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その帽子に赤いマフラーが似合いそうだ。
A red muffler seems to go well with that hat.

Is there a difference in nuance between the above sentence and the following one?

その帽子に赤いマフラーが似合いそうだ。

I get that it's emphasised that the hat is the topic in the second sentence, but really it's hard to think about the first sentence as not necessarily being about the hat.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

その帽子に sounds pretty matter-of-fact.

その帽子には sounds more like picking-and-choosing. Also, it kind of feels as though there is more to come—e.g., "but this green scarf does not", or "but a yellow scarf would go with this other hat".

But, I feel like I kind of overly analyzed it ;)

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  • その帽子に赤いマフラーが似合いそうだ。 → A red scarf seems to goes well with that hat.
  • その帽子に赤いマフラーが似合いそうだ。 → A red scarf seems to goes well with that hat.; With that hat, a red scarf seems to go well.
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[Your translations are good but I think the OP is looking for the word "Contrast" to award the green tick?] –  Tim Sep 6 '13 at 23:18

The second sentence introduces the hat (as a target of comparison) as a topic.

But just because the first sentence doesn't, it doesn't mean that the sentence isn't about the hat.

The grammatical topic is more than just what a sentence is about.

The topic is a lasting effect which a sentence has on sentences or conversation which follows. For example, when we introduce a topic, then the next sentence can implicitly be about the same thing without mentioning it.

  その帽子には赤いマフラーが似合いそうだ。

  (Topic is now その帽子に: the hat as a basis of comparison)

  そのジーンズも似合うね。

  (From the lingering topic, the jeans go with the hat, and not the scarf or something else in the speaker's and listener's environment.)

Moreover, just because there is no topic marking particle doesn't mean that the sentence does not introduce a topic. It just does so perhaps less firmly. In Japanese, elision of particles is possible, and they can be understood as being "still there" but replaced by a "null particle". For instance see this paper which discusses some possible rules and circumstances under which wa can be dropped.

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