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The following is an exercise from Tae Kim's Guide.

I have to pick は or が to fill in the blanks:

ジム)アリス ____ 誰?

ボブ)友達だ。彼女 ____ アリスだ

I think we should use は after アリス in the first sentence, but I'm confused about the second sentence. I think it should be は after 彼女, but the correct answer is apparently が. Could someone please explain?

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    Though I know they want to teach は/が but 「アリスは誰?」 sounds pretty unnatural (or Japanese-as-a-foreign-language-esque). Most native speakers would say 「アリスって誰?」.
    – user4032
    Jan 14, 2014 at 21:51

1 Answer 1

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I am going to give an answer based on the web site you are using. If you want more detail please ask. (FYI: There is book on the difference b/w は & が but I would suggest looking at a few of the Q&A on this website first and make a note of the comment from Tokyo Nagoya for future reference.)

The website you are looking at explains (quote):

"We ..use the topic particle [は]to explain the current topic of conversation. Sample: 誰? (Topic: アリス) = アリスは誰?"

And later:

"the 「が」 particle is only used when you want to identify something out of many other possibilities”

If we apply these to the task given:

Line 1: "ジム) アリス___誰?" simply requires us to to refer to the example taken from the previous section to illustrate how to the topic particle is used. I assume this is clear but, just in case, Alice is the topic of the conversation because Jim is asking about her.

Line2: ボブ) "友達だ。彼女____アリスだ" is the application of the explanation quoted above:

We can infer from line one that there are several candidates who could be Alice, Jim is asking Bob, which one.

As per the explanation given, が is used to identify Alice from the possibilities given. I would guess from the information available that of the possibilities, at least one of these, but not all, is a friend. Bob's first statement ("友達だ”) is intended to help narrow down the possibilities. It does not say but perhaps they are looking at a photograph of several people.

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