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This is the sentence I have just read:

外国へ行くとしたら、ただの旅行ではなく、勉強を 目的として 行きたい。 If I ever have a chance to go abroad then I would like to go to study rather than just travel.

The は feels intuitively correct but what purpose does it serve? There are a number of expressions without the は:

~だけでなく…によっても広められている be popularized not only by ~ but also by

~が必要でなくとも although not in need of

[愛]{あい}でなくてなんだろう if it is not love, what is it? (possibly 愛ではなく、なんだろう?)

I can't explain why は is/is not necessary in these expressions (apart from "these are 決まり文句" but I wanted to get a better understanding than that if possible).

I should be very grateful for any insights.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

As you may already know は is considered the topic marker. Adding は puts emphasis on the denial aspect and what becomes before ではなく is generally the topic of the sentence, omitting は makes what comes after でなく the focus of the sentence.

A more literal translation of your sentence would be:

If I ever go abroad, I don't want to travel for just pleasure, I would like to go to study.

The emphasis is on the denial aspect.

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Thank you. Can I ask, just to confirm my understanding, any of those other expressions I have listed could take は to place emphasis on the what comes before and a similar principle might apply to the reason we say ではありません instead of でありません? – Tim Oct 31 '12 at 12:32
@Tim: I think your first example could use だけではなく if you want to place emphasis on the "not only by" part, however the other two are 決まり文句 as you mention. Also, the last sentence would be strange if you put emphasis on the denial part. Your reasoning about ではありません is correct. – Jesse Good Oct 31 '12 at 21:14
@JesseGood The difference between は and が is often explained as "が emphasizes what comes before it, while は sets up contrast and emphasizes what you say after". (see 私が やった vs 私は やった ). This at face value seems to contradict with your answer. I think this is because, as you say, the emphasis is on the denial aspect, i.e. the なく, which comes (immediately) after は: ただの旅行では なく 、…, whereas omitting the は removes the emphasis on なく and allows it to apply to what comes after. ...The point of all this is just that I think "は emphasizes what comes before" might be misleading? – Hyperworm Nov 3 '12 at 15:42
See also answer to japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/17415/a-deeper-look-unto-て-で-and-は – Tim Jun 15 '14 at 0:40

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