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During the past month I've been addicted to Japanese. I've listened to about 10 online tutorial video courses and read about as much printed lessons. I am determined to learn Japanese, but I am really a newbie so my question may be very basic, but please bear with me.

If I understand correctly, both -ga and -o particles designate a direct object. For example, I've heard:

Watashi wa ongaku-ga suki desu. = I like music

Watashi wa ongaku-o kiku (or kikimasu, I'm not sure) = I am listening to music

So why is it ga in one case and o in the other? Is it specific to the verb or the object or what?

P.S. I don't know hiragana yet, so I'd appreciate if you could keep your examples, if any, in romaji.

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You are just beginning and this is first difficult question, which we all come back to again and again - fortunately there are some v good explanations on this website for all levels. My advice is: 1. learn the patterns 2. learn basic English grammar re: subject/object, transitive/intransive verbs 3. remember these everytime you learn new grammar 4. keep going forwards, don't get bogged down in details –  Tim Sep 13 '13 at 15:24

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It depends not only on the verb, but on the form of the verb.

The general rule is that static verbs and adjectives take "ga" and "action verbs" take "o" on the direct object.

piano-o hiku
play the piano

piano-ga hikeru
can play the piano

Here, playing the piano is an action, thus "o" is used. Being able to play the piano is a state, thus "ga" is used.

ringo-ga hoshii
want an apple

ringo-o hoshigaru
act like you want an apple

Again, to want an apple is a state, so use "ga", to act like you want it is an action, so use "o".

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What about 知る (shiru--to know)? That's a state, but it takes を (o). –  Ataraxia Sep 13 '13 at 2:27
@Ataraxia, good point. 知る is already a strange verb, since it's usually used as a "change-of-state" verb in the positive (知る-learn, 知っている-know), but a state in the negative (知らない-not know). But even in the negative, を is usually used, so there might be some irregularity here. –  dainichi Sep 13 '13 at 2:40

This is not as much of a newbie question as you might think. dainichi gave a good general rule-of-thumb, but at the risk of confusing you, I'd like to point out that there are many cases when and are actually interchangeable. For example, the sentence "I can play the piano" can be written either

piano ga hikeru


piano wo hikeru

A psychology professor from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto conducted a study on the interchangeability of and in 2006. Although the paper he wrote is mostly in Japanese, there is a good summary in English at the beginning. He found that when presented with the sentence

ピアノ __ 弾【ひ】ける
piano __ hikeru

college students were split almost 50/50 on filling in the blank with vs. , while older people more strongly favored .

The main point the author makes is that in sentences where the predicate is an action, e.g.

to want (or as dainichi more aptly put it, to act like you want)

the use of is overwhelmingly favored over ; while in sentences where the predicate describes a state, and are either interchangeable, like with

to be able to play (an instrument)

or is strongly favored, like with

to like

The author also points out that context is important. Even though and are more or less interchangeable in the sentence

ピアノ __ 弾【ひ】ける

was heavily favored in the sentence

練習【れんしゅう】して,彼【かれ】はピアノ __ 弾【ひ】けるようにした
renshuu shite, kare ha piano __ hikeru you ni shita
He practiced and tried to become able to play the piano. (awkward translation but you get the gist)

However, even with this sentence, roughly one-third of the older respondents chose , so you're unlikely to go wrong if you always select when the predicate describes a state rather than an action.

This is just a slightly more nuanced version of the rule that dainichi gave. I simply wanted to point out that most rules have exceptions, and in the case of versus , even native speakers do not always reach a consensus.

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Isn't there also a difference depending on whether the verb is transitive or intransitive?



Turn off the lights.


Lights turn off.

Intransitive verbs tend to follow ga while wo preceeds transitive.

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hiku is a dictionary form of verb which means play [for instruments, e.g. piano, guitar etc.] verb ending in ku can be changed to potential form by changing u to e and add eru so that hiku becomes hikeru [can play]. Watashi wa piano ga hikeru.[I can play the piano.] I think the appropriate particle here is ga.Watashi wa piano ga hikeru koto ga dekimasu.[in other potential form]

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Both を and が are both appropriate with the potential form, like the other answers point out. 「私はピアノが引けることができます。」 is not correct Japanese; you used both of the potential forms at once. –  Darius Jahandarie Oct 24 '14 at 7:08

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