducing her into the conversation. The information after は is important. He’s asking who Alice is.

が marks Alice (かのじ) in the second sentence because she’s highlighting that SHE is Alice as opposed to anyone else. The information before が is important. She’s identifying Alice to the exclusion of anyone else who might be she.


は marks the topic of the sentence. It doesn’t tell you anything about who is doing what.

が marks either the main actor of a sentence (ie. the person or thing performing the action)
or the person/thing that is existing in a state (ie. Car is red = くるまがあかい)

Either one of these can and frequently are dropped if they are obvious from context so it’s completely normal to have sentences missing one or both of them.

I recommend checking out Organic Japanese With Cure Dolly on youtube. She’s has the best explanation I’ve found about how things work the way they do.


The proper use of は and が is something that gives people trouble long into the intermediate period so don’t worry too much if it’s still confusing right now. The main thing to remember is that が is less versatile than は, it mostly only marks subjects (though sometimes it also can mark the object in things like e.g. 音楽が好き where it can either be parsed as “music is likeable” or it can be parsed as marking the object). は on the other hand, is quite a bit more complex as it can mark the grammatical topic, which is a concept somewhat foreign to native English speakers, or it can be used for contrast. は can also replace other particles like が and を, which can add to the confusion for a beginner.

One of the main things that helps me to understand は and が usage is that が is used to introduce new information (something the person you’re speaking to doesn’t know about), or to mark unknowns. は is used for things that the listener would already be familiar with in one sense or another. So in your example, it’s アリスは誰? because the speaker is asking Bob about a person that Bob presumably knows. The speaker (Jim) is not introducing Alice as new information, because he knows (or assumes) that Bob knows who Alice is, and the thing he wants to know is - who is she? In the response, 彼女 is marked with が because as Bob points her out in the room, he is introducing that person to Jim as the Alice he was asking about, which is new information to him. It’s sort of similar to the way we use “a” and “the” in English, where we might say “I saw a black cat”, and then after it’s established we’re talking about this cat, we would say “The cat looked hungry.”

Going to leave this tofugu article here 'cause I found it pretty helpful:


は implies topic marker, the information that comes after は is important. In a が sentence, the information that comes before が is important.

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I like to use this to compare the difference - consider accent on bold words:

She is Alice

She is Alice

one puts emphasis on who is she, the other one on who is Alice


This was the information I was missing. Didn’t think of that Alice might be in the same room … now it makes sense. Thank you :slight_smile:

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Didn’t think of that. So it is somehow linked to the subject of the sentence :slight_smile:

Will take a look into this article tomorrow. Always forget that Tofugu has some nice ressources other than Kanji. Thank you :slight_smile:

All of the stuff in early Tae Kim sections can be interpreted in lots of ways. Or, better put: some of it can’t really be translated to make sense in English because they’re just exchanges without context. In this exchange, the choice of particles is basically the only context we’re going to get.

Everyone has shared good information in the replies, but I think it’s ok if not all of it is helpful. For example, the insistence that important information comes before/after wa/ga, to me, doesn’t help me understand the difference between the particles. To me, the big reason I get stuck in Japanese grammar (other than lack of time, preferring a real class setting, etc.) is that my English and Romance language brain wants to make perfect sense of each piece as I learn it, and fit into the puzzle right away. I find that I need to just sort of accept each part of Japanese grammar at face value and see some example sentences using vocab I know, and eventually I can start to explain it to myself in a way that lets me feel comfortable moving on.

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oh, definitely something like that. I’m just not big on scientific definitions, rather learn from practical examples. so it didn’t click for me until I heard this.

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For example, if you are showing someone school supplies, and you would like to say this is a pen. You would use は because the emphasis is on pen. This is a pen. “This is” is the topic. これはペンです。However, if someone asks which one is a pen?, it would be が because there is emphasis on this. This one is a pen. これがペンです。


After going back to the basics multiple times and seeing that は and が can still trip me up at times can get irritating, but something I’ve noticed is that my confusion usually only happens with out of context examples like in textbooks. When I am actually reading something in its entirety, like a story for instance, these particles make much more sense.


Thank you guys for all the help. Everyone of you got me have a view on that topic from another angle. I think I can move on now and hope that I will get used to it more. I hope that Bunpro will do the trick for me with the SRS mechanic I value so much on WK.
Thanks to you all,
Cheers :slightly_smiling_face:

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