Japanese Particles

What you need to know about Japanese particles は(wa), が(ga), も(mo)

  • November 6, 2017 / Lily Cernak / 0 Comment

In May 2017, we posted an article on Japanese particles and their purposes. That article provided a general summary of the differences between the particles は(wa), が(ga), で(de), に(ni), と(to), も(mo), へ(e), を(o), の(no), から(kara), まで(made), より(yori), よ(yo), ね(ne), や(ya), and か(ka).

However, every Japanese particle has many purposes and uses. We did not have the time in that article to cover the uses of each particle completely. So, we are doing a series of particle articles that go into depth on the uses of three to five particles at a time.

We began the series with an article on Japanese particles の(no), よ(yo), ね(ne), and か(ka). And then an article on で(de), に(ni), and へ(e). This article will be about は(wa), が(ga), and も(mo), and followed by an article on を(wo), と(to), and より(yori). Then an article on から(kara), まで(made), だけ(dake), and しか(shika).

Though most particles are quite multifaceted and should not necessarily be thought of in terms of strict categories, we are dividing them into very general categories. This is for the sake of keeping each particle article from becoming too lengthy.

  1. の(no), よ(yo), ね(ne), and か(ka) are all found at the ends of sentences (among other places)
  2. で(de), に(ni), and へ(e) are all used when expressing either where something takes place or motion towards a place (among other things)
  3. は(wa), が(ga), and も(mo) are all particles that accompany topics or subjects (among other things).

 

Japanese PArticle Wa は

Note that we write the sound “wa” with the “wa” kana (わ) when it is part of a word (such as I/me, “watashi”). But when it is a particle we use the “ha” kana (は).

Uses of WA

to provide description or information

We place “Wa”  after the topic of a sentence. In other words, everything after “wa” in a sentence will often be describing, talking about, or giving information on whatever is in front of “wa.” Frequently the topic of your sentence will be a noun or a person, but “wa” can also come at the end of other things such as verb phrases.

For instance:

私はかわちゃんです。Watashi wa Kawa desu

(I am Kawa).

 

あの部屋に入ってはいけません。Ano heya ni haitte wa ikemasen

(You must not enter that room).

 

The first sentence is an example of one of the most straightforward ways you will see “wa” used. Which is to mark a person (or a chameleon) as being the topic of what is being said. In this sentence, “me” is who is being spoken about, and what follows after the “wa” is what Kawa-chan is saying about me/herself – that she is Kawa-chan.

 

 

The second sentence is a more complex structure, but “wa” is still used in the same way. “Ano heya ni haitte” (to go into that room) Is what is being spoken about, and the thing that is being said about it is that it is “ikemasen” (forbidden).

 

Once a topic is clear, it is very frequently left out of all following sentences. If the topic is clear from the beginning, it’s never spoken in the first place. For example, after saying “Watashi wa Kawa desu,” Kawa-chan might go on to say カメレオンです (Kamereon desu, “I am a chameleon”).

Because it is clear that Kawa-chan is still what is spoken about in the statement “Kamereon desu,” she does not need to say “I/me” (watashi) at the beginning of this sentence. If it was clear from the beginning that Kawa-chan was talking about herself even her first sentence would not need the “watashi wa”. (For instance, if she was part of a group doing self-introductions, and it had come to be her turn). Kawa-chan could have simply said かわです (Kawa desu).

Note

If the topic is clear, including “[topic] wa” in your sentence is not incorrect. But doing so may give the sentence a feel of providing unnecessary information.

Japanese Particle Ga が

Uses of Ga

1. To indicate subject

We use “Ga” after the subject of a sentence. “Wa” or “ga” follows Japanese word or phrase in many Japanese sentences. It causes little to no difference in English translation but does change what is being emphasized in the sentence.

For example:

かわちゃんはオレンジ色です。Kawa-chan wa orenji iro desu.

かわちゃんがオレンジ色です。Kawa-chan ga orenji iro desu.

 

 

 

The basic English translation for both of these sentences is identical: “Kawa-chan is orange.” However, it is helpful to think of the “wa” and the “ga” as italicizing different parts of their respective sentences. Then, the “wa” sentence would be “Kawa-chan is orange” and the “ga” sentence would be “Kawa-chan is orange.”

