The Difference Between the Particles “wa” and “ga”

Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced speaker of Japanese, there is probably one question that keeps coming back to haunt you:

What is the difference between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」?

You’ve probably asked about it, maybe even compared a whole range of sentences trying to figure it out, but with no satisfying conclusion.

And do you know why you can never get a simple, straightforward answer?

Because it’s the wrong question to ask.

It does have an answer, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story.

Of course, there’s no way you could have known this. I certainly didn’t, and for a long time had the same trouble finding an answer that really made sense to me.

One day, however, when I was studying at a university in Japan, one of my teachers started talking about these things called “kaku joshi”かく助詞じょし, or “case-marking particles”. These are a specific subset of particles that, for the most part, are the main particles we use in everyday Japanese – “de”「で」, “wo”「を」, “ni”「に」, and a few others.

But not “wa”「は」.

As she explained more, it became obvious why I could never get a clear answer. The problem was that instead of trying to figure out the difference between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」, I should have been asking…

What is the true purpose of “wa”「は」?

We know it defines the topic, but what exactly is that? And why do we use it in some situations but not others?

Understand this, and the choice between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」 becomes considerably easier, while also giving you a deeper understanding of the mindset behind the Japanese language as a whole.

Hopefully this article will help you see “wa”「は」 for what it really is, and as a result, be better equipped to choose between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」. Continue Reading →

Making Sense of Japanese Word Order – Think Outside-In

In Japanese, word order is less important than it is in languages like English thanks to the existence of particles. As I talked about in my guide to Japanese sentence structure, particles, not word order, are what determines how each part of a sentence relates to the verb:

How different roles are defined in Japanese sentences

Particles define the role of each element in relation to the verb

(If you haven’t read my article on Japanese sentence structure, I recommend doing so.)

As a starting point, most basic sentences can be formed using the following pattern:

Basic Japanese sentence order

The pieces of ‘other information’ can generally be expressed in any order without affecting the fundamental meaning of the sentence, as long as they are accompanied by the appropriate particles.

However, for any given sentence, there is usually a particular word order that sounds more natural than others. This is because word order affects where the emphasis in a sentence lies.

In this article, I will show you the thinking behind natural Japanese word order, and give you some basic rules that you can easily apply. I’ll also give you some exercises you can do to help you think like a Japanese speaker so that forming natural-sounding sentences becomes automatic.

Let’s get started. Continue Reading →

Developing a Better Understanding of Japanese Sentence Structure [NSJLE 2016]

Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity to present at the National Symposium on Japanese Language Education, an event held in Australia every two years.

The symposium brings together Japanese language teachers from around the country to share ideas about how to best teach Japanese. It was a great event, and I came away with some interesting ideas that I hope to incorporate as I build on 80/20 Japanese.

For my presentation, I talked about Developing a Better Understanding of Japanese Sentence Structure.

Basically, I explained the big picture view I have of the Japanese language, and how I believe building a solid understanding of Japanese sentence structure can make it easier to learn Japanese.

After much time spent playing around with some new software, I have a couple of things I want to share with you:

  1. The video of my presentation
  2. My powerpoint slides (which include a bunch of useful diagrams of Japanese sentences)

Continue Reading →

The Surprisingly Simple Logic Behind Japanese Sentence Structure

Most people find Japanese sentence structure to be difficult and confusing.

One of the biggest reasons for this is that the usual way of learning Japanese involves remembering random phrases and sentence patterns in isolation, without actually being taught why those sentences work the way they do. This is fine in the beginning when you’re just trying to learn a few basic phrases, but it makes it very hard to take the next step.

The truth is, Japanese sentence structure is actually incredibly logical, and a solid understanding of it will save you a huge amount of time trying to make sense of Japanese grammar.

In this guide, I break it all down and show you exactly how Japanese sentences work. Every aspect of Japanese grammar fits within the structure outlined below.

Continue Reading →