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Someone told me that these aren't actually particles, but they're separate particles put together. I vaguely have an understanding of には and では but it's とは、のが、 and のは that confuse me a lot.

I heard that とは means with?

Why are these particles combined together? What are their meanings and purposes?

Is ことが the same thing as のが?

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Possible duplicate japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1548/… –  dainichi Feb 7 '12 at 6:11
    
Don't forget 「-からは」! That one always throws me off... –  Miguel Feb 8 '12 at 4:30

4 Answers 4

「とは」also has a special usage to show amazement of something unexpected or surprising:

80歳で富士山に登るとはねぇ! → How amazing that he'll climb Mt. Fuji at 80 (years old)!

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What is wrong with this that it was downvoted? –  istrasci Feb 8 '12 at 15:32
    
Because it's unrelated to the question. –  Bathrobe Feb 9 '12 at 15:09
    
The topic title is What is とは, ..., so I gave an answer to what とは is. How is that unrelated? Just because I didn't answer every question in the post doesn't mean my answer is unrelated. Same with @Ignacio's answer above. Check this post on meta. "So... in conclusion, don't hesitate to answer just because it might not be the perfect, complete, and final answer. Lots of answers are good. Even partial answers which address only one aspect of the issue are good." –  istrasci Feb 9 '12 at 16:52
    
+1; this answer still relates to the question. –  summea Feb 27 '12 at 6:02

I would recommend getting a book about particles... even something like A Dictionary of Japanese Particles. Which is only about $15 (USD) at present.

Something to consider before getting into the particle combinations is the idea of は and が. There are a lot of different rules (sometimes seemingly-contradictory rules,) for は and が. But for the sake of simplicity, just remember that is often the first, main subject of a sentence. is kind of the second main subject (the "newer subject" or "focus point",) of a sentence.

Now let's get into the combinations from the question.

According to A Dictionary of Japanese Particles:

とは

  • とは is a combination of particles と and は
  • can mean: "the thing that is called" (i.e. ボタン*とは*なんですか。)
  • can mean: with (i.e. わたし、Aさん*とは*スポーツをしたり、勉強したりします。)
  • can mean: "surprise/shock about something" (i.e. あの人がそんなバカなことを言った*とは*・・・)

In the first example, とは actually seems related to when って is used after dialog, like this: 「ボタン」って、何ですか。 ("Button" <- pointing to subject, what is?) It's a sort of marker for the previous word... something that makes a sort of subject out of the phrase before とは.

のは

  • When のは is used, it often refers to a subject (placed in front of のは,) for example:
    • 勉強をする*のは*難しいことです。(i.e. Studying is hard. -or- The thing of studying is hard.) Using のは like this effectively turns a subject (a noun or a concept,) into a subject of the sentence.

のが

  • のが is similar to のは. But the difference comes down to the difference between は and が (explained earlier.)

  • So if we go back to the example used for のは and replace のは with のが:

    • 私は勉強をする*のが*難しいことです。(i.e. For me, studying is hard. -or- For me, the thing of studying is hard.) Here, the main subject of the sentence is "私 myself". But when のが is used like this, のが (like のは)still effectively turns a subject (a noun or a concept,) into a subject of the sentence, but here, のが is pointing to a "new subject" of the sentence (the thing of studying.)

ことが

  • With the example given with のが, ことが is essentially the same thing. It creates a concept from a given noun, verb, or phrase.
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「と」 in this situation is the inclusion particle. 「は」 is the topic marker as usual. So 「XとはY」 means "as for with X, Y".

「の」 is the nominalizing particle, which turns a verb phrase into a noun (gerund). So 「XのはY」 means "as for Xing, Y". Likewise with 「が」.

「こと」 is used when talking in a general, objective sense, whereas 「の」 is used when the sense is meant to be specific or subjective.

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Hi! Sorry, I dont really understand what you are trying to say with "As for with X, Y" and "as for Xing, Y" but thanks anyway. –  user1087 Feb 7 '12 at 6:02
    
That's just the normal way to treat 「は」, but modified with the other particle. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Feb 7 '12 at 6:03
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Considering that all but one of the particle combinations in the question involves は, I think a good answer here has to go into a little detail on the contrasting function of は, or at least link to another answer that does. –  Hyperworm Feb 7 '12 at 13:09

You should focus your question on は/が itself. Having an other particle before it does not change its meaning. And does not change the meaning of the article before, either.

と can be with or used for quotation.

I think there is exceptions but at the moment, you can assume that it is ok to exchange こと and の when it is after a verb.

The question linked by Dainichi is what you are looking for: Are there cases when two or more particles will occur next to each other without intervening lexical words?

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