N5 Grammar – The が particle

Welcome everyone, this is Mac with another N5 Grammar Lesson from JLPT Boot Camp. Last episode, we learned about は, the tricky topic marking particle. Today, we are going learn how to use が, the subject marking particle. We are going to look at a few, very short exchanges. Let’s give it a try.

Conversation 1

Matt and Yu are in the park talking about the animals they see.

Matt: わたしは いぬが すき。
            Watashiwa inuga suki.
           (As for me), I like dogs.

Yu: わたしは ねこが すき。
        Watashiwa nekoga suki.
        (As for me), I like cats.

Breaking that down, Matt starts with わたし, I, は, the topic marking particle, then いぬ, dog, が, the subject marking particle and finally すき, liked. All together he is saying “I like dogs.”

Yu responds by saying わたし, I, は, the topic marking particle, then ねこ, cat, が, the subject marking particle, and finally すき, liked. All together, she says “I like cats.”

Matt and Yu are using one of the more common structures in Japanese は…が…. In the previous episode, we learned how the は particle can be used to give a sentence context, by putting it in a box. With this structure we are adding a little more to that box. We are describing the fact that dogs are liked when talking about myself.

This structure is commonly used to express a state in relation to a topic. Nothing is actually doing anything in this sentence. In the example above, we are expressing the state of Matt liking dogs. This is how this structure is commonly used at the N5 level – to express preferences or what you want to do.

Let’s give it a try right now. Can you say “I like pizza”?  So, quickly again, I is わたし in Japanese, liked is すき and pizza is ピザ.   Can you use the は…が structure to make the sentence?

To say “I like pizza.” in Japanese, you would say:

わたしは ピザが すきです。
Watashiwa pizaga sukidesu.
I like pizza.

Breaking that down, わたし, I, は, the topic marking particle, ピザ, pizza, が, the subject marking particle, and finally すき, liked. です is not necessary, but it makes the whole sentence polite. And most of what you will hear on the N5 will be in this polite form.

So, again, you are putting the fact that pizza is liked inside the I box.

Another way you will see this is describing what you want to do:

わたしは ピザが 食べたいです。
Watashiwa pizaga tabetaidesu.
I want to eat pizza.

In the sentence above, 食べたい means to want to eat. We will learn how to form this structure in a later video. For now, just remember that you commonly use the が particle when using the ~たい tai form to express desires like this.

It can also be used to express other states. For example, if you want to talk about the state of you understanding Japanese you can say the following sentence:

わたしは 日本語が わかります。
Watashiwa nihongoga wakarimasu.
I understand Japanese.

Breaking that down, わたし, I, は, the topic marking particle, 日本語, Japanese, が, the subject marking particle, and finally わかります, understand in the polite ます form.

Conversation 2

Going back to Matt and Yu, we see they are now eating their bento.

Matt: このおべんとうは おいしいね。だれが つくりましたか。
             Konoobentouwa oishiine. Darega tsukurimashitaka.
            This bento is delicious. Who made it?

Yu: お父さんが つくりました。
         Otousanga tsukurimashita.
        (My) father made it.

Matt: ほんとう?
            Hontou.
           Really?

Breaking that down, Matt starts with この, this, おべんとう, bento or boxed lunch; a packed lunch, then は, the topic marking particle, and おいしい, delicious. In the next sentence, he says だれ, who, が, the subject marking particle, and then つくりました, made, and finally か, the question marking particle. All together he says “This bento is delicious. Who made it?”

Yu responds with お父さん, father, が, the subject marking particle marking the doer of the sentence, and finally つくりました, made.

Matt finishes with ほんとう, really.

Another thing to remember about は and が is that we can not use the は particle with a question word like だれ. Since we are asking specifically about something that we don’t yet know about (i.e. new information), we need to use が with the question word. This is commonly used with だれ, who, since people tend to be the subjects of sentences.

In other questions, we will often use other particles. For example, if you want to ask what someone is doing:

何を していますか。
Nanio shiteimasuka.
What are (you) doing?

