The sentence pattern for "I have never X" is covered in this question: Is there a form for "I have never heard of"?

However, I'm confused on which particle to use for the noun in this sentence pattern. For example:

From a Japanese children's book:

"I have never seen a peach as large as this."

Notice that it uses は after もも. Here is a second example from the cited question.

"I have never heard that song before."

It uses を after うた.

Are both particles acceptable? Do they convey different meanings?

  • 3
    Both are acceptable but convey different nuances. For the first sentence, I'd put a △ at a sentence including 「を」 rather than 「は」 though, because of the modifier 「こんなに大きな・・・」 sort of is a set-up for 「は」. In speech, you'd drop the 「を」 but usually not the 「は」.
    – Marcus
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 23:31

4 Answers 4


I disagree with Kaji's analysis. While Kaji's is the textbook answer concerning the question when -wa is used, the explanation remains opaque.
Rather there is a -wa after momo in the first example, because we can assume that the speaker has, at some time, seen big peaches. The one referred to in the sentence, however, is, among those seen, the biggest.
That is not the case with the second example, though. I understand the sentence to imply that the speaker hasn't heard that specific song before, but not that s/he has NEVER heard a song before.
So, the answer to your question is: yes, both particles are good, but they imply different things about the noun to which they are attached.

  • 2
    I fail to see where our explanations are different. If someone asks if you've ever heard "I am the Walrus" and you say その歌を聞いたことがありません you're clearly referring to that specific song, no? Nowhere in my example does it imply the person's never heard music at all.
    – Kaji
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 17:26
  • @Kaji I'm not so sure. The questioner could very well take the -o-answer as an implication that the answerer is not interested in songs. A -wa instead of an -o would at least open the door to follow-up questions, such as "How about 'Love, Love, Love'?" Commented May 29, 2014 at 6:16
  • @Kaji: No. That should be その歌は… or その歌を聞いたことは….
    – user4092
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 8:55

If you simply say "I have never heard that song before", the natural one is その歌は聞いたことがない or その歌を聞いたことはない.

Since その歌を聞いたことがない appearantly lacks the topic part, it can be correct only when it's (1) inversion of 聞いたことがないのはその歌だ (it's that song that I haven't heard) or (2) a part of coherent sentences like 「その歌を聞いたことがない。それで…」 (interchangeable to その歌を聞いたことがないので) or 「わたしは・・・。・・・。その歌を聞いたことがない」.

  • 1
    – user1016
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 7:00

Both versions are acceptable. The choice of particle shifts the emphasis slightly.


In both cases, こと is added after the verb to turn it into a noun meaning "the experience of having done X". In this case みたこと is treated as a property of the peach. Thus it stresses the action of seeing over the object of the peach.

Compare with the bolded English translation: "I've never seen such a big peach before!"


In this case, the use of を links the verb + こと to the song. As such we're not talking about a property of the song in this case, but rather about the experience of having heard the song. Thus the song remains in the foreground, receiving emphasis.

Compare with the bolded English translation: "I've never heard this song before!"


Combining Thomas's answer with Marcus's comment on the question, I think I've got it, but neither response is really complete on its own. I'd like to position the answer in the way that I'm thinking about it, so that I can (1) make sure this is correct, and (2) help those who might think like me.

It's all about whether the noun feels like a direct object or a topic. If it's something particular, a specific instance of an object, directly being acted upon by a transitive verb, that's obviously a case for using を. "This song", "those people", "the red car", etc.

If, on the other hand, the noun is more nebulous, not easily enumerated, it might feel more like a topic.

OK, example time.

the experience of listening to that particular song

を is the natural particle here because we're doing something to a particular object (that song). Contrast and compare with the following sentences involving 歌...

listened to that song

Using を here is fine and natural. It's the normal phrasing.

regarding that song, (I have) listened to it

Using は here is grammatical, but would be odd to say out of context. Imagine that two people are going through a bunch of songs. "concerning that song... [pause while thinking]... I've heard it." It sounds fine in that context.

the experience of listening to songs (in general)

Without a particular song in mind, 歌 can refer to songs in general. In this case, は can work since "songs in general" feels like a topic. Or maybe more importantly, "songs in general" isn't a direct object you can apply a transitive verb to.


I'm not sure how you'd translate this; it sounds odd to me. It sounds to me like you'd separate it along the lines of: "concerning this song" ... "the experience of having listened to it". The は almost forces a pause, for me.

It's kind of a roundabout way of getting there, but I think this is what Marcus meant when he said 「こんなに大きな・・・」 is a setup for は. "a peach as big as this" is more suited as a topic of a sentence. It's not referring to any one peach, it's referring to a class of peaches.


Essentially, this sounds strange because を isn't attached to an object or set of objects.

  • (Modified comment) This subject often causes discussion but, many agree there are two main uses of は - essentially either to mark a topic or draw contrast. In the peach example I would say the speaker is using は to draw a contrast between the peach under discussion and all the other peaches they have seen but this can be ambiguous out of context. This ambiguity is explained well with a better example in the answer to the most frequently read question on this site (on はvsが)
    – Tim
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 2:01

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