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Can the topic marker は be used twice in a sentence? For example, かれは日本語はいいですね。 Is that right?

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Aside: We usually do not say いい to describe “good at a language.” Instead, we use [上手]{じょうず}だ. So the example sentence would be かれは日本語は上手ですね. – Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 2 '12 at 14:20
Your example implies that his Japanese is good but there are something not good. – Gradius Aug 3 '12 at 2:47
So basically it would be かれは日本語が上手です。 – Shazer2 Aug 3 '12 at 7:14
If you did not mean to contrast anything and just wanted to say “He is good at Japanese,” then it would be 彼は日本語が上手です. However, you did not get an answer like this because you did not state the intended meaning in the question. – Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 3 '12 at 12:01
short answer: yes but not in your example. – Eric Nov 23 '12 at 8:09

3 Answers 3

Yes. As long as there is no more than one neutral topic and the rest are contrastive.

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I'm not sure I agree with this. In e.g. 九月には彼は日本に帰ります none of the はs have to be contrastive. – dainichi Nov 21 '12 at 1:27

Lots of people are saying that you can have は twice in a sentence, but used as a particle, you cannot. は Is used to show where the subject of the sentence is. My Japanese teacher is from Japan and this is what she taught us, so the answer to your question is no, you cannot have は twice in your sentence (when used as a particle).

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I've seen multiple は particles in the same sentence many times, in sentences that were either made or reviewed by native speakers, so it definitely happens. I took beginning Japanese classes at a university in the US to improve my speaking and listening after over a year of self-study, and in my experience, the teachers (native speakers) simplify the grammar quite a bit and avoid talking about exceptions. I'm guessing that either formal grammar doesn't include it, or they don't want to give their students an information overload. – Darcinon Sep 30 at 1:34
@Darcinon She's just wrong. – user4092 Sep 30 at 2:06
She's not wrong, she just said it so there wouldn't be any further complexions. I'm sure she knows of it. – RnBandCrunk Sep 30 at 15:25
@user4092 Yes, but my point was how Kassidy could be wrong, despite having a strong source - which is because even native speakers and teachers are not infallible. – Darcinon Sep 30 at 16:29

Particle は is quite versatile and flexible, which implies, for foreigners (外{がい}人{じん}), a quite slow learning curve. One of the many possible usages of this particle is the one devoted to underline and express contrast. I guess it is the only possible (common and regular) context where you will find two は particles in the same sentence.

I am going to describe classic situations, but please consider that more complex examples are possible.

Contrast on subjects

Please look at the following pattern:


Here are some examples:

1) あの、僕は出来ないけど、ケンちゃんは出来るよ!彼に聞いたほうがいいと思う〜 => Well, I am the one who cannot do that, Ken-chan can sure do it! You better ask him I think!

2) ミナト先生は知っているんだけど、フジヤマ先生は知らないと思う! => Minato-sensei knows it, it's Fujijama-sensei the one who doesn't know I think

Contrast of objects

Take a look at this pattern as well:

(Sentence-1-Part1)(Object-1)は(Sentence-1-Part2)[が|けど|けれども|...]、 (Sentence-2-Part1)(Object-2)は(Sentence-2-Part2)

Here are some examples:

1) イタリア語は話せないんですが、韓国語は話せますよ! => I cannot speak Italian, but I can speak Korean

2) チェスは出来るけど、囲碁は出来ない! => I can play Chess, but I cannot play Go!

3) えと、ペンは持って来た、カバンは持って来ていない〜 => Well, I brought a pen, I didn't bring a backpack

As you can see, this should be the only case to have two particles は. My sensei as school told me that sometimes Japanese people use the particle in other situations, but it sound slangish or quite strange. So, for a good language usage, you should avoid repeating particle は (unless you need to put emphasis on some contrast).

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