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”「格助詞」, 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」.