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wa/ga confusion?

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wa/ga confusion?

Postby pago » Thu 06.27.2013 8:42 pm

Hi, I have some serious confusion about wa and ga and some basic stuff I think.

I'm going to just show you some examples and explain my thinking, and I hope you'll correct me where I go wrong. I'm putting everything inside quotes so that it's easier for you to follow.

1. Let's start with a simple sentence:

neko desu

Okay, from what I understand the desu verb only takes a subject and nothing else, so the neko must be the subject, and for whatever reason the ga is not written, but the above sentence is identical in meaning to this sentence:

neko ga desu


2. So, if my understanding is right so far, then let's move on to another sentence:

Tanaka-san wa sensei desu

So, following my reasoning from the first sentence (1), I'm guessing again ga has simply been left out for some reason, and this sentence is identical to:

Tanaka-san wa sensei ga desu



3. From what I understand, whenever a sentence is missing a subject or object, the topic takes its place. So for example if we have this sentence:

Tanaka-san wa mizu wo nomimasu

Since the subject has been left out, we simply replace the subject with the topic and get this:

Tanaka-san wa Tanaka-san ga mizu wo nomimasu

And we could also do this:

Tanaka-san wa Honda-san ga nomimasu

Which becomes:

Tanaka-san wa Honda-san ga Tanaka-san wo nomimasu

Which says that Honda-san drinks Tanaka-san, which might seem a bit odd.


4. So if I by some miraculous reason has everything right so far, then here comes the sentence which just demolishes my understanding:

neko ga kuroi desu

What is the adjective kuroi doing there? Is it an adverb? Or is there some kind of behind the scenes word movement I'm not seeing? Or maybe such a sentence is just not supposed to make sense? If it had been a wa-sentence, I would have understood it as this:

neko wa kuroi (ga) desu
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Re: wa/ga confusion?

Postby pago » Fri 06.28.2013 8:44 am

Okay, so while waiting for approval of my post, I learned that I-adjectives can work like desu!

So now I can make sense of the last sentence:

neko ga kuroi desu

The desu is simply there for politeness and doesn't serve a function.



So assuming, I'm on the right track, I have more questions! :D Putting these in quotes too, just to make everything clear.

5. Okay, so here's another problem, let's say I wanted to say "I like this cat". I can either say:

A: kono neko ga suki desu
B: kono neko wa suki desu

The problem here is that suki is an adjective, but when we say we like something in english, it's something we do, a verb. But in japanese we're saying as if likeable is a property of the cat, just like it also could be black, small, big or old. So how would we go about saying that I find the cat likeable and as far as I know, only me finds it likeable, would making me the topic do this?

For example:

Watashi wa kono neko ga suki desu

Does this say: "(I don't know about you guys, but) as for me, this cat is likeable."? While this sentence:

Kono neko wa suki desu

States that this cat is likeable more as a fact that anyone would agree on, just like they would agree on that it's black, big, small, young or old?


6. Now going back somewhat to my first post. Let's say I'm having breakfast with 2 other persons and we're having a conversation. And they say these sentences right after each other:

Person A: Mizu wa dare ga nomimasu ka?
Person B: Dare ga juzu o nomimasu ka?

Person A doesn't mention an object, but he mentions a topic, so from what I understand when a sentence is missing a subject or object, the topic takes it's place, so here "mizu" becomes the object. Then if I wanted to answer person A, all I would have to say is the following, and everyone at this table would understand which question I'm answering:

Watashi ga nomimasu.

In other words, I'm the one drinking "it", and "it" is the latest topic which is mizu. However if I wanted to answer person B, then I would have to be very specific and say:

Watashi ga juzu o nomimazu.

For everyone to understand who's question I'm answering.



Okay, so how am I doing?
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Re: wa/ga confusion?

Postby Ranja » Fri 06.28.2013 11:42 am

(最近Ongakukaさんの姿が見えませんね。
とりあえず、私の拙い英語で正否のみ書いてみます。)

> neko desu
This can be considered to be an abbreviation of "kore wa neko desu".
And "neko ga desu" doesn't make any sense. (As a matter of fact, if it's ["Neko ga" desu.], then it'll be allowed in a certain context.)

