315 - は~が、~は

Today's grammar point really bothers me.

The reason, as you'll soon see, is that it's about particles.

Specifically, it's about the dreaded は VS が problem.

Talk to someone who has been studying Japanese for less than a year, and they will almost always complain about their struggles with は and が.

But students in their first year of studying should not even be concerned with the differences between は and が. Well, maybe a little concerned, but not enough that one should fret over mixing the particles up every now and then (or have the time ^^).

Imagine that you're teaching English to a low-level Japanese student. This student struggles to say things like, "I went to a movie last weekend," or "Could I get the check, please?" They even freeze up when you ask questions like, "How are you?" So you proceed to quiz them, and you say, Tell me, what is the difference between these two sentences:

I ate an apple.
I ate the apple.

I'd say that's pretty unfair to ask a beginner student when their native language does not have articles (e.g. "a," "an," the").

So why in the world are we expecting beginner students of Japanese to understand は and が, nebulous concepts that do not exist in the students' native languages?

I have no idea. And I'll stop ranting for now.


Today we're looking at the following grammatical construction:

、C D.

Scary, right?

First, the easy part: The が in sentences like these means "but."

So now we have:

B, but/が D.

Next, though this is going to sound a bit confusing, we're going change "D" to "not-B," like this:

B, but/が not-B.

If you remember from the Basics lesson we just had, は is often referred to as a "topic marker."

Personally, though, I like to think of it as the "context marker."

In other words, it provides context for us whenever we need it. For example, we had these two sentences in the lesson linked to above:

マイケルです。
わたし は マイケル です。
I'm Michael.
Literally: "I + は + Michael + です."

アメリカ人です。
わたし は アメリカじん です。
I'm American.
Literally: "I + は + American + です."

These sentences are fine in isolation.

But what if we were saying them in succession?

Well, in that case, they'd need to change. Specifically, we'd say:

マイケルです。アメリカ人です。
わたし は マイケル です。アメリカじん です。
I'm Michael. I'm American.
Literally: "I + は + Michael + です + American + です."

We do not need to repeat 私は in the second sentence, because we already know that we're talking about "I," thanks to the context provided by the first sentence.

Half the time, we don't even need the first 私は, since it tends to be pretty obvious when you're talking about yourself. But that's an issue for another day.

But what if the first and second sentences were about different people?

Well, in that case, we would need to clarify that we're contrasting two different people. For example:

マイケルさんアメリカ人です、ケンさん日本人です。
マイケルさん は アメリカじん です が、 ケンさん は にほんじん です。
Michael is American, but Ken is Japanese.
Literally: "Michael-san + は + American + です + が, + Ken-san + は + Japanese + です."

That, my friend, is today's grammar point:

B, but/が not-B.

A = Michael-san
B = American
C = Ken-san
not-B = Japanese

Michael-san American, but/が Ken-san Japanese.

Sometimes, people like to translate "A は" as "as for A," so let's see what our sentence looks like when we do that:

マイケルさんアメリカ人です、ケンさん日本人です。
As for Michael, (he) American is, but as for Ken, (he) Japanese is.

In natural English that becomes:
Michael is American, but Ken is Japanese.

Long story short, this construction is used for contrasting two different things.

If all this stuff about particles and context and stuff sounds mind-boggling, no worries. Just memorize the construction as-is. The particle stuff doesn't make sense until you accumulate tons of hours of level-appropriate Japanese exposure, anyways:

B, not-B.

A is B, but C is not B.

It might help to hold out your hands flat with your palms facing up. Each of your hands is the particle は. On top of your left hand is "A," and on top of your right hand is "C."

As for A [*lifts up left hand*], it's B, but as for C [*lifts up right hand*], it's not-B.

Shut up and make with the examples already!

OK. Sorry. Geez...


Examples

B, not-B.

A is B, but C is not B.

かけ算もう習いました、わり算まだです。
かけざん は もう ならいましたが、 わりざん は まだ です。
I have already learned multiplication, but I haven't learned division yet.
Literally: "multiplication + は + already + learned + が, + division + は + not yet + です."


母の職場では、午後休憩があります、午前ありません。
はは の しょくば で は、 ごご は きゅうけい が ありますが、 ごぜん は ありません。
At my mom's work, they have a break in the afternoon, but they don't have one in the morning.
Literally: "mother + の + workplace + では + afternoon + は + break/recess + が + there is + が, morning + は + there is not."


As an added bonus, note that we don't have to use が for "but." In a casual sentence, we can use a more casual equivalent of "but," like けど:

いつも5時に起きるけど、今日8時に起きた。
いつも は ごじ に おきるけど、 きょう は はちじ におきた。
I always get up at five, but today I got up at eight.
Literally: "always + は + five o'clock + に + get up + けど, + today + は + eight o'clock + に + got up."



Super-Advanced Usage

To frighten you even more, note that we can also use particle combos like には and へは when talking about the differences between two places or directions.

Do not worry about being able to use compound particles like this yourself... unless you're at a very high level of Japanese. Just worry about understanding the meaning for now.

友達にはカミングアウトしました、家族にはまだです。
ともだち に は カミングアウト しましたが、 かぞく に は まだ です。
I came out to my friends, but I haven't come out to my family yet.
Literally: "friend + には + coming out (of the closet) + did + が, + family + には + not yet + です."


外国人観光客は京都へはよく行きます、香川へはあまり行きません。
がいこくじん かんこうきゃく は きょうと へ は よく いきますが、 かがわ へ は あまり いきません。
Foreign tourists often go to Kyoto, but they rarely go to Kagawa.
Literally: "foreign + tourists + は + Kyoto + へは + often + go + が, + Kagawa + へは + not much + don't go."


That's it for today!

Sorry about the rant... and the difficult particle stuff... and the long sentences. Life is tough for N5 students, though.




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