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Why does てはいけない use は? I know it's a construction, but where did it come from? て form verbs are not nouns, it doesn't make sense to me that は could be used with them.

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That answer just says that they can be used with other particles, no reason why. What is the motivation behind te form, and why does this motivation allow other particles to be used with it? – user3457 Aug 7 '13 at 4:53
Regardless, the topic particle doesn't attach to just nouns. – Zhen Lin Aug 7 '13 at 7:02
This question might be closer to what you are looking for: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1077/… – dainichi Aug 8 '13 at 8:21

THe は in ~てはいけない. Is actually not the topic marking particle, but a different particle entirely. IT's kind of like how the particle に has a number of different uses. In this case the は is used to emphasize the negative part of the sentence. You'll see in other places が being replaced by は before ない or another negative verb or adjective.

Edit: I found some more information on the subject. This website does a good job discussing this concept as I understand it.

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People can be creative, and I think it's better to think of は as attaching to concepts, not nouns. も is also used with te-forms, 「座ってもいい」. Also, sentences such as 「まず『ありがとう』と言ってはどうだろう」 show that te-forms are considered a fully-formed concept like 言うのは. – blutorange Aug 8 '13 at 9:41
Both in 「象 は 動物 だ」 and 「言う は 動詞 だ」 and (talking about pronunciation)「言う は ゆう」, は attaches to the concept of the words 象 and 言う. Often, you want to talk about the concept of performing a verb, and one way to do that is の 「XをYと言うの は 何故 だ」 – blutorange Aug 8 '13 at 9:58

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