が Particle (Subject Marker) Japanese Grammar Lesson
Grammar Type: Particle
Construction: Grammatical Subject + が
- The basic purpose of が is to mark the grammatical subject of a sentence or clause. In other words, it marks the person or thing that performs some action or exhibits some state and is the focus of the sentence. が can be interpreted either as a neutral descriptor or as an exhauster lister depending on the context and on the type of predicate that follows が.
- が as a neutral descriptor:
- As a neutral descriptor, が is used to mark a grammatical subject when it is first introduced into the discourse. The information conveyed by が is implied to be new to the hearer, and it is presented with a neutral and objective viewpoint. The vast majority of the が particles you will encounter will be neutral descriptors.
- が as a neutral descriptor is used with:
- (1) Existential verbs (i.e. ある and いる)
- E.g. 犬がいる。[There is a dog.]
- E.g. ギターがある。[There is a guitar.]
- (2) Action verbs (both transitive and intransitive)
- E.g. ウサギが走っています。[The rabbit is running.]
- E.g. ジョンがコーヒーを飲んでいる。[John is drinking coffee.]
- E.g. ドアが閉まります。[The door closes.]
- E.g. 雨が降っています。[It’s raining.]
- (3) Transitive stative verbs that express permanent, non-volitional states.
- E.g. 窓が開けています。[The window is open.]
- E.g. ドアが閉まっている。[The door is closed.]
- (4) Stative verbs that describe non-intentional human perception, emotions, or ability. These have a tendency to be potential verbs.
- E.g. サッカーができます。[I can play soccer.]
- E.g. 山が見える。[I can see the mountain.]
- E.g. 日本語が分かる。[I can understand Japanese.]
- (5) Transitive adjectives (e.g. 好き [To like]、嫌い [To dislike], 欲しい [To want]) that act as the object of the sentence. These sentence typically follow the ~は~が structure.
- E.g. 私は君が好きだ。[I like you.]
- E.g. マークは新しい靴が欲しい。[Mark wants new shoes.]
- E.g. 明太子が嫌いだ。[I hate mentaiko.]
- (6) Stative adjectives (e.g. 寒い [Cold], うまい [Delicious]、いい [Good]) that describe human perception, emotions, or ability that are outside of the subject’s control. These adjectives typically follow the ~は~が structure.
- E.g. 天気が寒い。[The weather is cold!]
- E.g. ツナがまずいだ。[Tuna is gross.]
- E.g. １１時がいい。[11 o’clock is OK.]
- (7) WH-words (e.g. 何 [What], どっち [Which], 誰 [Who]) are always marked by が when they are the subject .
- E.g. こんばん誰が来ますか。 [Who is coming tonight?]
- E.g. どっちが欲しいの。[Which do you want?]
- E.g. だれが好きですか。[Who do you like?]
- (8) Subjects of subordinate clauses generally take が.
- E.g. おにぎりが食べている女子は僕の妹だ。[The girl who is eating an onigiri is my little sister.]
- E.g. 私はデビーがフランスへ行くことを知らなかった。[I didn’t know that Debbie is going to France.]
- E.g. ジーンが僕がアパートを出た時まだ寝ていた。[Gene was still sleeping when I left the apartment.]
- (1) Existential verbs (i.e. ある and いる)
- In situations outside of this list (i.e. non-perceptual stative adjectives), が tends to be interpreted as as an exhaustive lister.
- E.g. 日本語が難しい。[Japanese is difficult.] 難しい is an adjective that describes a permanent state and does not directly involve human perception, emotion, or ability, so this sentence would likely be interpreted as an exhaustive listing. For example, it could be the answer to the question: “Which subject is difficult?“
- が as an exhaustive lister:
- ANY が can be interpreted as an exhaustive lister, no matter the predicate. Subject + が is vocally stressed by the speaker to distinguish the exhaustive lister interpretation from the ordinary neutral descriptor interpretation.
- が as an exhaustive lister is used to contrast the marked subject with all other potential subjects and to imply that the action or state in question applies ONLY to the subject marked by が. In other words, が exhaustively lists the subjects in the universe of discourse to which the predicate applies.
- For example, if a teacher asks a class 誰かがオーストラリアに行ったことがありますか。[Has anyone visited Australia?] and a student replies マイクがオーストラリアに行ったことがある。[MIKE has been to Australia.], the student is implying that ONLY Mike has been to Australia, and nobody else. In other words, Mike is the only potential subject to whom the predicate “has been to Australia” applies.
- E.g. A: 誰が日本語を知っていますか？ B: ジョンが日本語できます。[A: Who knows Japanese? B: John (and John alone) can speak Japanese.]
- E.g. A: この学校で厳しい先生がいますか？ B: 黒木先生が厳しい。[A: Are there any strict teachers at this school? B: Kurogi-sensei (alone) is strict.]
- が is very similar to は. The difference in a nutshell is that が marks a grammatical subject when it is first introduced into a discourse, while は marks a topic that has already been introduced into the discourse or is common knowledge that is shared between speaker and hearer. Check out this article for a more detailed look at は vs が.
私の部屋にはステレオがあります。[There is a stereo in my room.]
のりこが走っています。[Noriko is running.]
A: このレストランは何がおいしいですか？ B: ステーキがおいしいです。[A: What’s delicious at this restaurant? B: The STEAK is delicious.]
私が昨日見た映画はドイツの映画だった。[The movie I watched yesterday is a German movie.]
僕はスポーツカーが欲しい。[I want a sports car.]
春子はスペイン語が分かる。[Haruko can speak Spanish.]
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