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My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

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My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby Jesterific » Wed 07.06.2011 10:45 pm

From what I understand, "が" and "は" mean almost the same thing. How do I know when to use one or the other?
Sorry if this post seems a bit abrupt, I'm usually not as descriptive as I should be.
Also, I'm new. So, uh, Hi all. =3
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby phreadom » Wed 07.06.2011 11:46 pm

Welcome to TJP! :)

Let's see if some of these links help sort it out for you. :)

http://thejapanesepage.com/forum/viewto ... ?f=7&t=796

http://thejapanesepage.com/w/index.php? ... _%E3%81%AF

or maybe...

http://thejapanesepage.com/grammar/chapter_two/wa_ga

I think the first one to the forum thread probably covers it in the most detail and we can always follow up from there etc. :)

I hope this helps! :bow:
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby chikara » Thu 07.07.2011 8:50 pm

The topic Introduction to Particles in Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide may also help.

Jesterific wrote:....... I'm new. So, uh, Hi all. =3

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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby hitokiri679 » Sun 07.24.2011 5:04 pm

は and が are not the same at all.

This is definitely a topic you'll have to come back to multiple times before you understand every nuance, but I'll try to help you understand the most basic points.

First, let's talk about が, を, and に. At the most basic, が marks the subject of a verb, を is for the direct object, and a third particle, に, marks the indirect object. So in "I kicked the ball to him", "I" is the subject, "the ball" is the direct object, and "to him" is the indirect object. In English, only the indirect object has a preposition, but in Japanese every one of these is marked with a particle.

Each of these also has other uses, but they are unrelated to the places where は is also involved.

は itself has two basic meanings - it marks a "topic", or it marks contrast. In Japanese, the topic of a sentence is often the same as the subject, in which case it overrides が. It's also possible for the direct object to be a topic (this creates emphasis on the object), in which case を is replaced with は. If you understand this much, you're ready to start tackling the difference between subject and topic and get into the practical differences between は and が.

So, now for your first practical rule. は is generally used whenever you simply want to make a "comment", that is, present (new) information about the topic, which by necessity is someone/something *the speaker and listener must know the identity of*.

One of the places where you revert to が is where the subject is a question word.

ex. だれが きますか。 / Dare ga kimasu ka? / *Who* will come?

In this case, the identity of the subject is unknown, so it can't be a topic, so it can only take が.

In more complex sentences, there are other reasons why you might use は or が, and because the subject is not necessarily the same as the topic, you can also have both in the same sentence.

Did you get all that?
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby jimbreen » Sun 07.24.2011 7:06 pm

hitokiri679 wrote:は and が are not the same at all.


Absolutely.

I strongly recommend Jay Rubin's "Making Sense of Japanese". A great book, and one of the best chapters in it is "Wa and Ga: The Answers to Unasked Questions".

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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby micahcowan » Tue 07.26.2011 5:28 pm

jimbreen wrote:I strongly recommend Jay Rubin's "Making Sense of Japanese". A great book, and one of the best chapters in it is "Wa and Ga: The Answers to Unasked Questions".


I really like that book too; however, I think he overstates things (both there and in other chapters). His story about the 今晩美味しい物が沢山ありますね leading to a chief chef's suicide struck me as particularly unlikely. Still, even if he does put things in slightly more extreme terms than is actually true in reality, it's probably one of the best articles for gaining a clear understanding of "wa" vs "ga".

I think there were a lot of cases in reading that book where I couldn't really completely agree with what he was saying, but was nonetheless grateful for a unique and clarifying perspective on various aspects of the Japanese language. The "Wa and Ga" chapter, though, is probably the best (though they're all good, and worth buying the book for).
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby furrykef » Wed 07.27.2011 5:27 am

"Wa" versus "ga" is a false dichotomy. The real question isn't when to use "wa" versus "ga"; it's when to use "wa" and when not to use "wa". "Wa" does usually replace "ga", but it can also replace "o" or sometimes "ni", and can attach to "ni", "de", and many other things. No matter what particle it's being used with, it's always the same 'wa'.
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby Ongakuka » Wed 07.27.2011 9:39 am

"Wa" versus "ga" is a false dichotomy. The real question isn't when to use "wa" versus "ga"; it's when to use "wa" and when not to use "wa". "Wa" does usually replace "ga", but it can also replace "o" or sometimes "ni", and can attach to "ni", "de", and many other things. No matter what particle it's being used with, it's always the same 'wa'.


Agreed. As my Japanese friend put it (when long ago I asked him the difference between は and が) : 'There is no difference, you just have to know when to use them.'
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby micahcowan » Wed 07.27.2011 2:15 pm

furrykef wrote:"Wa" versus "ga" is a false dichotomy. The real question isn't when to use "wa" versus "ga"; it's when to use "wa" and when not to use "wa". "Wa" does usually replace "ga", but it can also replace "o" or sometimes "ni", and can attach to "ni", "de", and many other things. No matter what particle it's being used with, it's always the same 'wa'.