Breaking that down, 何, what, を, the object marking particle, しています, doing, and finally か, the question marking particle. All together, “What are you doing?”

Keep in mind, we can use the は particle to mark the topic of the question however, like in the following sentence:

ゆうびんきょくは どこですか。
Yubinkyokuwa dokodesuka.
Where is the post office? (lit. As for the post office, where is?)

Breaking that down, ゆうびんきょく, post office, は, the topic marking particle, どこ, where, then です, the copula or ‘is’, and finally か, the question marking particle. All together, we are asking “where is the post office?”

In the question above, the topic, the post office, gives the question context. This is a very common sentence pattern at the N5 level:

Topic + + question word + ですか。

Can you give it a try? Can you ask “When is lunch”? Remember that lunch in Japanese is ひるごはん, and when is いつ.

ひるごはんは いつですか。
Hirugohanwa itsudesuka.
When is lunch? (lit. As for lunch, when is?)

Breaking that down, ひるごはん, lunch, は, the topic marking particle, いつ, when, then です, the copula or is, and finally か, the question marking particle.

Yu tells us that her father made the bento. He is the doer of the action, and this is another common use of が. When we want to specifically and exhaustively mention the doer of an action, we will use が.

What do I mean by exhaustively? Let’s take a look at these two sentences.

中村さんは はらいました。
Nakamuraha haraimashita.
As for Mr.Nakamura, he paid.

中村さんが はらいました。
Nakamuraga haraimashita.
Mr.Nakamura is the one that paid.

Both of these sentences are correct, but they have slightly different meanings. The first sentence, which uses the は particle, mentions a doer of the action the extremely excited 中村さん.  There may be other people that did this action though.  We just want to mention one of the people that did it. You could directly translate this as “ As for Mr.Nakamura, he paid.”

The second sentence mentions 中村さん exhaustively. He is the one specific person that did the action. A direct translation of this would be “Mr.Nakamura is the one that paid.”

Conversation 3

Let’s go back to our two friends for one finally exchange.

Yu: お父さんが おべんとうを つくります。
         Otousanga obentouwo tsukurimasu.
        (My) father makes bento.

Matt: なぜ。
             Naze.
            Why?

Yu: お父さんは りょうりが すきです。
         Otousanwa ryouriga sukidesu.
        (My) father likes cooking.

Breaking that down, お父さん, father, が, the subject marking particle; the doer in this sentence, おべんとう, bento or boxed lunch, then を, the object marking particle, and finally つくります, make. All together Yu says “My father makes bento.”

Matt responds with a simple なぜ, why.

Yu responds with お父さん, father, は, the topic marking particle, りょうり, cooking, が, usually the subject marking particle but here it marks the object, すき, liked and finally です, the copula. All together she is replying with “My father likes to cook,” literally “As for my father, cooking is liked.”

When you first mention something, it is marked with the が particle. This is because it is new information being introduced to the conversation. For any subsequent mentions, you can use the は particle, except if you want to use が for emphasis or to show a state.

All right let’s check your understanding with a pop quiz.

Pop Quiz

Can you tell me the following in Japanese?

Mr.Tanaka came. (first mention)

Answer:

田中さんが 来ました。
Tanakasanga kimashita.

For “Mr.Tanaka came.”, you would say 田中さんが 来ました。Breaking that down, 田中さん, Mr. Tanaka, が, the subject marking particle, and finally 来ました, the past tense of 来る, to come. We use が because it is the first time we mention Mr.Tanaka. But, this could also be used to express the fact that Mr.Tanaka is the one that came, implying that others didn’t. It depends on the context.

Who bought a book?

Answer:

だれが 本を 買いましたか。
Darega honwo kaimashitaka.

For “Who bought a book?”, we would say だれが 本を 買いましたか. Breaking that down, だれ, who, が, the subject marking particle, 本, book, を, the object marking particle, 買いました, bought and finally か, the question marking particle. We need to mark だれ with が because we are looking for specific new information.

I like pizza.

Answer:

わたしは ピザが すきです。
Watashiwa pizaga sukidesu.

