I'm afraid this question might be basic knowledge, but for the life of me, I cannot figure it out: So most of us know the phrase 'nihongo ga wakarimasen' (meaning: I don't understand japanese) but recently I came across the phrase 'nihongo wo hanashimasen' (meaning: I don't speak japanese)

I am aware that these two phrases are usually said with the particles being omitted, but I'm curious about the usage of the particles (ga and wo).

  • why is it that one uses ga and the other wo when the object of the sentance(nihongo) is the same? As well as the fact that wakarimasen and hanashimasen are both verbs directed toward the object.

I see no difference in the structure of the two phrases yet the particles are different. If anyone can provide an answer, I would appreciate it.

  • I think this is not what you're asking about, but 「日本語を話しません」 is not a natural way to talk about your ability. It sounds like "I will not speak Japanese" or "I (habitually) do not speak Japanese (when given the opportunity)". 「日本語が話せません」 is how you'd talk about your ability to speak Japanese. Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 17:49

2 Answers 2


I think the accepted answer by dainichi to this question answers it pretty well:

It depends not only on the verb, but on the form of the verb.

The general rule is that static verbs and adjectives take "ga" and "action verbs" take "o" on the direct object.

piano-o hiku
play the piano

piano-ga hikeru
can play the piano

Here, playing the piano is an action, thus "o" is used. Being able to play the piano is a state, thus "ga" is used.

ringo-ga hoshii
want an apple

ringo-o hoshigaru
act like you want an apple

Again, to want an apple is a state, so use "ga", to act like you want it is an action, so use "o".

Understanding Japanese is a state -- it's not an action, whereas to speak it is an action.

For example being able to speak it rather than speaking it, which is 話せる{はなせる} [はなせる{ha na se ru}], would again be a state, and would use が{ga} just like 分かる{わかる} [わかる{wa ka ru}]:

にほんご{ni ho n go} が{ga} はなせません{ha na se ma se n}。
I can't speak Japanese.

As dainichi said, the general rule is that state verbs/adjectives use が{ga} while actions take を{wo}.


I know this is an old question but for the one interested this is a matter of transitive vs intrasitive verbs. The Youtube video of Japanese Ammo explained this very well.

If you want to see if a given verb is transitive or intrasitive you can look for it at the Jisho online dictionary.

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