The Ultimate Guide to : は (wa) VS が (ga) particles
The Ultimate Guide to : は (wa) VS が (ga) particles
I know that most beginners get overwhelmed and stumble when it comes to this topic.
It’s probably one of the most common questions I get as well.
In this ultimate guide, I’ll explain the differences between the は (wa) particle and the が (ga) particle.
は (wa*) particle
*The hiragana は should be pronounced as “Ha” in or as a word.
(e.g はやい hayai = early / quick / fast)
But as a particle it’s always pronounced as “Wa”.
It’s called a “topic marker“, so it shows what the topic of the sentence is.
A wa B desu
= Speaking of A, it is B.
A is the topic here.
Remember, Japanese particles modify the preceding word.
Though A is the topic, it does NOT mean that A is the main focus in the sentence.
“Aは” is just an introduction to say “I’m going to talk about A!”,
so what comes AFTER は is actually stressed.
Nihon-go WA kirei desu
= The Japanese language is beautiful.
/ Speaking of Japanese, it is beautiful.
(topic = Japanese, main conclusion = beautiful)
Watashi WA misa desu
= I am Misa.
(topic = I, main conclusion = Misa)
★TIPS to get closer to sounding native!!!★
Omit the pronouns (esp. I / you) most of the time.
We HATE people who go “Me, me, look at ME!”.
Japanese culture appreciates a humble, modest, and quiet attitude.
They say “a real man doesn’t brag about his greatness if he truly knows he’s great”, right?
Saying わたしは (watashi wa) in every sentence like English isn’t good in Japanese.
So the example “I am Misa” actually sounds better without わたしは.
I am Misa. (in a true native way)
Of course, when it’s not obvious who you are talking about, then put it.
Omit the subject (i.e omit Aは) when the topic is clear.
It happens in English too.
But Japanese people tend to omit it so much that
sometimes it’s impossible to figure out what the person is talking about.
Funny fact : I often get confused when texting my mum
because we both omit the subject a lot of the time.
A lot of beginners think は means “to be” but that is not true!
“To be” is “です (desu)”.
Example of a sentence where it would be weird to translate は as “to be” :
Kyou wa tomodachi to asobi-masu
= Today I’ll hang out with my friends.
You see, ” 今日 (kyou) = today” is not the subject here
but “What is your plan for today?”.
が (ga) particle
While the は particle indicates the “topic”,
the が particle emphasizes what / who is taking the action.
Remember, when using は, what comes AFTER は is the main thing.
(AはB – here “B” is the main thing.)
However, when using が, what comes BEFORE が is stressed.
(AがB – here “A” is emphasized.)
So while は is often omitted,
when you want to put emphasis on WHO takes an action,
you shouldn’t omit the が particle.
For example, to the question “WHO did it”, you should respond using が :
Dare GA shita n desu ka
= Who did it?
Watashi GA shima-shita
= I did it. / I’m the one who did it.
Compare these sentences and see where is emphasized.
Kore WA watashi no pen desu
= This is my pen.
(describing what this is.)
kore GA watashi no pen desu
= This is (the one that is) my pen.
(showing which one is my pen.)
Maiku WA amerika-jin desu
= Mike is American.
Maiku GA amerika-jin desu
= Mike is (the one who is) American.
When both は (topic) and が (subject) exist in one sentence
Compare these sentences –
Kono kouen WA kirei desu
= This park is beautiful, isn’t it.
Kono kouen WA sakura GA kirei desu ne
= As for this park, the sakura (cherry blossom) is beautiful.
/ This park has beautiful sakura.
The second sentence starts off with
“この公園は (kono kouen wa)”.
We now know that the speaker is trying to tell the listener what he’s going to talk about.
Basically the topic.
But then ” 桜が (sakura ga)” comes.
It might look like there are two subjects in this sentence
and you may wonder which one (the park or the sakura) the speaker thinks beautiful.
That’s what が is here for.
が indicates WHAT is beautiful.
So when you see a sentence like this :
= The main topic is X, but Y is the one that is …
Let’s see more examples.
Watashi no neko WA me ga aoi desu
This time, try to translate by yourself.
わたしのねこ (watashi no neko) = my cat
目 (me)= eyes
青い (aoi) = blue
So what is blue in this sentence?
The cat itself? Or its eyes?
Watashi no neko WA me ga aoi desu
= As for my cat, his/her eyes are blue. / My cats have blue eyes.
Itaria wa piza ga oishii desu
イタリア (itaria)= Italy
ピザ (piza) = pizza
おいしい (oishii) = delicious
So what is tasty? Italy or the pizza?
⇒ As for Italy, pizzas are delicious. / Italy has delicious pizza.