Agreed. And in fact, that is essentially one of the things that is actually pointed out in the Jay Rubin chapter (even if it was named "Wa and ga", but note that he was very careful not to call it "wa versus ga", which agrees with his position that they are not comparable).

Ongakuka wrote:Agreed. As my Japanese friend put it (when long ago I asked him the difference between は and が) : 'There is no difference, you just have to know when to use them.'


I'm sorry, Ongakuka, but unless I misunderstand greatly, what you're saying (and yes, even your native-Japanese friend) is the opposite of what furrykef has said (and Jay Rubin). They are not "not different", they are wholly and completely different, and do not even begin to fulfill the same roles. Wa (which marks a topic, which topic can happen to be the subject, object, indirect object, or even none of the above) does something entirely different from ga, which always marks the subject when it appears (even if, as in わかる, that subject would usually be translated in English in the form of an object for the sake of more natural-sounding speech).

EDIT: which really begs the question: then why are they so frequently confused? I'd venture it's directly the fault of textbooks that try to teach that sometimes "ga" is used to mark a sentence's subject, and sometimes "wa" is, thus creating this dangerous and false perspective on these two particles, that they fulfill similar purposes.

BTW, most of the "wa and ga" chapter (missing a bit of the beginning, but leaving most of the good stuff) appears to be available on the Google Reader preview of the book (scroll up a little ways from where that link drops you).
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby Ongakuka » Wed 07.27.2011 3:27 pm

is the opposite of what furrykef has said (and Jay Rubin).


Hmm, I see what you mean. My stance was that 'wa vs ga' way of thinking makes you look for differences between the two of them. In 'wa or no wa' way of thinking, there is no difference, but you have to know when and when not to use 'wa.'

I have a round about way of thinking so if I'm talking nonsense I do apologize :wink:

For people who haven't got to grips with 'wa' and 'ga' (I know everyone who has posted a reply here has) I think its best to take the theory with a pinch of salt, read about the basic rules, and then focus on the Japanese and not the theory. As fascinating as Japanese particles are, they won't improve your Japanese unless you identify them repeatedly in context. Sorry for stating the obvious :doh:
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby Infidel » Mon 08.08.2011 7:16 am

Hrm, my imagery might not be helpful at all, but it helps me keep them apart.

wa is taking two kids holding hands, and forcing them to separate but stay close.
ga is taking two close kids and forcing them to hold hands.

Totally different.
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby micahcowan » Tue 08.09.2011 3:57 am

Infidel wrote:Hrm, my imagery might not be helpful at all, but it helps me keep them apart.

wa is taking two kids holding hands, and forcing them to separate but stay close.
ga is taking two close kids and forcing them to hold hands.

Totally different.


I can't figure out any connection between those two situations, and the meanings of wa and ga. But I'm dreadfully curious now. More, please? :)
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby Mystique » Tue 08.09.2011 5:32 pm

Consider the classical example...

私は魚です。
私が魚です。

Can you think of scenarios where one might say these sentences?

私は魚です。 This can be, say, if someone is dreaming about being a fish. It can also be the response when a waiter at a restaurant is asking what you would like for your order. There are many possibilities that this sentence can make sense in context.

私が魚です。 I cannot think of too many scenarios where one might say this, besides the case where someone is claiming being a fish.

Perhaps this explains what Infidel-san was trying to explain with the hand-holding analogy?
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby furrykef » Thu 08.18.2011 1:37 pm

There's an example I've run into a few times lately that I think is illustrative.

Often when somebody is searching for something and they find it, they'll say, これが[thing]ですか? For example, in Ninja Baseball Bat Man (Japanese title: 野球格闘リーグマン), at one point the characters are looking for a golden baseball. When you find it, one of the characters picks it up and asks, これがゴールドボールか! What's going on in this character's mind is something like this: "I'm looking for the ball. Is this it?"

Likewise, in Lupin III: Densetsu no Hihou o Oe, Lupin and company have just arrived at a site where they're looking for a treasure. So Jigen asks Fujiko, ここが入り口か? Same thought process: "I'm looking for the entrance. Is this it?"

In both cases は could be used, but it reflects a different thought process: "What's this thing? Is this the ball?" "Where are we? Is this the entrance?"
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Re: My Confusion Over the "が" Particle

Postby Hyperworm » Thu 08.18.2011 2:00 pm

furrykef wrote:Ninja Baseball Bat Man
AVGN? :D Or did you play it before that? :)

By the way, your second example hits the mark perfectly, but I have to correct you on the first one as it's not a question.
When you find it, one of the characters picks it up and asks, これがゴールドボールか! What's going on in this character's mind is something like this: "I'm looking for the ball. Is this it?"
This is more like "So this is the gold ball!" (/so this is what the gold ball looks like/feels like/behaves like, etc).
Again this would completely fail with は, as it doesn't emphasize what comes before it in the same manner that が does.
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