Tanaka-san wa sensei desu

So, following my reasoning from the first sentence (1), I'm guessing again ga has simply been left out for some reason, and this sentence is identical to:

Tanaka-san wa sensei ga desu


No.
You can say
Tanaka-san wa sensei desu
or
Tanaka-san ga sensei desu
but not
Tanaka-san wa sensei ga desu.
Ga is used in place of wa when you want to stress the subject (in this case Tanaka-san).


6. Now going back somewhat to my first post. Let's say I'm having breakfast with 2 other persons and we're having a conversation. And they say these sentences right after each other:

Person A: Mizu wa dare ga nomimasu ka?
Person B: Dare ga juzu o nomimasu ka?

Person A doesn't mention an object, but he mentions a topic, so from what I understand when a sentence is missing a subject or object, the topic takes it's place, so here "mizu" becomes the object. Then if I wanted to answer person A, all I would have to say is the following, and everyone at this table would understand which question I'm answering:

Watashi ga nomimasu.


No, again.
Mizu wa dare ga nomimasu ka?
is almost equal to
Mizu o dare ga nomimasu ka?
and
Dare ga jusu o nomimasu ka?
is almost equal to
Jusu wa dare ga nomimasu ka?.

Here, wa is used in place of o to stress the object (water or juice).
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Re: wa/ga confusion?

Postby pago » Fri 06.28.2013 2:27 pm

Hi, thanks for helping me out :)

Edit: Do'h, I think i get it. In the sentence: neko desu, neko is not the subject to desu, the subject is never mentioned. I should read this as: "X is neko.", not "Is neko.", and x here which is not mentioned is the subject.



I think I might be misunderstanding something very basic here. I thought ga marked a grammatical subject, but I guess it marks some other kind of subject, or does it have more uses besides being a subject marker?

For example, to me : neko desu. The neko is the subject to desu. Which makes it confusing to me if you say: Tanaka-san ga sensei desu, because to me, here you're telling the verb desu, that Tanaka-san is your subject, but then what happens to sensei? Or does ga have more uses than simply being a subject marker, I see you mention it's used to stress, so when it's used for this function it's no longer used as a subject marker?

From what I understand every sentence ends with one verb (or i-adjective), and a verb can only take one subject and one (or more?) objects. And ga is telling the verb, that "hey! look at me! The word before me is the one using you to do its evildoing!"
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Re: wa/ga confusion?

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Fri 06.28.2013 4:04 pm

pago wrote:Edit: Do'h, I think i get it. In the sentence: neko desu, neko is not the subject to desu, the subject is never mentioned. I should read this as: "X is neko.", not "Is neko.", and x here which is not mentioned is the subject.

This seems right to me, at least for a good start.

A sentence like 'neko desu' really -is- just 'is cat', but of course that isn't a sensible sentence in English (or probably any other western European language). The closest English is generally 'It's a cat' but the Japanese isn't actually even that specific, so depending on context it might be 'It's the cat'. 'neko desu' might also show up as answer to a question like 'do you have a pet?', where the natural English translation would be simply 'A cat.'
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Re: wa/ga confusion?

Postby pago » Sun 06.30.2013 5:05 pm

SomeCallMeChris wrote:This seems right to me, at least for a good start.

A sentence like 'neko desu' really -is- just 'is cat', but of course that isn't a sensible sentence in English (or probably any other western European language). The closest English is generally 'It's a cat' but the Japanese isn't actually even that specific, so depending on context it might be 'It's the cat'. 'neko desu' might also show up as answer to a question like 'do you have a pet?', where the natural English translation would be simply 'A cat.'


I never once bothered with the grammar lessons in school, even for my own native language, and my teachers were way to kind rating my tests or maybe I was just lucky, either way I'm starting to feel it coming back to bite my ass.

For example, right now I'm listening to a japanese audio course, and I'm getting a bit confused by the grammars.

