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i think my understanding of these two is getting better though i have a question about this sentence:

新しい合金が開発された。医療用や通信用など、用途は広い。

the が i think i get. it is because the new alloy is new information. the question i have is about the は used. what confuses me is that i recently read about this kind of construction:

象は鼻が長い。

it was explained as the nose being its own subject rather than a possessive. that is why the second part confuses me now because if anything i would think the second sentence would be constructed something like this:

(新しい合金は)用途が広い。

where the new alloy is now the topic as it has just been introduced as new information in the previous sentence and its uses are the subject much like the elephant's nose is the subject in that other sentence.

is it a case where once you introduce something, you can kind of skip a step in the next sentence and talk about a feature of it using は? for instance if you were to say something like... 象があります。鼻はながい。

?

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象がいます is better. –  Earthliŋ Mar 25 at 1:35
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Both は and が are acceptable here, but by using は, I feel there's a slight change of focus from the alloy itself to its applications. Some more context might be useful. Does the text go on to describe these applications in more detail? –  dainichi Mar 25 at 2:00
    
oh actually there's no other context. it is just a single isolated example from Kanji Odyssey 2001 –  user4853 Mar 25 at 2:18
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は is used to place emphasis on what comes after it, in this case the number of uses the alloy has. It is clear from the first sentence and 「~など、」"whose uses" we are referring to. If the は was replaced with が the passage would be flat, you would lose the emphasis on 広い and so it is harder for the reader recognise the importance of this and they would inclined to say "so what?" –  Tim Mar 25 at 7:08

6 Answers 6

If you list to people speaking, usually after they say は there is a slight pause. This also happens in English when we are staying something...... and then want to say something about it.

医療用や通信用など、用途は広い。 This sounds like a line from a documentary. In medicine, communication - its uses ..... are VAST!

The point of the sentence is that the usages are vast, which is being said at the end of the sentence as if you didn't catch how vast from the example of 'medical allll the way to communications'.

Basically the thing about は is that it can override を or が. So usually a sentence might be using を or が as normal, but if focus want's to be put on that area of the sentence then は can be swapped in instead.

象は鼻が長い。 Elephants: Their noses are long (weird because there aren't many times you would actually say something like this right?)

象が鼻が長い。 Elephants have noses that are long. (notice how this sounds off in english, well it sounds a bit off in japanese too and its kind of random.)

用途は広い。 Uses are vast! Sounds like that's the point of the sentence. が just doesn't do it justice in this sentence simply because it doesn't give the sentence a decent 'point'.

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I just finished reading a book about Japanese grammar and there was a very enlightening discussion on the difference of は and が. I'm just a native user of Japanese trying to rediscover the language, so please don't take this answer as authoritative or formally correct. It's just my current understanding of the difference. Probably this isn't new to those who have been studying Japanese as a second-language, but being native I have never thought about the difference in a structured way.

Both は and が are used for subjects, but the main difference is that は indicates where the topic of the conversation is, while が simply indicates what subjects are for each clause that may exist in a more complicated sentence. That is why a sentence that contains more than one は sounds very awkward (the topic focus should be on one and only one item at a time), while a single は can be accompanied with multiple が in a single sentence.

From that view point, it seems the sentence

新しい合金が開発された。医療用や通信用など、用途は広い。

is most naturally rephrased as

新しく開発された合金の用途は、医療や通信など多岐に渡る。

I used a slightly different expression 多岐に渡る, which in this context means the same thing. To me, the key here is that the topic of this particular conversation lies in the wide variety of use, and not just the fact that the new alloy was developed. That makes sense given that the new development of alloy is exciting only because it has broad applications.

What makes slightly complicated is that the original phrasing sounds very natural when broken up into two like given. The development of alloy itself is a new piece of information, so it should be introduced in that way before leading to a sentence that conveys a more exiting piece of information which really is the topic of the conversation.

As for

象は鼻が長い。

the topic of the sentence is an elephant itself. Perhaps the conversation around this sentence is about elephants, and the fact that their nose is long is an additional piece of information that got into the conversation.

If instead you say

鼻は象が長い。

then the topic of the sentence shifts to nose. Perhaps the conversation was about nose of animals in general, and someone just mentioned the fact that elephants have a notably long nose compared to other animals.

On the other hand, both

象は鼻は長い and 象が鼻が長い。

sound very awkward to me, since the former is ambiguous as to where the topic lies, and the latter simply does not makes sense. Likely because 象が長い does not make sense by itself.

