The difference in usage between ‘wa’ (は) and ‘ga’ (が) ① [A further explanation]


What we shall learn today

Today I shall give you a further explanation of the difference in usage between ‘wa’ (は) and ‘ga’ (が), which I have already explained to you once. After reading this, you will understand better how to use the two.

An example

In the following example, a Chinese student at Waseda University in Japan asked me to see whether the sentences he had written were correct or not. He gave me permission to quote them and his question.


‘Kaisha wa mō konnan na jiki, iwayuru ibara no michi wo sugoshita. Kongo mo banji junchō dewa nai ga, sudeni kidō ni notta ni chigai nai.’, tte iu bun ga tadashii desuka?


(‘‘‘Our company have come through a very difficult period, or so-called ‘a thorny path. Although it wouldn’t be all easy from now on, I am sure we’re on the right track now.’’ Are these sentences the correct ones?’ [Here he in fact simply tried to ask, ‘Are these sentences correct?’, but his last sentence went a bit awry because he used ‘ga’ there.])


This use of ‘ga’ in the last sentence is problematic.


Using ‘ga’ here is not totally wrong, but it is better and more natural to use ‘wa’ and write ‘[kono/korera-no] bun wa tadashii desuka?’ Let us see the difference between the two a little more carefully:


[kono/korera-no] bun wa tadashii desuka (‘Are [these] sentences correct?’)

[kono/korera-no] bun ga tadashii desuka (Are [these] sentences the correct ones?)


The use of ‘wa’ here implies that the speaker is just concerned about whether the sentences he has written are CORRECT or not.


On the other hand, if you use ‘ga’ instead of ‘wa’, it would imply that you have several choices of sets of sentences in front of you, and that you have chosen one set and ask somebody to judge whether the one you have chosen is the correct CHOICE or not in the given context. Supposing you say, ‘Kono/korera-no bun ga tadashii desuka?’, having chosen one from several other choices, you might get an answer: ‘No, that isn’t the correct choice. The correct one is the third one.’


The particle ‘ga’ always carries the implication that a particular person or thing has been chosen out of many other people or things.


So when I heard the Chinese student say ‘[kono/korera-no] bun ga tadashii desuka?’, I felt that the sentence sounded a little unnatural because I was not aware of the existence of any other sets of sentences.


Thus the two particles ‘wa’ and ‘ga’ imply quite different things.



Try more examples

‘Yamada-san wa tsugi no buchō da.’ (Mr. Yamada will be the next department manager. [Implication: It is simply a fact that he will assume the post. What is NOT at issue here is whether there were other candidates for the post or not.])


‘Yamada-san ga tsugi no buchō da.’ (Mr. Yamada is the person/It is Mr. Yamada who will be the next department manager. [Implication: There were a few more candidates for the post, but Mr. Yamada has been SELECTED among them.])


‘Buchō wa dekakete imasu.’ (The department manager is out. [Implication: This sentence just states a fact that the department manager is out. The speaker is not concerned about anybody else.]) 


‘Buchō ga dekakete imasu.’ (The department manager is the person/It is the department manager who is out. [Implication: There were a few more people who might have chosen to go out, or have been chosen to go out, to perform a certain duty, but this time it is that particular department manager among others who is now out.])


‘Robotto Kōgaku ni kanshite, University of Tokyo ga ichiban susunde iru.’ (In the robot technology field, University of Tokyo is the one/It is University of Tokyo that is the most advanced of all. [Implication: There are many universities which conduct research on robot technology, but University of Tokyo is the most advanced of all.])

NB We do NOT say:

‘Robotto Kōgaku ni kanshite, University of Tokyo wa ichiban susunde iru.’

Here in this context using ‘wa’ is not a really good word to use because the use of the word ‘ichiban’ (the most [advanced of all]; literally ‘the first, the best’) presupposes the fact that University of Tokyo has been the best and CHOSEN to be mentioned among other competing universities in the robot technology field. Incidentally, this is a good illustration of the point that it is the context or some specific words or phrases used in the sentence that dictate which other words or phrases should be or should not be used in it.



Let us revise the main difference between ‘wa’ and ‘ga’

‘Kare wa Furansujin da.’ (He is French. [Implication: The speaker just states a fact that he is French.])

‘Kanojo ga Doitsujin da.’* (It is she/her who is German. [Implication: The speaker refers to one particular woman among several people and say that she is (the only) German among them.])


* Interestingly, however, as for the second sentence, you could also say: ‘Doitsujin wa kanojo da.’ (A German person is her). Here you reverse the subject and the complement of the sentence and at the same time use ‘wa’ instead of ‘ga’. You cannot say ‘Doitsujin ga …’ here. Thus the use of ‘wa’ and ‘ga’ is sometimes quite complicated.


Contrast can be made between people or things by using either ‘wa’ or ‘ga’

‘Kare wa/ga Furansujin de, kanojo wa/ga Doitsujin da.’ (He is French, and She is German. [Implication: There are a man and a woman there, and the speaker is making a CONTRAST in nationality between the two.])


In this kind of sentences showing a contrast, you can use either ‘wa’ or ‘ga’. School grammar books often explain that the expression ‘〜 wa ・・・ de, 〜 wa ・・・ da’ (〜 is ・・・ and 〜 is ・・・), with ‘wa’ used in both clauses, shows a contrast, but ‘ga’ can also be used to the same effect (‘Kare ga Furansujin de, kanojo ga Doitsujin da.’), although there are certain differences in nuance and implication* between ‘wa’ and ‘ga’. But however different they are in nuance and implication, the fact remains that both indicate contrast in this kind of sentences.  




I have explained the main difference between ‘wa’ and ‘ga’. The use of ‘ga’ always implies that a particular one has been chosen among many. The use of ‘wa’ suggests that the speaker is just talking about a person or thing, without being concerned about others.


Please read The difference in usage between ‘wa’ () and ‘ga’ ()    [A further explanation] for more explanation about ‘wa’ and ‘ga’.


If you have written any sentences using either ‘wa’ or ‘ga’ or both, please send them to me. I can check them for you.


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