For example they say that to say you can't speak japanese, you would say the following:

Nihongo ga hanasemasen

And this is just puzzeling, because the subject is nihongo, so where's the who, who can't speak japanese? I guess its here the topic comes in? But let's say I wanted to ask a group of people, "who here can't speak japanese?", that wouldn't be possible, I think, at least not with these words, because how would such sentence look like? Like this:

Dare ga nihongo ga hanasemasen ka

I don't think you're allowed to have two subjects like that… Maybe I have to make nihongo a topic to ask that question? Like this:

Nihongo wa dare ga hanasemasen ka

But then dare becomes the subject for hanasemasen which wants a language… So my final guess is that you can't ask that question with this verb.


I have the same problem with another sentence:

Kaimono ga shitai n desu ga

Which should mean something like, "I want to go shopping, but… " i think…

But again here's kaimono taking the place as subject, so what if I wanted to ask "Who wants to go shopping?" I guess I could say:

Kaimono ga shitai desu ka

But then it feels a bit to directed to one person, and if I added "anata-tachi wa" before the sentence it feels like I'm asking if everyone wants to go shopping, and if someone said yes, that person would mean yes, we all want to go shopping...
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Re: wa/ga confusion?

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Sun 06.30.2013 11:10 pm

pago wrote:For example they say that to say you can't speak japanese, you would say the following:

Nihongo ga hanasemasen

And this is just puzzeling, because the subject is nihongo, so where's the who, who can't speak japanese? I guess its here the topic comes in?

It's easier if you think of this sentence as saying 'Japanese isn't speakable'.
'watashi ha nihongo ga hanasemasen' then can be 'For me, Japanese isn't speakable'.
This is closer to how the grammar works.


But let's say I wanted to ask a group of people, "who here can't speak japanese?", that wouldn't be possible, I think, at least not with these words, because how would such sentence look like?

You'd say 'nihongo ga hanasenai hito ga imasu ka?' ; this structure puts the whole 'nihongo ga hanasemasen' structure into a subclause (turning it into plain form on the way), and then people who are described by that phrase are the subject of the question 'imasu ka'? (which in this context works like 'are there?' so the sentence is literally more like 'Are there people who can't speak Japanese here?')

Kaimono ga shitai n desu ga

You could again say 'kaimono ga shitai hito ga imasu ka?' but in this case maybe 'dare ga kaimono ni ikitai' would be smoother.

I think you're inventing strange problems for yourself - you certainly -can't- say everything you'd like to say if you only have learned a couple of grammar rules. Some of the things you want to say are going to require grammar you haven't learned yet.

That said, I'm not at all sure that you have a good grammar source.
Many people have had success with Genki, which also has an audio component in addition to the book. http://www.thejapanshop.com/Genki-Textb ... rchSize=12

The online Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese isn't -quite- a textbook and takes a unique perspective on the grammar, but many find it useful, http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/

And one of the best books I've bought for understanding Japanese is A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, though it doesn't replace a good textbook it -supplements- it very nicely. http://www.thejapanshop.com/A-Dictionar ... rchSize=12

I don't mean to slam on Pimsleur or Rosetta or whatever, but, those kinds of courses don't really teach a language, they teach you to understand a limited set of phrases and can't replace a good text.
Last edited by SomeCallMeChris on Mon 07.01.2013 12:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: wa/ga confusion?

Postby Ranja » Sun 06.30.2013 11:20 pm

Even if your grammar book says that the word before ga is the subject, I don't think the book says that the word before ga is ALWAYS the subject. I suggest you read your textbook carefully again.

In fact,
Nihongo ga hanasemasen
is an abbreviation of
Watashi wa Nihongo ga hanasemasen.
You can also say
Watashi wa Nihongo o hanasemasen.

If you want to say "It is 'I' who can't speak Japanese",
Watashi ga Nihongo o hanasemasen.

And
Nihongo wa dare ga hanasemasen ka
or
Nihongo o dare ga hanasemasen ka
is ok, although
Nihongo o hanasenai no wa dare desu ka
sounds more natural.
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