3rd person pronouns (both English and Japanese) and the particle "は" have a commonality. For pronouns (jp & eng) antecedent must exist in the conversation. An "antecedent" is what the pronoun stands in the place of. This has no antecedent:

He went to Japan.

Structurally, the grammar is ok. But, who is he? No one knows. There is no antecedent. This doesn't really mean anything.

Jim is my co-worker.
He went to Japan.

So, "Jim" is the antecedent of "he". We put "Jim" in the universe of discussion, then we can use "he" as his proxy. In Japanese:


The antecedent of "彼" is "田中".

So, 3rd person pronouns can only be used if there is antecedent.

Similarly, in the "は" vs. "が" decision, "が" is used to mark new information into the universe of the discussion. See, but 3rd person pronouns must already be in the universe of discussion.

In a sentence that ends in a verb, could "が" ever modify "彼" / "彼女" and have a sentence that is a complete thought?

虎に彼が食べられた is not a complete thought. Who is 彼?

田中は私の仲間でした。昨日、虎に彼食べられた。<--- this ok?
田中は私の仲間でした。昨日、虎に彼食べられた。<--- or, this ok?

  • 2
    +1, but pronouns can be deictic or non-referential as well as anaphoric, は is a particle (or postposition) rather than an article, は isn't always referential, and postpositions don't modify the phrases they follow. But I think you have a good question about information packaging and は versus が here, even though I think it probably needs a rather complicated answer.
    – user1478
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 3:55

2 Answers 2


If you haven't read this question, please check it first: What's the difference between wa (は) and ga (が)?

Whether a noun is already in the universe of discourse is very important, but that's not the only thing that determines when to use が or は. There are at least three types of situation where が must be used with 彼 (or more generally, nouns which are already in the universe of discourse).

  1. When 彼 is in a sub-clause, が must be used instead of は, because は usually marks the topic of the main clause.

    • 田中さんは私の仲間でした。彼虎に食べられたのは昨日のことです。
    • 田中さんは私の仲間でした。彼虎に食べられる瞬間、彼何かを叫んでいました。
  2. が is used if it is used as exhaustive-listing が.

    • その3人の中で、最初に彼虎に食べられました。
  3. が can be used with certain types of verbs as neutral-description が. "Sentences of neutral description present an objectively observable action, existence, or temporary state as a new event." (quote from the question above)

    • 先生まだかな… (knock) あ、先生来た!
    • どうしよう、お父さん怒っている。
    • 大変です、彼虎に襲われています!

I THINK SO! Maybe depends on what you mean by complete thought.

Probably sounds better without the pronoun though...


But to answer your question "In a sentence that ends in a verb, could "が" ever modify "彼" / "彼女" and have a sentence that is a complete thought?"...

I suppose you might hear something like this:


  • Tanaka was a colleague. He was a good man. Today, we have lost a friend. When I first heard that he had been eaten by a tiger, honestly, I wept. But not for Tanaka, for the tiger. That guy was really skinny. He must have tasted awful.
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    「彼がトラに喰われてしまったのを初めて聞いたとき、…」で「が」が使われるのは、従属節だからかもしれません。 PS がりがりで、きっとまずかっただろう←ヒドイwww
    – chocolate
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 9:57

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