The Japanese language WA particle

learn more about the WA particle and its use in the Japanese language!

the particle  is one of the fundamental particles of Japanese language. It is critical because it can be found in over 80% of Japanese phrases. Because of this, it's good to be aware of her quirks and learn as much as possible about her.

The first thing we need to note is that despite being written with hiragana , when this syllable is used as a particle, it has its pronunciation changed to wa. When we read a sentence written in romaji, this change in pronunciation can cause some confusion, since there is also the particle . That's right… Two different particles with the same pronunciation.

The basic difference between these two particles is very simple. if wa appears in the middle of a sentence and after a noun (usually the subject), then this wa is the particle . case and wa appears at the end of a sentence, right after a verb, auxiliary verb or adjective, then that wa is the particle .

Example:

あれは猫ですわ。

Correction note:

In the sentence above, I had translated  like a dog, but that was a mistake.  means cat in japanese.

The wa particle as a topic marker

Despite being used for many purposes, the basic function of the particle  is to separate the topic from the rest of a sentence. In terms of Japanese grammar, the particle  it is not used to indicate other grammatical elements, such as the subject of the sentence or object. However, in practice, as the topic is usually the main subject of the sentence, this "main subject" ends up being interpreted as the subject of Japanese sentences; although this does not always happen. The fact is that, after the topic/subject of the sentence, we usually find the particle .

This sentence structure with the particle  usually create a relationship between the topic and the rest of the sentence, where what comes after the particle is simply a comment about the topic marked by it. Another important observation is that in common situations, this particle has no translation.

The topic is information that we mention and then explain.

The main characteristic of a topic is to introduce a subject, mentioning something that will be explained shortly afterwards.

Example 01:

ライオンは猛獣だ。

In a literal translation, the above sentence would be translated as “About lions, you know? They are fierce.”, or else, “Talking about lions…they are fierce”. Despite this, when we transcribe the idea into Portuguese, we have the simple phrase “Lions are fierce”. In my opinion, the topic concept is confusing because it doesn't exist in our language. Because of this, when doing a translation from Japanese to Portuguese, the topic simply disappears from the sentence.

Example 02:

明日は日曜日ですね。

Translated literally again, we have the phrase “About tomorrow… tomorrow is Sunday isn’t it?”. Hence we have the main subject ("Tomorrow"), and then what we want to talk about this subject (“Tomorrow is Sunday isn’t it?”).

The topic is information already known, which was presented at the beginning of the conversation and which later can be omitted.

Another important feature of the topic in the Japanese language is the fact that it is already known information. That way, it can be mentioned at the outset and then omitted throughout the rest of the conversation.

Example 03:

あそこに赤い本があります。

あれは漢字の本ですか。

In the first sentence, we identify information that is important for the conversation (the red book). In the second sentence, the important information was omitted, since it has already been mentioned and is now completely known. In a “rougher” translation, the two sentences could look like this:

“The red book over there.”

“Is that (red book – topic of sentence omitted) a book about kanji?”

Example 04:

山田さんは日本語の学生ですか?

学生じゃありません。 日本語の先生です。

One more literal translation….

“About Mr. Yamada… Is he a Japanese student?”

“(Yamada – topic omitted) Not a student. (Yamada – Topic omitted again) He is a Japanese teacher.”

Note again that Yamada is the topic marked by the particle は, and because of that it is omitted in the other sentences.

The Wa particle and the pattern [noun + wa + noun ga]

One of the interesting things I discovered while studying about japanese privates, was that the particle  can be used in conjunction with the particle が to express a characteristic or quality related to the topic of the sentence.

Example 05:

本田さんは性格が優しいです。

“About Mr Honda… he has a kind personality.”

The Wa particle and the contrast between two ideas

In many cases, when the particle  appears twice in the same sentence, it may be indicating an idea of contrast between the topics presented.

Example 06:

北海度の冬寒いですが、東京暖かいです。

Winter in Hokkaido is cold, but in Tokyo it is warm.

これ私の、それあなたの。見違えないで。

This is mine and this is yours. Do not mix (confuse).

As the topic may be omitted in Japanese sentences, in other contrasting cases, the sentence may have only one topic explicitly and the other may be omitted.

Example 07:

高いから、あのレストランに行きません。

Because it's expensive, I don't go to that restaurant.

As in the cases above, the particle  appears together with other particles, it is necessary to check the context to make sure that there really is a contrast between the two topics or ideas.

The case of the Wa particle in negative sentences

In negative sentences, the use of the particle can convey an idea of choice, emphasis or comparison. Most impressively, all of this is found within the context of the sentences, rather than explicitly.

Example 08:

高いから、あのレストランに行きません。

Because it's expensive, I don't go to that restaurant. (But I frequent cheaper ones – Implied idea)

In the example sentence above, the context may indicate that the person does not go to that restaurant because it is expensive, but he frequents other restaurants.

パンはありません。

There is no bread, but there are other things.

いつもはバスで行きません。

I usually don't take the bus, but I do use other means of transportation.

As you might already guess, this is kind of irrelevant for Japanese learners, but it doesn't hurt to mention it for knowledge purposes. It is not.

Conclusion

The wa particle has many purposes and particularities. Furthermore, as she is one of the most used particles in japanese language, it is necessary to live a lot with the Japanese language to learn to recognize each of its functions. I hope you enjoyed this article and good studies.

またね!

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