Japanese Grammar

Omissions of Particles and は VS. が

09

We have entered the parts of speech section again. You have the basic knowledge already and thus we would like to introduce some advanced topics here. If you have difficulty understanding it, please review the related basic grammar. In this lesson, you will learn the concept of omission of particles.

How Omissions of Particles Work in Conversation

Table of Contents
Omissions of the Particle が, を, に , and へ
The Controversial Topic: は VS. が
Supplementary Learning: は VS. が in Subordinate Clauses

As we often mention, omissions have a very important role in Japanese grammar. When contexts clearly tell what or whom you are referring to, parts of speech such as subjects and objects should be omitted. Otherwise, your speech would sound unnatural. In practice, especially in conversation, omissions can be applicable for particles, too. This is one of the keys to making natural expressions. Let’s check out how it works.

Omissions of the Particle が, を, に , and へ

Particles that can be omitted are already determined, which are the particles が, を, に, and へ. Other particles should not be omitted. Here are some examples (*Keep in mind: omissions can happen only in conversation).

The Particle を

これからなに(する / しますか)?
What will [we] do from now?
バスケットボール(しよう / しましょう)。
Let’s play basketball.
ボールって(いる / いますか)?
Do [you] have a ball?

When the particle を indicates direct objects, it can be omitted. In practical conversation, sentences without the particle を may sound more natural than ones with the particle を.

The Particle に and へ (Direction of Motion and Destination)

明日あしたはどこく / きますか)?
As for tomorrow, where will [we] go?
えいかんかない / きませんか)?
Won’t [you] go to theater [with me]?
こうてんみぎがって(ください)。
Please turn right at the crossroad.
うみほうく / きます)よ。
[I] will go in the direction of the sea.

When the particle に and へ indicate directions of motion or destination, they can be omitted, i.e. you cannot omit the particle に when it works with other function such as targets, and specific time. Here, both sentences with and without the particles sound natural.

The Particle が

バスた / ました)よ。
The bus has come.
部屋へやはち(いる / います)よ。
There is a bee in the room.

Both sentences sound natural with or without the particle が. We will dig deep into the particle が along with the controversial topic of は VS. が later.

Multiple Omissions

なかさん_井上いのうえさん_おこったらしい(です)よ。

With the above example, the two particles が and を have been omitted. How do you interpret that? There are two possible translations: “Tanaka-san got angry with Inoue-san” and “Inoue-san got angry with Tanaka-san.” The answer is the former one. When multiple omissions happen, you have to interpret the sentence based on the basic word order.

The Controversial Topic: は VS. が

Omission of particles is deeply involved with the controversial topic of は VS. が. Taking this opportunity, we would like to clarify any doubts you may have about it.

Basic Functions

Set a topic
Express contrast
Set a subject
Express new information
Identify something or someone

That’s simpler than you thought, isn’t it? Let us emphasize an important fact again: topics and subjects are different in Japanese grammar. Taking this sentence: 日本ごはん美味しい as an example, “美味しい: delicious” is the predicate and the corresponding subject is “ごはん: meals.” 日本 is just the general topic. We believe that you have no doubt about は VS. が in this structure. The choice for は and が is difficult only when topics and subjects are the same like “日本_アジアの国だ (Japan is an Asian country).” By following the same way of thinking below, you can figure out the proper particle.

1. Use が When You Try to Identify Someone or Something
だれ先生せんせい(なの / なんですか)?
Who is a teacher?
やまさん先生せんせい(だ / です)よ。
Yamada-san is a teacher.
2. Use が When You Express New Information
タクシーた / ました)。
A taxi has come. *when a taxi appears from a corner.
あめって(いる / います)。
It’s raining. *When you have opened a window.
3. Use は When You Express Contrast
バスて(いない / いません)。
A bus has not come. *Contrast with the above.
ゆきって(いない / いません)。
It’s not snowing. *Contrast with the above.
4. Use は in Neither of the Above Three Cases
ほんアジアのくに(だ / です)。
Japan is an Asian country.
わたしちゅうごくじんじゃ(ない / ありません)。
I’m not Chinese.

 

Zero Particle

This is the main topic. Considering the function of は and が, there are some cases in conversation where both は and が are not suitable. If that is the case, you have to omit particles.

A: これからボブがあそびにるよ。
Bob will come [here] to hang out from now.
B: いいね。はやしいね。
Sounds good. [I] want [him] come soon.
A: あっ、ボブ たよ。
Ah, Bob has come (*Said when Bob has appeared).

The third line is the case where both は and が are not suitable. The possible choice was が because Mr. A has noticed that Bob has arrived, i.e. that’s new information. However, since the third line is said while they are conscious that Bob will come before long, it is difficult to define that’s new information. Therefore, the natural expression is あっ、ボブ来たよ.

A: このけい かっこいいとおもう?
Do you think this watch is cool?
B: うん、かっこいいとおもうよ。
Yes, I think it’s cool.

Here, the first line is another case where は and が are not suitable. The possible choice was は because you didn’t try to identify something or express new information. However, if you use は, your speech may indicate contrast like, “other watches are not cool, but this one is cool, isn’t it?” Thus, if you plainly ask whether the watch is cool or not, you omit particles, i.e. この時計、かっこいいと思う?

This omission often happens when the context clearly shows what the topic is. One of the typical situations is setting yourself or your listeners as a topic. Since the context already shows what the topic is, the particle は will indicate contrast.

わたしらいしゅうとうきょうくよ。 => Not very natural
わたしらいしゅうとうきょうくよ。=> Natural
らいしゅうとうきょうくよ。 => Natural

Unless there are people who won’t go to Tokyo next week, you should omit は or the whole subject.

Supplementary Learning: は VS. が in Subordinate Clauses

The general rule is that が should be used in subordinate clauses. However, in the following cases, you can also use は.

1. When は is Used for Contrast

寿司すし美味おいしいけど、納豆なっとう美味おいしくない(です)。
Sushi is delicious, but Natto is not delicious.
これ面白おもしろいけど、あれは面白おもしろく(ない / ありません)。
This is interesting, but that is not interesting.

2. When a Main and a Subordinate Clause Have the Same Subject

寿司すし美味おいしくて、れ(た / ました)。
The sushi was delicious and was sold out.
このマンガ面白おもしろくて、有名ゆうめいに(なった / なりました)。
This manga was interesting and became popular.

3. When a Subordinate Clause Expresses Reasons for Main Clauses

明日あした日曜にちようなので、ものに(く / きます)。
Since tomorrow is Sunday, [I] will go shopping.
明日あしたやすみだから、きゅうを(する / します)。
Since tomorrow is a day off, [I] will play baseball.

Summary

  1. The particles が, を, に, and へ can be omitted in conversation.
  2. There are some cases where both は and が are not suitable, i.e. zero particle.

Understanding of the proper usage of particles is the key to mastering Japanese language. In spite of the important role, it is often omitted in conversation. Thus, you need to have a solid knowledge of the functions. We hope that this lesson has finally solved the issue of は VS. が. Next, you will learn a new type of verbs: compound verbs.

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