Nihon wa toukyou ga shuto desu
日本 (nihon) = Japan
東京 (toukyou) = Tokyo
首都 (shuto) = capital city
⇒ As for Japan, Tokyo is the capital. /Tokyo is the capital in Japan.
More examples :
B (Misa): え、首が長い？
A: Misa no kami wa nagai ne
B: E, kubi ga nagai?
A: Iya, kami da yo. Kubi ja nakute, kami ga nagai
= A: Your hair is long.
(here は is describing what Misa’s hair is like.)
B: Heh? My neck is long?
(emphasizing what is long)
A: No, your hair. Not your neck but your hair is long.
(clarifying what is long.)
A lot of expressions that describe people use が.
Just like the examples from the cat’s eyes and Misa’s hair,
we use the construction to clarify what is long, what is blue and so on.
(X wa) kami GA nagai
= (X has) long hair. / lit. As for X, the hair is long.
*Again, が indicates what is long.
Otherwise it could mean X him/herself is long.
(X wa) kami ga mijikai
= (X has) short hair.
(X wa) atama ga ii
= (X is) smart. / lit. As for X, the head is good.
(X wa) atama ga warui
= (X is) stupid. / lit. As for X, the head is bad.
*頭が悪い is more formal than ばか.
(X wa) se ga takai
= (X is) tall. / lit. As for X, the height (back) is tall.
*Common mistake! “高い (takai)” on its own can be only used for non-living objects.
For people, always put ” 背が (se ga)”.
(X wa) se ga hikui
= (X is) short. / lit. As for X, the height (back) is low.
*Common mistake! Do not use “短い (mijikai)” for height.
And so on…
Other expressions that take が most of the time.
I like ～
(watashi wa) ~ GA suki desu
I love ～
(watashi wa) ~ GA DAIsuki desu
The “suki” is not a verb “to like”
but actually a NA-adjective “好きな (suki-NA)”, which means “likable / favourite”.
In this sentence “I” is the topic (talking about myself),
but like I mentioned at the beginning, we usually omit the “I” part so it’s usually hidden.
And you need to use が to show what is likable / what you like.
Nihon GA suki desu
= I like Japan.
※ In informal speech, が is omitted as it’s clear without one.
= I love Japan!
You can put the は particle instead of が here.
Nihon WA suki desu
= As for Japan, I like it.
Maybe you can tell from the English translation that setting the word “Japan”
as a topic makes it sound like you are comparing with something else.
Like “I like Japan but I don’t like <other country>”.
Another example :
A: (B wa) sushi GA suki?
B: Sakana WA suki. Demo, sushi WA kirai
= A: Do you like sushi?
B: As for fish, I like it. / I like fish. But I don’t like sushi.
Other expressions that use が for the same reason :
I understand ～
~ ga wakari-masu
Chigai ga wakari-masu ka
= Do you understand the difference?
To be good at ～
~ ga jouzu desu
Nihon-go ga jouzu desu ne
= Your Japanese is good!
A lot of learners use the word “いい (=good)” for this but
that’s a mistake. Whenever talking about skills, use “jouzu”.
Haha wa ryouri ga jouzu desu
= My mum is good at cooking. / My mum is a good cook.
To be bad at ～
~ ga heta desu
Mada nihon-go ga heta desu. Demo, ganbari-masu
= My Japanese is still bad. But I’ll do my best.
*Again, just like “jouzu”, it’s a common mistake to use “悪い (warui) = bad” here.
I want ～
~ ga hoshii desu
Atarashii pasokon ga hoshii desu
= I want a new computer.
～ hurts. / ～ is painful.
~ ga itai desu
Atama ga itai desu
= I’ve got a headache. / lit. My head hurts.
There is ～ . / ～ exists.
～がある (for non-living objects)
~ ga aru
/ ～がいる (for living objects)
~ ga iru
Waifai ga ari-masu ka
= Do you have Wi-Fi / Is there Wi-Fi?
Kyoudai ga i-masu ka
= Do you have siblings? / Is there any siblings?
Intransitive verbs* usually take the が or はparticle.
*Example of a transitive verb : I open the door.
Intransitive : The door opens.
Shiai ga hajimatta
= The match started / began.
~ ga aku
Doa ga aita
= The door opened.
But if describing / explaining the shop, then it should be the “topic” :
Ano omise wa shichi-ji ni aku
= That store opens at 7.
★ Summary ★
The は particle just indicates the topic.
Main focus is what comes AFTER は.
The が particle puts emphasis on
WHAT / WHO is something or taking the action in the sentence.
I hope this article helped you!
Kono kiji WA misa-sensei GA kaki-mashita
= As for this article, Misa sensei wrote it. /This article was writen by Misa sensei.
Want to learn the differences between the に, へ and で particles?
Check out this article.