What is the difference between Particle は (wa) and が (ga)

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The particles in the language are a blessing. It makes the language simple, straightforward and easy to understand, but sometimes this blessing can become a curse.

Something that causes a lot of confusion when learning nihongo are the particles and which has a similar function, which sometimes causes a lot of "bug" in the mind. Today we will try to explain the difference between each one, so that you never have this confusion again.


Basic summary

The particles  and が are the most important in Japanese language. You will use them in almost every sentence you speak. Briefly, we can say that the particle (は - wa) is the topic marker. And the particle (が - ga) the subject marker. 

Oh, now that you know that? It solved a lot, right? NO, even I got more confused, since topic and subject are similar things.

Another thing that people say is that you will learn the difference between が and は over time. But I want to learn the difference NOW! And I’m going to warn you, looking at the difference between you can even help you understand, but it won’t solve your doubt… So let's start! I recommend you already have a basic knowledge of nihongo to continue.


The real difference between は and が

Let's say again the various functions of the particles は and が:

  • Particle は
    • Indicates the topic of a sentence;
    • It is used to mark something that has already been introduced to the conversation, or is familiar with the speaker and a listener;
    • It is used to show the contrast or to emphasize the topic;
    • Despite being written with the hiragana は (ha), it is pronounced “wa”;
    • It is postponed to a noun and indicates that something is going to be said about it;
    • Indicates a contrast between 2 items;
    • Indica que un número es el más grande o el más pequeño. (límite)
  • Particle が
    • Indicates the subject of the sentence, or the subject;
    • It is used when a situation or event is newly introduced;
    • The が can also connect two sentences with the meaning;
    • You can indicate the subordinate clause object when it is different from the object;
    • You can indicate the object of a relative clause;
    • It can mean "Same as", "whether ... or not";
    • Used to soften a statement or refuse it;
  • は + が – Indicates the relationship between an object / subject and a verb or adjective;

Well, we don't want to confuse anyone with these various functions of the two particles, it's just for you to understand that it can perform many functions in the language, keep the focus on the main function only. Now that you have knowledge and know that the simple difference between Ga and Wa is that one indicates topic and the other subject, but what is the difference between topic and subject?

  • Tópico: A non-grammatical context.
    • Which refers directly and precisely to what it is about;
    • It refers directly to a specific subject;
  • Most common use of topic: (when is it good to use は?)
    • Good to contrast one thing from the other, speaking of difference in nature or substance;
    • Good for conveying factual information, as if reading a textbook, encyclopedia or dictionary;
    • Good for talking about people (including their own personalities and preferences);
    • Good for discussing abstract concepts and philosophical debates;
  • Subject: A grammatical relationship just for the verb.
    • What you talk about;
    • È the topic on which the discussion or text is being addressed;
  • Most common use of Subject: (when it is good to use が?)
    • Good for neutral statements, it does matter that they are meant to convey specific information;
    • Good for physical descriptions, describing things you can feel and touch;
    • Good for "pointing" at an object, pulling it out of a group, or distinguishing it from others;
    • Good for jumping from side to side making a series of unrelated statements closely;

Well, it seems like an interesting difference, but why does it complicate so much? Because many times the translation of a sentence is the same, both with は and が. Let's look at some examples and understand them.


Example 1:

(1) 猛男さん がイチゴを食べました。
(2) 猛男さんはイチゴを食べました。
Mr.Takeo ate the strawberry.

Well, there is no difference in this sentence. Both phrases mean that the Mr.Takeo ate the strawberry. But each particle's emphasis on one thing. Let's examine the differences:

Particle が - The first sentence using the particle “が” is emphasizing the subjectTakeo“. To understand, let's imagine that the following question was asked:

  • Who (he was) who ate the strawberry? TP がイチゴを食べましたか (dare ga ichigo tabemashitaka?)
  • (He was) O Takeo who ate the strawberry. TP さんがイチゴを食べま TP た。 (Takeo-san ga ichigo wo tabemashita)

The word was does not exist in this sentence, but the use of the particle "Ga" is emphasizing the word "Who" and the answer emphasized the Takeo.

