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I read a very detailed and useful answer explaining the difference between "に" and "には" but am still confused about a sentence I recently encountered.

私たちには息子が二人います。

I do not understand the function of には in this sentence. I get the general meaning -- that the speaker and their partner have two sons, but beyond that my brain is sort of melting. Please help. :c

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This won't do as an official answer and it's probably wrong, but I sometimes like to think of は as a particle that attaches onto the back of other particles and happens to obliterate が and を when following them. This way you can reason about the particles as two independent contributions (and be correct sometimes.) For that example に is marking possession or if you prefer, the fact that the sons exist at my location, and は is marking the topic. By the way, you can also drop the に because the topic is more powerful. This might conflict with the official answer but you might find it useful. –  無色受想行識 Jun 17 '13 at 1:09
    
Possible duplicate, certainly related: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/4440/78 –  istrasci Jun 18 '13 at 18:01
    
庭には二羽がいる. Anyway this 私たちには息子が二人います。 does not sound real good. –  oldergod Jun 23 '13 at 4:15
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@istrasci Thank you! That did indeed help. The literal translations always help me understand what's going on, even if they're totally awkward in English. –  Emmabee Jun 23 '13 at 18:15
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@Emma No, I don't think に has the "location" meaning here. See this example sentence (link) and its translation: 私にはマニラに住んでいる息子がいます。 I have a son who is living back in Manila. The second に indicates location, but the first does not. –  snailboat Jun 24 '13 at 10:00
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2 Answers

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This is a topicalization of the に-marked (a.k.a., dative) subject 私たち. 息子 is a が-marked (a.k.a, nominative) object.

Basically, what you are missing (judging by your comment on @torazaburo's answer) is that に can be used as a subject marker given certain predicates. I talk about this in detail in this answer: What is the difference between "に" and "には"?

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Aha! There's the missing link. Thank you so much. :) –  Emmabee Jun 24 '13 at 5:06
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The easiest way to think about this is to first take the sentence without the は

私たちに息子が二人います。

No problems here--it just means "we have two sons". But somehow this sounds dry and out of context, as if someone were answering a question that had not been asked, proffering information that seems too direct and unmodulated.

We can use は in a way very similar to how it's used as the so-called "subject" particle, but since we are applying it to the 私たち in this sentence the grammatical role of which here is indicated by a に, it becomes には. Like its use elsewhere, the は softens and contextualizes around the 私たち. To exaggerate a bit, the nuance becomes "Oh, you want to know who many kids WE have, well, in our case, it's two boys."

Once you get this down, you should be able to figure out similar patterns such as へは or とは, and even the somewhat archaic をば which derives from をは.

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I think it is better to call は the "topic particle" since the noun indicated by は may actually not be the (grammatical) subject. (In this case 私たちに is an object and 息子 is the subject.) –  Earthliŋ Jun 22 '13 at 21:12
    
Thank you for your answer, that does help, I get why は is there now. I think I'm still confused on the に part, though. I'm using Rosetta Stone, which is notoriously bad at explaining nuances, and research I've done independently is just confusing me further. It's my understanding that に is the direction/time/I.O. marker. I assume there's another use for it that I just can't find -- the one being used here. 私たち isn't a place, time, or indirect object. –  Emmabee Jun 23 '13 at 18:09
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Hmmm..に. Might be hard to to explain this in 600 characters. This particular case is a pattern where you say 「XにYがある」, which literally means "There is a Y to X", or more normally, "X has a Y". –  torazaburo Jun 24 '13 at 20:07
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