皆様、こんにちにゃあぁ！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online. Japanese language can seem like a twisting and turning unknown wilderness. Some people have trekked through Japanese language and understand it at length, allowing them to travel it and truly enjoy it; others are just beginning to cut away at the weeds and brush, trying to suss out what they need to survive out there. But, you’re not alone! We’re Kiki and Koko, your guides through the vast forest of knowledge that is Japanese language. And, with Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Essentials, you’ll learn all that you need it make it through the night, whether you’re thrown out into the woods on your own, or you’re brave enough to hike out and make your mark! But, no worries, with us here to help you, you’ll have all of the tools you need to make sense of it all and hopefully truly enjoy Japanese language.
So, of course, when you want to survive in Japanese language, the first important supply would have to be vocabulary words. But, oddly, more important than that is how to actually use those vocabulary words. (If you don’t know how to use the supplies you have, then they’re a bit useless, innit?) So, the first technique we’d like to teach you is how to create a simple sentence! Just the simplest type of sentence, but it comes in handy very often. It’s something quite different to English, so you might not have necessarily thought to even prepare for that! See, that’s what we’re here for!
So, if we’re going to build a Japanese sentence, a very basic one, you’ll need to know the basic structure. So, generally—very extremely generally—the basic structure of a Japanese sentence is Subject→Object→Verb rather than the English Subject→Verb→Object. This might be a bit easier to grasp if we illustrate it.
Let’s say we’re trying to say: Kiki will bring the food
In English, this is how we create this sentence using SVO order.
[Subject]¹ [Verb]² [Object]³
[Kiki]¹[will bring]² the [food]³.
And, this is how the sentence is formed in Japanese, as SOV order.
[Subject]¹ [Object]² [Verb]³
[嬉嬉ちゃん]¹は [食べ物]²を [持ってきます]³。※
[Kiki]¹ [food]² [will bring]³
※Kiki-chan wa tabemono wo mottekimasu.
So, for lack of a better comparison…You can look to [green, pointy-eared, wise space puppet man] space when you’re first trying to suss out how to create a simple Japanese sentence.
You might notice two things other than the difference in sentence structure, rather, what isn’t there, and that’s articles. In Japanese, there really isn’t an 「a」,「 an」, or 「the」 that is placed in front of nouns in the same way as English, which actually makes Japanese a lot easier, especially in comparing it to French or Swedish where there are so many rules you have to follow when it comes to articles. Just throw all of that out of the window on your way to the car! You won’t need any of those silly articles on this journey.
But, there are some other tools you’ll need. And these are called: 助詞, joshi, or particles. You can think of particles as tools used to indicate various grammatical functions within a sentence or even the tone meant for the sentence. They’re an extra layer to Japanese language that adds a special spice. Now, we don’t want to scare you off with particles, but we just want to point out that particles can sometimes be difficult even for Japanese speakers. In child’s speech or very informal speech, particles are even dropped. But, it’s just not the way to do things. You don’t want to try to support a strong sentence structure without proper building materials. And, you’ll need these essential tools or ingredients to survive. That being said, though there are some differences between particles that seem tricky at first, we’re going to cover them so you can feel more confident!
So, the first of the two particles we’ll be looking at today is: 「は」—Though, it’s normally not pronounced this way, when it’s a particle, it’s pronounced 「wa」. So, you’ll usually see this translated as「is」,「am」,「are」, and what not, and really, you can think of it that way, especially to simplify things.
Then, there’s 「が」that is pronounced 「ga」which … is also translated as「is」,「am」,「are」, and what not… Alright, so lots of people naturally look at 「は」 and 「が」and wonder what the difference could be. They both seem just like 「is」, so how can the difference be told? No worries, friends! We have you covered. Spotting the difference out there could save your life! (probably?)
So, 「は」is what we would call a topic marker whilst 「が」is a subject marker. And, figuring out which is the topic and which is the subject can also be a bit of an issue for many. However, there’s a few helpful hints we have that will help you differentiate!
In sentences that use「は」that marks the topic, you can replace it with the phrase as for. Let’s try this with an example sentence.
興子ちゃんは 稲荷寿司が 好きです。
Kouko-chan wa inarizushi ga suki desu.
As for Koko, she likes inarizushi.※
※Where is the 「she is」coming from? Learn more about「です」right here.
But, let’s take a quick step away for just one moment: here’s what also makes this exercise interesting and may solidify how 「は」can be used, though it’s a very flexible particle… So, it really just shows you a better way to think about it when differentiating.「は」can also very easily make something a question based on how it functions, even replacing whole pieces of a sentence. Let’s say this is in the woods of Japanese learning. Someone is pining for their favourite snack:
私は お握りが ほしいです。 興子ちゃんは？
watashi wa onigiri ga hoshii desu. Kouko-chan wa?
I want onigiri. How about Koko?※
※It’s implied that this means, ‘What does Koko want?’
興子ちゃんは 稲荷寿司を ほしがっています。
Kouko-chan wa inarizushi wo hoshiigatteimasu.
It seems like Koko wants inarizushi.
Alright, so… SO much is implied here. But, that’s the magic of 「は」. They didn’t need to say watashi wa at the beginning of this sentence because it was implied (even though it is a proper sentence to include it, we explain this in another article), but we think including it is something important to show how this works. It can be translated as How about Koko? or What about Koko?, but it still shows the same idea of As for Koko…? marking the topic, but in this case forming an inquisitive statement, prompting the next person to fill in the rest. In this case, you wouldn’t need to say Kouko-chan wa over again because it would be implied, but again, it gives the full sentence structure to show how 「は」works. Kouko-chan is the topic but the direct object in the second sentence is inarizushi. We’ll learn about the other particle included in that sentence in a future lesson.
But, there’s also another case that can help you differentiate. 「は」emphasises what comes after, and 「が」emphasises what comes before. Alright, so let’s say, you brought inarizushi on your trip. Someone asks you, what’s that? and you reply:
kore wa inarizushi desu.
This is inarizushi.
What is it? Inarizushi. The emphasis is on inarizushi. Let’s try that trick where we replace 「は」with 「as for」in the translation.
kore wa inarizushi desu.
[As for this], it is inarizushi.※
Now, 「が」plays by different rules, emphasising the word that comes before it. In this scenario, there’s two plates of sushi, and your friend doesn’t know which one is inarizushi. They ask you, which is inarizushi? and you say:
kore ga inarizushi desu.
THIS is inarizushi.
Normally, you wouldn’t translate it so boldly with all capital letters, but this hopefully will help. It’s that THIS is inarizushi, not that or that, it’s THIS. THIS is inarizushi.
So,「は」has a more general feel whilst 「が」has a specifying feel. This sort of scenario generally helps in cases where you’re not sure which to use. Of course, there’s a lot of other cases that don’t quite apply in this way, but again, anything you’re confused about as a beginner can usually be cleared up with these quick tricks.
All in all, we could write several articles on 「は」and 「が」, but for now, we’re just giving you the tools to survive. (But, in future, we will definitely try to give more assistance with these important particles.)
After this lesson, and the lesson about 「です」, you’ll have the tools to start creating your own simple sentences! Differentiating and using「は」and 「が」properly may save your Japanese-speaking life when you’re out there fending for yourself. But, there are quite a few more particles that you’ll want to store in your pack for your journey!
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