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If I want to say the dog barked, which is more grammatically correct: inu WA naita or inu GA naita? I'm thinking the second one because it's identifying what's barking, but I'm not sure I fully understand the usage of ga.

marked as duplicate by 3 to 5 business days, snailboat Oct 25 '14 at 18:27

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We can't explain this vast arguments in a few lines, but here are some rough guidelines.

  • The dog barked means you've already talked about a dog, so it's "inu WA naita".
  • However if you want to stress where that sound came from, you'll say inu GA naita, meaning naita no wa inu da = it has been the dog who barked (bad English?)
  • A dog barked means that you still hadn't talked about a dog till now, so it's "inu GA naita".
  • you use GA if the verb or the adjective needs it. E.g. ore wa inu ga suki; inu ga mieta!; inu ga kaitai na...
  • If you make a contrast explicit or implicit between what a cat does and what a dog does, you'll say again "inu wa naita". Other ex. inu wa ita ga, neko wa inakatta (there was a/the dog, but there wasn't a/the cat).
  • The contrast you create may be implicit, for instance you don't have to talk explicitly about the cat, and it may be a contrast with something you don't know.
  • An implicit contrast may put some sort of limit (generally to what you know or can say). Usually "wa" will be translate with "at least". E.g. a student took something it wasn't yours, and someone saw it: "Did you see what he took from that desk?" "keshigomu wa nusunda" (he took at least an eraser)
  • The negative form has an inherent contrastive nature, so you will usually say inu wa nakanakatta. However if you want to put a stress like that in the second point of this list you may say inu ga nakanakatta.
  • In a dependent clause you'll use GA, no matter what: inu ga naita toki... inu ga naita kara... etc. Exceptios are sentence followed by to (e.g. inu wa naita to omou).
  • "Dogs bark" or "the dog is man's best friend" or "A dog is a man's best friend" imply the use of the term "dog" as "generalized idea of a dog"; you're not specifically talking about a certain dog, so you will have to use wa again.

Hope it helps.

If someone can suggest other cases I'll add them in the answer. Thanks.

  • Thank you for the clear answer, I'm about as new as you get to Japanese. The way I understood your answer, specifically to my example and please correct me if I'm wrong, is that if it's important as to where the sound came from, whether previously mentioned or not, use ga, if it's unimportant, I.e. a dog or dogs in general, or if you already have mentioned the dog being talked about, use wa. I know there's many more uses of wa and ga, but I don't intend to master them in one day, so for now this one example is all I'm really concerned about. – Donovan Greene Oct 25 '14 at 19:27

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