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The Difference Between “ha” & “ga” Explained


The Difference Between “は” & “が” Explained

Welcome back to our “Video & Article” series with tutor Miki. In this article and video we will take a look at the particles “は” and “が”. While they can sometimes be used interchangeably, there are some major grammatical differences in their usage. Learn when to use which particle with this video and article!

Table of Contents

[Topic marker VS Subject marker]

[When to use “が”]

[When to use “は”]

[Practice Examples]


In today’s lesson we will go over the two particles “は” and “が”. There is a lot of confusion around these two particles – sometimes they can be used interchangeably, and sometimes it is grammatically wrong or changes the meaning of the sentence when you use the wrong one. Let’s look at the basic functions of both particles and then dive deeper with some examples!

[Topic marker VS Subject marker]

First of all, it is important to note that “が” and “は” serve different grammatical functions. が is a subject marker while は is a topic marker.

が: Subject marker
は: Topic marker

Subject and topic are not the same thing. This is what many students get confused about, since there is no equivalent to a “topic marker” in English.

Now, a sentence usually consists of a subject and a verb: S+V. For example, “I eat”. “I” is the subject and “eat” is the verb. While the subject is easily identified as “I”, the topic refers to the entire context that is conveyed. So in this case, the whole sentence “I eat” is the topic of the sentence.

[When to use “が”]

Here is what traditional grammar books say about when to use “が”:

  1. が marks the subject (主語(しゅご)をあらわす)
    E.g.: (さくら)()いた。
    The cherry blossoms are blooming.
  2. が emphasizes a subject by eliminating other options (主語(しゅご)強調(きょうちょう),排他(はいた))
    That boy secretly ate the chocolate (and nobody else but him).
  3. が marks a subject to tell that the subject is making an action or is in a state of being (動作(どうさ)状況(じょうきょう)などの対象(たいしょう)(あらわ)す)
    The action of eating is marked.
  4. が introduces a new topic ((あたら)しい(こと)導入(どうにゅう))
    Once upon a time, there were a grandma and a grandpa.

[When to use “は”]

Here is what traditional grammar books say about when to use “は”:

  1. は marks a topic
    That person is scratching his head.
    The topic here is the person.
  2. は emphasizes the differences between two things
    Other people might not eat it, but I will eat it.
    The difference between people who would eat and not eat is established.
  3. は tells the condition
    You cannot be here!

[Practice Examples]

“が” and “は” particles have pretty similar usages, but in a dialogue, the meaning tends to gravitate towards different directions. In other words, the meaning differs depending on the situation.

Tip: When you are having a conversation with someone, it is easier to start using particles correctly if you pay attention to what’s being asked or said right before you answer and adjust your own usage of particles. Let’s look at an example.

What do you like to drink?

I like coffee.

Well, what about Cafe Latte? Do you like it?

Hmm not so much, but I do like coffee.

You just need to match your particle to the question being asked right before.

Tip: When asking generic questions, it’s usually better to use “は”.

Do you know the popular movie “(きみ)()は”, “What’s your name?”

Also often used:

Where is a restroom?

In conversation, if you’re confused, sometimes people eliminate wa and ga particles if a sentence is short.


Tip: When asking questions with a question word, use “が”!

What do you like? Who do you like?

Another way to check whether you should use “は” or “が” is to see if you can refer to the subject/topic with “as for”, which is another way you can translate “は”. Look at this example emphasizing the difference between two things using “は”:

As for nature, I like it, but as far as bugs are concerned, I don’t like them.

Lastly, what do you think these two sentences emphasize?

“は” just generally emphasizing the topic – “There’s no shampoo!”

“が” emphasizes the Shampoo, eliminating other options like conditioner or body soap that are still there. “We’re out of shampoo!”

It takes some time to understand which particle to use in every situation. But if you keep practicing and paying attention to where they are used, you will eventually get it! Thank you for reading today’s article, and please feel free to book a lesson with one of our tutors if you would like to study this topic further.

単語たんごリスト(Vocabulary list)
こんがらがる To get mixed up
主語(しゅご) Subject
強調(きょうちょう) Emphasis
排他(はいた) Exclusion
こっそり Secretly, stealthily
導入(どうにゅう) Introduction

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