Using は as a topic particle


#1

Hi everyone!

Just when I thought I was staring to understand basic grammar I see that this sentence 私はお茶です

Apparently it translates better as “I will have tea” instead of “I am tea”. Can anyone explain to me why this is the case? I understand that this translation makes more sense, but why is it using です instead of another verb that translates as “to have”. Can です double as “to have” with something else added to the sentence to imply the more uncommon translation of being tea or am I missing something here?

Thanks!


#2

This is something which confused me when I first came across it as well, but you need to think about what は means. If something is the topic of a conversation, it isn’t necessarily the subject. Saying 私がお茶です would almost definitely mean “I am tea”.

If you translate は as “as for”, you may get a better idea of the meaning. “As for me, it is tea” as in, whatever is being had, for you it is tea.


#3

は is a topic indicator. It simply lists what the topic is, not the subject. So it wouldn’t translate at “I am green tea” where “I” is the subject but instead “‘Concerning me’, green tea” where “I/me” is the topic.

Tae Kim video:

As for です, it’s a bit harder to explain. I had it explained to me that is basically means “to be”, but that would imply it is a verb (which is really isn’t). Let’s say for now that it is a word added to the end of sentences to make the sentence more polite. Here, it makes the sentence a polite declaration that for I, green tea. Read Tae Kim and/or Genki for more information and when you can use です.


#4

Would that mean that you can leave "私は” out.
And that “お茶です.” would still be a complete sentence meaning “I will have tea?” ?
Assuming that it is about me because of context.


#5

AH! Thank you! The resource I was using was saying something along these lines but I couldn’t understand what they were implying, the way you’ve worded it makes it make more sense. Thank you!


#6

Good question! I am also interested in the response!


#7

Think like this: mentioning who’s doing the action is a bonus in Japanese. When the context is obvious, you won’t see anything mentioning the subject.

The example “お茶です” can mean “I/She/He/They will have tea.” How do you find out which one it is?

Well, if you’re talking to your friend, the obvious context would be “I’ll have tea.” If you were talking about the people on the table beside you, then you would probably add the subject in order for your friend to understand who you’re talking about.

My 2 cents though.


#8

Yes, a lot of things are assumed from context in Japanese, and by saying 私はお茶です, it would mean “As for me, it’s tea”, and as a more contextual interpretation it can be “It will be tea for me” or “I will have tea”

Even in English, we don’t always say “I will have ____” when ordering, we also say things like “Coffee for me”, “It’s coffee for me”, “It’ll be coffee for me”, and it would still get the same idea across :tea::coffee:


#9

I would suggest not phrasing this way as は does not mark who is doing the action. Whatever is marked with は can also be the subject (が), the direct/indirect object (を/に), or merely the topic of the sentence. However, who / what is doing the action, and the は marked topic, can be the same.


#10

Yeah, agree. I probably generalized too much.


#11

4 people are ordering at a restaurant.

Customer 1 - 「ビールください」
Customer 2 - 「私もビール」
Customer 3 - 「お水」
Customer 4 - 「私はお茶です」


#12

It’s interesting to note (and totally off-topic, so feel free to ignore me) that water and tea get the politeness marker お, but beer doesn’t…
Is there a general rule for this? Is it because it is written in katakana? Or do only certain known words get the お / ご?


#13

No reasoning there. Just showing variety of different ways to voice order.


#14

Ah, I see. So would it be possible/okay to say 「おビールください」?


#15

I don’t think おビール is used at all. I’ve never heard it. お水 is just the normal way to say/request it.


#16

OK, that matches my expectations. Thanks for the clarification!


#17

I’m going to attach screenshots of a book called Unlocking Japanese that I think offer some clarity!







Particle question (が)
The difference between は and が particles