The Ga (が) Particle In Japanese

The ga particle in Japanese is not only one of the most commonly used particles in the entire language, but it is also one that has an incredible amount of different uses. Today I am going to share what I consider to be some of the more important ones to know.

In addition to the explanations that I’ll provide, I’m also going to try and have some examples that help illustrate what I’m saying. If there’s any confusion over them at any point, please let me know by leaving a comment at the end.

Finally, since I won’t be able to cover all the different ways that this word can be used, I am also going to give you a really good resource at the end of the post that tells you where you can go and learn more about が as well as other Japanese particles.

With all that being said, let’s begin!

The Subject Of A Sentence

Perhaps the most common way to use が is to mark the subject of the sentence. This can be a little confusing as times because many times the subject of a sentence is also the topic of the sentence, and the topic gets the particle は (wa).

So there are a couple of strategies that I want to share with you to help you know when to use が correctly.

The first piece of advice comes from a gentleman named Tae Kim who says: “I call it the identifier particle because the particle indicates that the speaker wants to identify something unspecified.”

This helps explain why が gets used so often with question words such as “who” in Japanese.

  • 誰が来るの?
  • dare ga kuru no?
  • Who is coming (to the party)?

It also helps explain why people will point to themselves and say things like 「私が?」 for “me?” when they want to ask if someone is talking about them.

Another thing to keep in mind, and this is related to that last tip, is that が presents new information in a conversation. For example, if you were going for a walk with a friend and you saw a cat, you would say:

  • あそこにネゴがいる!
  • asoko ni neko ga iru!
  • There’s a cat over there!

Since neither of you knew there was a cat, you are presenting new information when you point it out. From this point on in the conversation however, you both know about this cat’s existence and so when you talk about it further you might actually use は instead.

Another little trick to knowing when to use が is to think of this particle as “the one; the thing” in English. If you can say something like “Yamada is the one who ate the cake” then you can just replace those two words with the が particle.

  • 山田さんがケーキを食べました。
  • yamada san ga kēki o tabemashita.
  • Yamada (is the one who) ate the cake.

The final piece of advice that I have is simply to read and listen to a lot of Japanese. When you get a lot of input, over time you begin to get a natural feel for when it is right to use が and when you should actually use another option (such as は).

This strategy is actually how most people understand and use most of the grammar in their native language. They don’t actually know “the rules” for when to use it, but they’ve heard is countless times and they have an unconscious understanding of when it is correct.

Indicates Ability

Another time to use the が particle is when you have a can-do attitude!

All joking aside, in Japanese there are a couple of ways to express that a person can do something, and we want to use today’s particle in these cases.

The first hint is simply with the verb できる (dekiru) for “can do” that gets added on to a lot of different situations.

  • 沖縄でゴルフができる。
  • okinawa de gorufu ga dekiru.
  • You can play golf in Okinawa.

But as I am sure you know, there is another way to say “can” in Japanese that is more common. It is to conjugate the verb in the sentence to its potential form.

For example, the verb 読む (yomu) means “to read” and we can change it into 読める (yomeru) which means “can read” and is this potential form that I mentioned.

  • 日本語が読める。
  • nihongo ga yomeru.
  • (I) can read Japanese.

Also, something that might not quite be as obvious is that the Japanese word わかる (wakaru) means “to understand” and this word can be used with languages to indicate a person’s ability with the language.

This means that when we say “He knows Spanish” we are also saying “He can speak/understand Spanish” which then means we need to use the が particle.

  • スペイン語がわかります。
  • supeingo ga wakarimasu.
  • (He) understands Spanish.

Indicates Desire

Alright, instead of talking about the things that we can do, let’s instead talk about the things that we want.

In Japanese there are two main ways that you say you want something. One is by changing the verb into the right form, and the other has to do with the word 欲しい (hoshii).

In any case, we will attach the が particle to the thing that we want when we use both strategies.

So for example, let’s say that you are sitting around at home with nothing to do and then you see a bunch of previews for movies that are playing at your local theater. You could tell your roommate that you want to go see a movie and invite them along as well.

  • 映画が見たい!
  • eiga ga mitai!
  • I want to see a movie!

In this last example, we changed the verb for “to see” 見る (miru) into its form that means “want to see” which is 見たい (mitai) and then we put that が onto the thing we wanted to see, in this case a movie 映画 (eiga).

Likewise, when we don’t want to do something, but instead want an item or an object, we put “ga” on to the thing and then follow up with the word 欲しい which means “to want; to desire.”

  • 車が欲しいです。
  • kuruma ga hoshii desu.
  • I want a car.

There are times when we can use the を particle instead of が and still be considered grammatically correct, but it is far more common to use が used in these cases so I always advocate just using it.

Used To Connect Clauses

I don’t really like using the word “clauses” since it brings back bad memories of grammar class when I was in middle school.

Is it just me?

Anyway, I looked up the definition and the key part is that a clause is “a grammatical unit, below the sentence in rank” which is not a bad way to think of it.

So, it’s not quite a full sentence but it’s more than just a word.

At any rate, the particle が is commonly used to connect two clauses together which then forms a complete sentence.

Usually, we do this in English with the words “but,” “although” or “and.”

The particle が can effectively function as any of those three words above when connecting clauses together in Japanese. I would say that “but” is by far the most common translation.

  • 映画は好きだが、アニメは好きではない。
  • eiga wa suki da ga, anime wa suki de wa nai.
  • (I) like movies, but not anime.

If you are familiar with the Japanese word けど (kedo) for “but” then using が in this way should be easy since they both mean the same thing, but が it typically seen as being more formal.

That means が will typically appear more in writing or in situations like a business meeting or a speech where formality is important, but when people are speaking with friends they will usually opt for けど instead.

Lastly, I think it’s important to keep in mind that が can sometimes mean “and” in these situations, although it’s not quite as common.

If you’re reading something and you see a が connecting two clauses, and thinking of the word “but” doesn’t make any sense, try substituting it for “and” and see if that solves the problem.

Recommended Reading

Any good beginner book, phone application, or online course will introduce you to this particle and provide you with a couple of its meanings.

But if you really want to dive deep into it and see all of the nuances, then you’ll need to do some extra research.

In my own journey to understand particles better, I was fortunate enough to have someone recommend a really good book to me which is now my number one resource for understanding particles.

I wrote a review on it, which you can access by clicking on the link above. Check it out if you still want to learn more about が or if there are other particles that you need some help with.

Hopefully you found the information in today’s post to be both useful and easy to understand.

If you have any questions about anything, or if there is just a comment that you would like to make, then please don’t hesitate to do so in the comments section down below.

Thanks for reading!

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