Usage of は vs が for あります and ありません (book: ありますか?[Arimasu ka?])

Hi everyone, I finally wanted to start checking some simple graded readers, and want to make sure I’m on the right track with getting started.

I read ありますか?, which I’ll link here. I noticed that whenever the food contains what it’s named after, the book says "X あります。”, but when it doesn’t contain what it’s named after, the book says "X ありません。”

I think I’ve only seen あります paired with が up until now, so I want to make sure I have the right idea here. Is が used when it exists, because it’s adding new information to the food, while は is used when it doesn’t exist because there isn’t necessarily any new information? Or would は be used more for contrast / surprise / to emphasize the "ありません”, since the food doesn’t contain what it’s named after?

And maybe a more general question, is が almost always paired with あります, and would は almost always go with ありません?

I think it should be ok for me to include some screenshots since the book is free:

Screenshots




Thank you!

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I’m far from an expert, but as I understand it, you use が to emphasize the importance of something, whereas は is a more general topic marker.

“は marks the topic of the sentence, and describes the whole sentence broadly. However, が primarily marks single actions or statements.“

“が emphasizes what comes before it, while は emphasizes what comes after it“

  • from Bunpro’s section on は and が respectively.

さくらちゃんは可愛い = Sakura is cute
さくらちゃんが可愛い = It is specifically Sakura that is cute
The first sentence would emphasize that she is cute, while the second would emphasize that she, in particular, is the one who is cute.

In the particular example you’re using, I’d say that カレーがあります would be putting the focus on how it is specifically curry that is inside the bread (emphasis on the curry), whereas メロンはありません would be about the absence, not the fact that it is specifically melon that is missing (emphasis on the absence).

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Prefacing this whole thing with an “As far as I understand”, because I’m not an expert either, so correct me if I’m wrong.

You could use が for ありません as well, but saying Xがありません would imply, that “it’s specifically X that isn’t there”, so it might imply, that there is something else instead. For example, saying “犬がありません” would mean, that “specifically a dog I don’t have”, it might mean, that you have a cat instead, or you have everything else, but a dog.

I think you have it mixed up. “犬がありません” would mean that I don’t have a dog, and simply just that. You are not implying anything else about any other animals. If you used は then it could be seen as an implication that while you don’t have a dog, you may potentially have another animal.

And obligatory “I’m not a expert” either.

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If I was smarter, I would’ve googled in japanese first, but alas, am not smarter.
What they are saying is somewhat confusing as well, but roughly speaking, it says, that は indicates, that that specifically isn’t there, but other things might, but with が it just says, that that isn’t there, and not implying anything else about anything else.
So は is like when someone asks you “are you lying?” and you say “I’m not lying *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*”, and が is like saying “no”

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That’s actually a different implication, since it means you are in fact lying, and I think は is a truthful statement, and simply implies things about others besides the topic.

But yeah a good way I thought of it was は meaning “As for”. 私は太です would be something like “As for me, I’m fat”.

And of course 私が太です is just “I am fat”

This video is a nice explanation too

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That’s how they teach it on Bunpro as well. Seems to be a pretty useful way to simplify it.

I think in this specific case it might be the “negation は” that’s often paired with negative form verbs or は used in a broader contrast (1 fruit is (but) the other fruit isn’t).

You will see different possibilities. Sometimes は is paired with あります if the subject is also the topic of the sentence and は overrides が in this case.

が is a general subject marker so if something’s not the topic, but does some sort of action, it will use が.

As you’ll see soon enough, people will contribute tons of は vs が comparisons, since the topic itself is very deep.

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This is very true. Accordingly, my suggestion is that if you’re still at the “Xがあります” sentence pattern stage then you shouldn’t worry too much about wa-vs-ga for the moment. You will be coming back to the problem multiple times over the next few years, so you don’t need to (and shouldn’t expect to be able to) figure out a complete “this is how it works” answer right now. It will make more sense next time you come back to it :slight_smile:

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