1: man; 2: woman
2: Excuse me, do you understand Japanese?
1: Yes, a little
2: Are you American?
1: Yes, I am American. Do you understand English?
2: No, I don’t understand it.
1: otoko no hito; 2: onna no hito
2: sumimasen, nihongo ga wakarimasu ka
1: hai, sukoshi
2: anata wa amerika-jin desu ka
1: hai, watashi wa amerika-jin desu. eigo ga wakarimasu ka
2: iie, wakarimasen
1: おとこの にと; 2: おんなの にと
2: すみません、にほんごが わかりますか。
2: あなたは アメリカじん ですか。
1: はい、わたしは アメリカじん です。えいご わかりますか。
1: 男の人; 2: 女の人
wa – は
The particle は used to be pronounced ‘ha’; later the pronunciation changed to ‘wa’, but the writing of the particle remained ‘ha’. は is the ‘topic marker’; although it emphasizes the topic of the conversation, the focus of the sentence is what comes after は, e.g.,
watashi wa nihon-jin desu
Here ‘wa’ indicates that the topic of the sentence is ‘watashi’, i.e., is ourselves, but what is important is that “watashi” happens to be Japanese.
‘wa’ is often translated as ‘Speaking of..’, but a better translation is just a question mark [Rubin], e.g.,
watashi wa nihon-jin desu.
Me? I’m Japanese. (instead of “Speaking of me, I’m Japanese.”)
Either way, the part that precedes は is secondary to the point that we can remove it if we can determine it from the context:
watashi wa nihon-jin desu.
The translation using the ? is natural and fits well with other uses of は:
nihon-jin desu. anata wa?
I’m Japanese. You?
ga – が
In the same way that wa (は) can be translated as ?, in many cases ga (が) can be translated as ! [Rubin]. が is used in different ways.
- It is the ‘topic’ marker, i.e., it introduces something to talk about; in this case, the focus of the sentence is what comes before が, e g.,
eigo ga wakarimasu
English! That I understand. (I understand English)
The subject that が introduces cannot be determined by context, so it cannot be removed.
- In the same way that を marks the direct object of a verb, が marks the direct object of an adjective. In this example, sake is the direct object of the verb ‘to drink’, so it is marked with を, and of the adjective ‘to be desirable’, so it is marked with が:
osake wo nomimasu
osake ga hoshii desu
I drink sake
beer! That I want. (I want beer)
The following example shows the difference between ha and ga when they play the roles of subject and topic markers, respectively (from [Rubin]). When using は, the important thing is the part that follows the marker, e.g, what ‘watashi’ did was to go. When using が, the important thing is the part that precedes the marker, e.g., the person that went was ‘watashi’.
watashi wa ikimashita
watashi ga ikimashita
Me ? I went. (no big deal.. yes, I went)
Me ! That is who went. (It was me! I was the one that went!)
Prefixes and suffixes
o – お
お is a honorific; it’s added to a word to show respect.
good morning (lit. early!)
weather (lit. sky’s atmosphere)
skilled (lit. superior hand)
You? Your Japanese！ It’s good, right?
anata ｗa nihongo ga jouzu desune
あなたは にほんごが じょうず ですね。
kimi ｗa nihongo ga jouzu dana
きみは にほんごが じょうず だな。
N5: JLPT N5 + 1st grade kanjis
N4: JLPT N4 + 2nd grade kanjis
N3: JPLT N3 + 3rd and 4th grade kanjis