Differences between wa and ga

In the “wa” sentence, Kawa-chan is simply being the topic, and the emphasis is on what is being said about Kawa-chan (that she is orange). In the “ga” sentence, the emphasis is being placed on Kawa-chan herself. (Perhaps it was already clear that something or someone is orange, and it is being emphasized that Kawa-chan is the person/thing that is orange).

 

It is important to understand the difference in emphasis between “wa” and “ga”. Because it will allow you to know which of these two particles to place where in sentences that have both “wa” and “ga”:

 

かわちゃんは肌がオレンジ色です。Kawa-chan wa hada ga orenji iro desu

(Kawa-chan has orange skin).

 

In this sentence, Kawa-chan is the topic (the chameleon we speak of ), and the speaker is emphasizing that her skin is orange. (Since this sentence has both a topic and a subject, perhaps multiple chameleons are being spoken about. And also different parts of each chameleon (skin, eyes, tongues, clothes) are orange; etc).

2. to indicate but/and

“Ga” has an additional, somewhat unrelated use. It’s placed between phrases or at the end of phrases or sentences to mean “but/and.” Whether its meaning is closer to “but” or closer to “and” depends upon the sentence it is being used in, and the circumstances.

For example:

先生と話したいんですが… Sensei to hanashitai n desu ga…

(I want to talk to the teacher, and/but…)

 

今日は試験ですが、勉強する時間がありません。Kyou wa shiken desu ga, benkyou suru jikan ga arimasen

(Today is a test, and/but I do not have time to study).

 

Adding “ga” to the end of sentences can be a good form, such as the first one that is expressing a desire or asking someone to do something. Because it implies something along the lines of “I want [x], but if you can’t help me/don’t want to do that/etc that’s ok”. It makes it easier for the listener to refuse or suggest an alternative option.

Japanese Particle Mo も

Uses of Mo

1.“Mo” when placed after nouns mean “also.”

 

私もかわちゃんも日本語を勉強しています。Watashi mo Kawa-chan mo nihongo o benkyou shite imasu

(Both Kawa-chan and I are studying Japanese).

 

Be careful when translating, especially from audio sources. Be sure you don’t confuse the particle Mo with the adverb もう (mou), which means “already:”

私も食べました (watashi mo tabemashita; “I ate, too”) vs 私、もう食べました (watashi, mou tabemashita; “I ate already”)!

2. To state “even if [verb]”

When placed after -te form verbs, you use “mo” to make the sentence pattern “even if [verb]…”:

 

雪が降っているから、仕事に行かなくてもいいですか? Yuki ga futteiru kara, shigoto ni ikanakute mo ii desu ka?

(Because it is snowing, is it ok if I don’t go to work? – literally, “is it ok even if I do not go to work?”)

 

雪が降っても、仕事に行かなくてはいけません。Yuki ga futte mo, shigoto ni ikanakute wa ikemasen

(Even if it snows, I have to go to work).

Note

1.  You cannot combine Wa, Ga, and Mo with one another. However, you can combine Wa and Mo with our location/motion particles Ni, De, and E.

For example, one could say 家の中では走らないでください (ie no naka de wa hashiranai de kudasai, “please do not run inside the house”).

2.  While in many cases you can interchange Wa, Ga, and Mo to change the nuance of a sentence, in this case you can only interchange Wa and Mo. You cannot pair Ga with Ni, De, or E. It would sound very strange to say 家の中でが走らないでください (ie no naka de ga hashiranai de kudasai).

The reason for this is (at least partially) that while most combinations of Wa/Mo and Ni/De/E contrast or correlate the topic of the sentence with other possible topics (in the “please do not run inside the house” sentence, it is implied that one mustn’t run inside as opposed to outside the house or some other place). And therefore seem as though they should be using Ga, “inside the house” is the topic and not the subject of the sentence. And the part of the sentence that is being emphasized is what you mustn’t do (run).

Over time you will develop an innate feeling for when to use Wa vs Ga. But for now, it is a good idea to keep rules such as this one (Wa/Mo can pair with Ni/De/E, and Ga cannot) in mind.

3. If you pair Wa/Mo with Ni/De/E, the Ni, De, or E comes first and the Wa or Mo comes second.

That’s everything on Wa, Ga, and Mo for now! Please leave us a comment below if you have any questions about these particles. Let us know too if there are any uses of these particles that we neglected to go over in this article.

 

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