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It depends on contexts whether 象は鼻は長い and 象が鼻が長い are awkward or not. 象は鼻は長い(足は短いが) (この中では)象が鼻が長い=鼻が長いのは象だ –  user4092 Apr 29 at 6:06
    
That would be true, but then the sentence structure as well as meaning is quite different from the original one. Also if you really get picky, don't you feel both 象は鼻は長い and 象が鼻が長い, even in the contexts given, sound a bit awkward due to the redundancy? They might be okay in spoken words (convey meanings just fine, even if a bit broken), but in writing I would actually look for expressions that flow better, like 象の足は短いが鼻は長い and このなかでは象の鼻が長い, for example. –  Taro Sato Apr 29 at 6:31

(Sorry for my late post)

In the case of 新しい合金が開発された。医療用や通信用など、用途は広い, the 用途 is already one of common agenda for readers of the technical article. That's why it's marked with は. In other words, it's virtually the same as a case when the auther is asked how versatility of goods is.

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I'm not sure if my answer will suffice because I don't know what you know and don't have perfect comprehension of how this works. I will start with what I know:

象は鼻が長い。

This translates to "elephants have long noses"

One of the most basic distinctions is that は is used for categorical statements and が to refer to particulars. The second thing going in the sentence you are considering above is that when there is subordinate clause, it takes が and the main clause takes は. That I take is the main thing trying to be expressed by the example sentence there.

Moving to your other sentence:

新しい合金が開発された。医療用や通信用など、用途は広い。

In English, "a new alloy was discovered. Its medical uses, transmission uses, ,etc., are broad."

The first sentence uses が because the emphasis is on the discovery of the metal alloy. The second second sentence uses what I take to be a は of judgment serving to summarize the different applications and express something about them generally. In this case, it's pretty similar to the は about elephants -- making a general statement about a category ("its applications" / "elephants")

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You are correct regarding the first sentence:

新しい合金が開発された。

が is being used for two good reasons here:

  • New information is being revealed to the reader.
  • 開発された is a passive verb.

As for the second sentence:

医療用や通信用など、用途は広い。

は is marking the subject of this sentence, which is 用途.

This differs from the third sentence for the following reasons:

象は鼻が長い。

  • In this instance, は is forming a contrast to something else, for example: これは短いけど、これは長い。The latter is a valid sentence and the double use of は is acceptable because it forms a contrast to another thing which is different. So 象は silently implies that there are other animals whose noses are not long.
  • 象 is the subject of this sentence, so が must be used here to pave way for the adjective, 長い.
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I think the example sentences might just be clumsily formulated; and some of that clumsiness translates to English:

新しい合金が開発された。 医療用や通信用など、用途は広い。

A new alloy has been developed. Its uses, such as in medicine and communications, among other things, are many.

As it seems to me that the sentence might have been constructed to teach kanji rather than grammar, a better phrasing, retaining all kanji, might be as follows:

用途の広い新しい合金は開発された。医療用や通信用などある。

A versatile new alloy has been developed. Its uses include medicine and communications, among other things.

As for the elephant in the room:

象は鼻が長い。

Elephants have long noses.

While it would seem as if the way to rephrase this to focus on the nose would be to simply flip the は and が; this is not really the case; although that'll work as well:

鼻は象が長い。

As far as noses are concerned, elephants are long.

While this is (kind of) true, it's not a very good sentence: Its focus is not on elephants' noses, as such, but on noses in a more universal sense.

A more natural and idiomatic phrasing would be:

象の鼻は長い。

Elephants' noses are long.

This focuses on the nose aspect of the elephant (as opposed to say the fur aspect or the leg aspect, of the elephant).

Dispensing with は entirely, you then get:

象の鼻が長い。

Elephants' noses are long.

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All the example sentences are perfectly natural. 鼻は象が長い indicates it is their noses when it comes to a question what's long about elephants. There's no reason to say 象の鼻は長い is more natural. 「用途の広い新しい合金は開発された。医療用や通信用などある」here should be ・・合金 が 開発された。・・通信用など(が)ある because 合金 is a new information. –  user4092 Jun 2 at 14:18
    
I made a mistake in my comment above. I should have said "鼻は象が長い indicates it is elephants when it comes to animals with a long nose". –  user4092 Jun 2 at 16:30

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