808 - のは～だ
Let's talk about は first, the dreaded "topic marker."
I've said this before, but は puts the focus on what comes after it.
This is different than が, which puts the focus on what comes directly before it.
Consider the following sentence:
わたし は かつどん が すき です。
I like katsudon.
Literally: “I + は + katsudon (=breaded pork cutlet served over rice) + が + liked + です.”
Here's a picture of katsudon, by the way:
In the above sentence, the important information is katsudon. Accordingly, it comes before が and after は.
In contrast, take a look at the somewhat different sentence below.
わたし が すきな のは かつどん です。 とんかつ ではありません。
It’s katsudon that I like. Not tonkatsu.
Literally: “I + が + liked + のは + katsudon (=breaded pork cutlet served over rice) + です. + tonkatsu (=breaded pork cutlet served with sauce, cabbage, and rice) + ではありません (=is not).”
Here's a picture of tonkatsu:
Our speaker seems to be clearing up some kind of misunderstanding about the type of food she likes. The important information (i.e. the type of food she likes) is coming after は.
That sentence we saw just so happens to be the focus of this lesson. We are looking not only at the use of は for emphasis, but also the "nominalizing の," as I like to call it. We explore this topic quite a bit in a Bunkai Beast lesson: Making Nouns with の.
Although they are used in varying situations, the following two sentences are essentially saying the same thing:
わたし は かつどん が すき です。
I like katsudon.
Literally: “katsudon (=breaded pork cutlet served over rice) + が + liked + です.”
わたし が すきな のは かつどん です。
It’s katsudon that I like.
Literally: “I + が + liked + のは + katsudon (=breaded pork cutlet served over rice) + です."
One of my grammar books says that のは～だ is used for emphasis. I suppose that's an OK way to explain it. A better way to explain it is simply to look at lots of examples using it, though.
Let's do that.
この パソコン を かった のは、 にねん まえ です。
I bought this computer two years ago.
Literally: “this + PC + を + bought + のは, + two years + prior / before + です.”
I was tempted to translate the above sentence as "It was two years ago that I bought this computer." But is that really necessary? If there was some kind of misunderstanding, and the listener thought that the speaker bought the computer five years ago, then we could emphasize "two years" by simply stressing the word "two" in English: "I bought this computer two years ago."
Aside from that, the speaker in this sentence might not be clearing up a misunderstanding at all. Rather, there just appears to be some reason that "two years ago" is important.
👷 Construction 👷
Put a word in plain form before のは, then the emphasized portion of the sentence (=～) comes between that and だ、です、etc.
Plain-Form Word ＋ のは ＋ ～だ
Watch our for NOUNS and na-adjectives, as you will also need to slip a な in there:
NOUN / na-adjective な ＋ のは ＋ ～だ
Well, then. Let's look at some examples...
わたし が かける のは ひらがな だけ です。
I only know how to write hiragana.
Literally: “I + が + can write + のは + hiragana + only + です.”
おかね を ためている のは、 りゅうがく を する ため だ。
The reason that I’m saving money is to study abroad.
Literally: “money + を + am saving + のは, + studying abroad + を + do + sake / purpose / aim + だ.”
きょうと だいがく に うかった のは ひらい せんせい の おかげ です。
It was thanks to Hirai-sensei that I got accepted into Kyoto University. // It was thanks to Hirai-sensei that I passed Kyoto University's entrance exam.
Literally: “Kyoto University + に + passed (an examination) + のは + Hirai-sensei + の + thanks to + です.”
かぞく の なか で、 ぼく だけ せ が ひくい のは どうして だろう。
Why am I the only one in my family who’s short?
Literally: “family + の + midst / among + で, + I + only + short (stature) (=hight + が + low/short) + のは + why + だろう.”
Note: It sounds like the speaker is thinking this to himself.
Being able to convey information in Japanese is the primary goal when trying to achieve fluency.
Once you get a bit more comfortable with forming sentences, though, it can be helpful to play around with the structure of your sentences, the choice of your words, and so on, which allows you to add nuance and flavor to your phrases. It's something I'm still working on, something I'll likely be working on my whole life.
Come to think of it, there are plenty of times I work on the same thing in English, too.
Just two N4 lessons left, yo. Exciting!
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