And finally, for “I like pizza,” we would say わたしは ピザが すきで す. Breaking that down, わたし, I, は, the topic marking particle, ピザ, pizza, が, the subject marking particle, すき, liked, and finally です to make the statement polite. The が particle is commonly used to mark preferences.

Review

We went over a lot in this video, so let’s wrap it all up.

The が particle can be used to mark preferences that we have. For example, when we talk about what we like or what we want to do, we need tocan use the が particle to express that. I talked a little about the ~たい form which can use the が particle, but it can also take を the object marking particle. The が particle is also used immediately after question words because we are asking about specific new information. The が particle can also exhaustively points to the doer of an action (e.g. Mr. Tanaka is the one that paid.) And when we first mention something, we should mark it with the が particle. After that, we can use the は particle.

That’s it for this episode. For notes and more practice with the grammar point, stop by the JLPT Boot Camp courses site. There you can find quizzes, study guides for this grammar point and every grammar point covered in the videos. You can also get all of your questions answered you might have. Just leave me a comment, and I’ll get back to you.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Hoosier dan Dow October 27, 2018, 4:12 am

    1. 好き takes the copula… either plain だ or a more polite variant
    2. It’s not “like” as in the English verb (as in “I like”) but a general sense of “liking”
    3. The AはXがYだ form is “as for A, X is Y”
    4. So 私は犬が好きだ means “as for me, dogs and liking/likability is the same thing”

    You can certainly translate 犬が好きだ as “I like dogs”, but they’re not the same thing.

    This is a basic mistake that almost all explanations of が make.

    The next common mistake is not realising that every single sentence in Japanese has a が part, whether it’s explicit or not.

    難しい! translates to (これ・それが)難しい (and since い adjective have a built-in copula, it means this/that and difficult are the same = this/that/it is difficult!)
    料理は田中さんだ translates to “as for cooking, is the same as Tanaka” = “Tanaka will/did prepare the meal”
    誰が払う? translates to “who will pay”, but think of it as ” is the same as a person who pays?”, so it becomes an equation with one unknown ” = the person who will pay?” that can be reorganised to give “who is the person who will pay?”
    誰かが払う is like the above, but because だれか is more permissive it translates as “some (any) person and paying are the same thing”, so “there is/will be someone who will pay”
    像は鼻が長い translates as “an elephant has a long trunk”, but because this is the attributive use of が、instead of direct equality (“nose is the same as long”), think of it as “as for elephant, when you have nose, you have long”. (again, 長い includes an implicit copula, so it’s different from 花がきれいだ, although both are attributive rather than being literally equal, because other long/pretty things exist).

    It’s all quite logical, but definitely start from the AはXがYだ sentence form, and then go on to consider how every Japanese sentence has to have a が part, whether explicit or not.

    • Clayton MacKnight October 28, 2018, 3:05 pm

      1) 好き does take the copula, but it doesn’t need to. It’s often dropped in casual speech. You can see plenty of examples of that in the Tanaka Corpus:

      Examples

      I feel like だ is more in casual masculine speech, but men and women drop it a lot.

      2) Yeah, as I touched on in the video, it can be translated as “liked”, since that is an adjective and it is an adjective in Japanese as well. The most natural translation for the sentence in the video though is “I like … “

      Keep in mind that “liking” would describe the subject doing the action, so it isn’t exactly the best translation. “Liked” is the best literal translation.

      3) Well, that’s one way of looking at it. → As for Matt, dogs are liked. But, of course this isn’t a natural translation. It’s the literal translation. Most people prefer the natural translations so I’ve been using those more. I’ll be sure to include an explanation in the PDF to make it clearer though, thanks.

      4) I think what you mean to say is that dogs are liked?

      I think you made a lot of good points here and this is how I learned it too. However, I honestly had a hard time wrapping my head around it when it was explained that way. Things started to click more when I heard it explained in a more natural way. I mean a lot of people aren’t really comfortable with grammar terms like registers, permissive, attributive etc… So, I’ve been using a simpler way to explain things. I’ll keep these points in mind though and try to add a little more to the PDF to clarify.

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