Particle は - Unlike the ícula particle, the は particle emphasizes the topic.

  • Takeo ate the Strawberry 猛男さんイチゴ食べました。

We can't use 誰は to ask a question, because it doesn't exist, it's wrong.

So we can see that the person who asked the question is more concerned with the strawberry than with the person who ate it. The particle wa gave more emphasis to the strawberry, while the particle ga emphasized Takeo.

Another simple way to understand the difference between particles is that ga has a certainty content while wa have a chance. For example; if i ask if you did something, use wa. But if I say that you did something, I prefer the particle ga (but you can use wa too). 


Example 2:

(1) これが臭いです (kore ga kusai desu)
(2) これは臭いです (kore wa kusai desu)
This stinks.

Both mean that “this stinks. ”, But in the first case, it’s assumed that there’s more than one thing, and you’ve found that exactly this is the it stank. It is as if you were going to your refrigerator, and it turned out that a tomato was rotten. In this case, the tomato is what stinks, and therefore, the emphasis is on the subject. Then you will use “Ga”To say that the tomato is stinking.

Now, in the second case, you want to emphasize the verb. You point to a piece of blue cheese, and say KORE WA KUSAI DESU, that is, the emphasis is on the act itself of stinking, not on the piece of cheese. With the particle “Wa”You are emphasizing the stench and not what stinks.


Example 3:

(1) 私が行きます (watashi ga ikimasu)
(2) 私は行きます (watashi wa ikimasu)
I will go!

Both mean “I go“. Meantime, watashi ga ikimasu is used when more people are present. For example, when hitting a penalty, although there are 11 possible collectors, you want to score the eventual goal. In a more explanatory way, it is as if you wanted to say: (I will, Let me go, I will ...)

And when we say WATASHI WA IKIMASU, the emphasis is on the fact that you go, that is, in the verb and not in the subject. (It's like you're just talking "I am going there".


Another example:

(1) このボールペンが赤です。 (Kono bōrupen ga akadesu.)
(2) このボールペンは赤です。 (Kono bōrupen wa akadesu.)
This pen is red

Again, the first example, which uses the particle “Ga”Is emphasizing the pen and not its color. It is as if the phrase meant: “EEEThis pen is the red one !!!” (and not that pen).

While the particle “Wa”Is trying to say:“ That pen is SEE ME !!! ” (not blue)

We can simply conclude that: The particle Ga is emphasizing what has before the particle while the Wa emphasizes what's next. 

Let's take another small example:

  • 私はケビンです (I'm Kevin)
  • 私がケビンです (I is that I'm Kevin)
  • Or you can just say informally ケビンです without using any particles;

Attention

We don't want to induce anyone to make mistakes in Japanese grammar, so stay tuned, we don't mean that necessarily the questions asked with the particle “wa”Should be answered with“wa”And vice versa. There will be many cases where you have to decide how to respond correctly.

For example, if someone asks:

TP は開けましたか - Nani wa akemashita ka? - It could be: What was Open?
TP が開けましたか - Nani ga akemashita ka? - It might be: What opened?

It would likely be emphasized at the door.ドアが開きました. But don't worry most of the time, the question will be asked correctly using the ““”particle, but this is for you to pay close attention and not simply answer the questions asked with“ wa ”using the“ wa ”particle, but rather attention in the conversation and respond in the best possible way.

Remember also that you will not always need to answer using the particles, you can give a simple and short answer! Like ドアです. Or as in the example below:

watashi wa? / ga? kuruma o unten shimashita. ( I I drove the car.)


Conclusion

We are far from dominating the particle は and が just with this simple article. There are several other events, occasions that we will need to have more knowledge about the difference between は and が. But it makes it very easy to understand in a simple way that the particle ga refers to what is before it while the wa refers to what comes next. But as was shown at the beginning of the article, the difference between topic and subject, there will be occasions when you will need to know which is the best particle to use.

If you have knowledge in English, and want to go deeper and fully remove this doubt between the particles, I would recommend this article, which you can access by clicking here.

It was from there that we took some inspiration, and it is worth mentioning that some examples were taken from comments by some users on other sites.

We hope you understand our article!

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