What You Need to Know About Japanese Particles は(wa), が(ga), も(mo)
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 (wo), の (no), から (kara), まで (made), より (yori), よ (yo), ね (ne), や (ya), and か (ka). But because 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. For this article, we will discuss the Japanese particles は (wa), が (ga), and も (mo).
QUICK LINKS TO ARTICLES:
- What are Japanese Particles? Are They Important?
- How to Differentiate Location Particles で(de), に(ni), and へ(e)
- How to Use Japanese Particles の(no), よ(yo), ね(ne), and か(ka) in the Endings of Your Sentences
- Why You Need to Know About Japanese Particles を(wo), と(to) AND より(yori)
- How to Use Japanese Particles から(kara), まで(made), だけ(dake), and しか(shika) in Your Sentences
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.
- の (no), よ (yo), ね (ne), and か (ka) are all found at the ends of sentences (among other places)
- 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)
- 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 わたし watashi (I/me)), but when it is a particle we use the ha kana (は).
UsAGE of WA PARTICLE
to provide description or information
We place は wa after the topic of a sentence. In other words, everything after は wa in a sentence will often be describing, talking about, or giving information on whatever is in front of は wa. Frequently the topic of your sentence will be a noun or a person, but は wa can also come at the end of other things such as verb phrases.
Watashi wa Kawa desu.
I am Kawa.
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 は 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 は wa is what Kawa-chan is saying about me/herself – that she is Kawa-chan.
The second sentence is a more complex structure, but は wa is still used in the same way. あの部屋に入って 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 いけません 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 私はかわちゃんです 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 watashi (I/me) 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).
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
UsAGE of Ga PARTICLE
1. To indicate subject
We use が ga after the subject of a sentence. Whether a word or phrase is followed by は wa or が ga in a Japanese sentence often causes little to no difference in that sentence’s English translation, but using は wa instead of が ga or vice versa does change what is being emphasized in that sentence.
Kawa-chan wa orenji iro desu.
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 は wa and the が ga as italicizing different parts of their respective sentences. Then, the は wa sentence would be “Kawa-chan is orange” and the が ga sentence would be “Kawa-chan is orange.”
Differences between wa and ga
In the は 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 が 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 は wa and が ga so that you know which of these two particles to place where in sentences that contain both:
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
が 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.
Sensei to hanashitai n desu ga…
I want to talk to the teacher, and/but…
Kyou wa shiken desu ga, benkyou suru jikan ga arimasen.
Today is a test, and/but I do not have time to study.
Adding が ga to the end of sentences that contain a request or desire can be good form. Ending your sentence with a trailing が… ga… 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
UsAGE of Mo PARTICLE
1.“Mo” when placed after nouns means “also.”
Watashi mo Kawa-chan mo nihongo o benkyou shite imasu.
Both Kawa-chan and I are studying Japanese.
When translating, especially from audio sources, be careful not to confuse the particle も mo with the adverb もう mou, which means “already“:
Watashi mo tabemashita.
I ate, too.
Watashi, mou tabemashita.
I ate already.
2. To state “even if [verb]”
When placed after -Te Form verbs, も mo creates the sentence pattern “even if [verb]…”.
(For our article on -Te Form, click here)
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?”
Yuki ga futte mo, shigoto ni ikanakute wa ikemasen.
Even if it snows, I have to go to work.
1. You cannot combine は wa, が ga, and も mo with one another. However, you can combine は wa and も mo with our location/motion particles に ni, で de, and へ 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 は wa, が ga, and も mo to change the nuance of a sentence, remember that you can pair は wa or も mo but not が ga with に ni, で de, or へ 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 in sentences where は wa/も mo and に ni/で de/へ e are combined, the sentence is often emphasizing what is being said about the subject or topic rather than the subject or topic itself. 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 seems as though “inside the house” should be followed by が ga to emphasize “inside the house [as opposed to outside/etc]“; however, the part of the sentence that is emphasized is what is being said about inside the house: “please do not run“.
Over time you will develop an innate feeling for when to use は wa vs が ga. But for now, it is a good idea to keep rules such as this one (は wa/も mo can pair with に ni/で de/へ e, and が ga cannot) in mind.
3. If you pair は wa/も mo with に ni/で de/へ e, the に ni, で de, or へ e comes first and the は wa or も mo comes second.
That’s everything on は wa, が ga, and も 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.