Languages › Japanese Using the Japanese Particles "Wa" and "Ga" Correctly Share Flipboard Email Print tdub303 / Getty Images Japanese Essential Japanese Vocabulary History & Culture Japanese Grammar By Namiko Abe Japanese Language Expert B.A., Kwansei Gakuin University Namiko Abe is a Japanese language teacher and translator, as well as a Japanese calligraphy expert. She has been a freelance writer for nearly 20 years. our editorial process Namiko Abe Updated February 25, 2020 Particles are probably one of the most difficult and confusing aspects of Japanese sentences, and of the particles, "wa（は）" and "ga（が）" raise the most questions. Let's take a closer look at the functions of these particles. Topic Marker and Subject Marker Roughly speaking, "wa" is a topic marker, and "ga" is a subject marker. The topic is often the same as the subject, but not necessary. The topic can be anything that a speaker wants to talk about (It can be an object, location or any other grammatical element). In this sense, it is similar to the English expressions, "As for ~" or "Speaking of ~." Watashi wa gakusei desu. 私は学生です。 I am a student. (As for me, I am a student.) Nihongo wa omoshiroi desu. 日本語は面白いです。 Japanese is interesting. (Speaking of Japanese, it is interesting.) The Basic Differences Between Ga and Wa "Wa" is used to mark something that has already been introduced into the conversation or is familiar with both a speaker and a listener. (proper nouns, genetic names etc.) "Ga" is used when a situation or happening is just noticed or newly introduced. See the following example. Mukashi mukashi, ojii-san ga sunde imashita. Ojii-san wa totemo shinsetsu deshita. 昔々、おじいさんが住んでいました。おじいさんはとても親切でした。 Once upon a time, there lived an old man. He was very kind. In the first sentence, "ojii-san" is introduced for the first time. It is the subject, not the topic. The second sentence describes about "ojii-san" that is previously mentioned. "Ojii-san" is now the topic, and is marked with "wa" instead of "ga." Using Wa to Show Contrast or Emphasis Besides being a topic marker, "wa" is used to show contrast or to emphasize the subject. Biiru wa nomimasu ga, wain wa nomimasen. ビールは飲みますが、ワインは飲みません。 I drink beer, but I don't drink wine. The thing being contrasted may or may not be stated, but in this usage, the contrast is implied. Ano hon wa yomimasen deshita. あの本は読みませんでした。 I didn't read that book (though I read this one). Particles such as "ni（に）," "de（で）," "kara（から）" and "made（まで）" can be combined with "wa" (double particles) to show contrast. Osaka ni wa ikimashita ga,Kyoto ni wa ikimasen deshita. 大阪には行きましたが、 京都には行きませんでした。 I went to Osaka, but I didn't go to Kyoto. Koko de wa tabako osuwanaide kudasai. ここではタバコを 吸わないでください。 Please don't smoke here (but you may smoke there). Whether "wa" indicates a topic or a contrast, it depends on the context or the intonation. Using Ga with Question Words When a question word such as "who" and "what" is the subject of a sentence, it is always followed by "ga," never by "wa." To answer the question, it also has to be followed by "ga." Dare ga kimasu ka. 誰が来ますか。 Who is coming? Yoko ga kimasu. 陽子が来ます。 Yoko is coming. Using Ga for Emphasis "Ga" is used for emphasis, to distinguish a person or thing from all others. If a topic is marked with "wa," the comment is the most important part of the sentence. On the other hand, if a subject is marked with "ga," the subject is the most important part of the sentence. In English, these differences are sometimes expressed in the tone of voice. Compare these sentences. Taro wa gakkou ni ikimashita. 太郎は学校に行きました。 Taro went to school. Taro ga gakkou ni ikimashita. 太郎が学校に行きました。 Taro is the one who went to school. Certain Special Circumstances Call for Ga The object of the sentence is usually marked by the particle "o," but some verbs and adjectives (expressing like/dislike, desire, potential, necessity, fear, envy etc.) take "ga" instead of "o." Kuruma ga hoshii desu. 車が欲しいです。 I want a car. Nihongo ga wakarimasu. 日本語が分かります。 I understand Japanese. Using Ga in Subordinate Clauses The subject of a subordinate clause normally takes "ga" to show that the subjects of the subordinate and main clauses are different. Watashi wa Mika ga kekkon shita koto o shiranakatta. 私は美香が結婚した ことを知らなかった。 I didn't know that Mika got married. Review Here's a summary of the the rules about "wa" and "ga." wa は ga が * Topic marker * Contrast * Subject marker * With question words * Emphasize * Instead of "o" * In subordinate clauses Cite this Article Format mla apa chicago Your Citation Abe, Namiko. "Using the Japanese Particles "Wa" and "Ga" Correctly." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/using-the-japanese-particles-wa-and-ga-correctly-4058398. Abe, Namiko. (2020, August 27). Using the Japanese Particles "Wa" and "Ga" Correctly. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/using-the-japanese-particles-wa-and-ga-correctly-4058398 Abe, Namiko. "Using the Japanese Particles "Wa" and "Ga" Correctly." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/using-the-japanese-particles-wa-and-ga-correctly-4058398 (accessed September 17, 2021). copy citation Watch Now: How to Say "I Don't Understand Japanese" in Japanese All About the Japanese Particles Wa and Ga Japanese Lesson: Particles "O" and "No" Particle (Bakari) The Conditional "Nara" and the Song "Shiawase Nara Te o Tatakou" Most Common Sentence Ending Particles in Japanese Sentences (2) Verbs of Change: Naru Japanese Greetings and Parting Phrases Celebrating Father's Day in Japanese Culture Useful Japanese Expressions First Meetings and Introductions in Japanese Hiragana Wa or Hiragana Ha? Japanese Particle: To Sentence Ending Particles in Japanese Umi no mizu wa naze karai - Learn from a Story How to Use the Particle Ni in Japanese Guide to the Japanese Language in the Animated "Spirited Away"