Using the particles wa (は) and ga (が) with verbs in Japanese


While studying Japanese we learned that the particle wa [は] is the topic marker, ga [が] is the subject marker, wo [を] is the object marker, ni [に] and in [で] are location markers and he [へ] is the direction marker. We use the を, に and へ particles before the verbs, but can we use the particles wa [は] and ga [が] with the Japanese verbs?

In this article we will understand when to use particles wa [は] and ga [が] to mark verbs in the Japanese language. First we have to remember that Japanese grammar works with a system SOV (subject-object-verb). With that in mind let's look at when to use particles は and が before verbs or in place of particles like を.

One of the most obvious situations is when the sentence has no object, only one subject. Phrases like [I run] it has absolutely no object to be indicated by the particle wo [を], because the subject is the object that is running. This is one of the situations in which we can use は and が before the verb without fear of making mistakes.

If you have questions about when to use wa or ga, you can read our following article: What is the difference between Particle は (wa) and が (ga)

Using the particles wa (は) and ga (が) with verbs in Japanese

When to use ga [が] or wa [は] instead of wo [を]?

The particle ga [が] is often used in place of wo [を] when the verb is an abstract action, mental or non-physical. This also happens when the verb is in the potential form, since it is indicating that the action is possible and not a reality. Intransitive verbs also usually use the particle が.

There is also a class of Japanese verbs (usually predicates) whose subjects and objects take が instead of を. These verbs are usually related to conditions or occurrences that occur regardless of human decision, will or volition, such as understanding, need or power.

Some phrases in the table below represent well the use of the ga [が] particle before Japanese verbs:

肉が食べられない Niku ga taberarenai I can't eat meat
日本語が分かる Nihongo ga wakaru I understand japanese

In the case of the particle wa [は], we will rarely need to use it in conjunction with a given verb. Let's just use it in sentences where there are no objects and the subject is doing the action. In these cases we can think that は can express contrast. So we must decide between wa and ga according to the objectives of each one.

Using を or が can change the meaning of the sentence

There are situations that が and を are interchangeable, but there are times that a particle can totally change the meaning of the sentence. An example of a phrase that doesn't matter wo or ga is ピアノ [を / が] 弾ける [piano_hikeru]. No matter which particle I use, the phrase will continue means I play piano with a hidden subject and piano being the object.

An example that shows that particles change the sense of the sentence is in the sentence 魚が食べる [sakana ga taberu] that we can understand how fish eat. If we exchange が for を it will make sense to eat fish. O ga says that the fish is the subject and that he is doing the action of the verb. While the wo indicates that the fish is the object being eaten.

Potential verbs that use the particle が usually focus on the noun, while using を the focus is on the entire sentence. This can drastically change what we are trying to say. Of course, there are countless other situations that we should be aware of about the correct use of particles, but I hope this short article has helped you to understand a little.

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