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I'm studying japanese from not that long and a doubt came to my mind studying ある and いる verbs, so sorry in advance if the question isn't clear.

If we take those two phrases as example:

A. つくえへやにあります

B. へやにつくえあります

For what I've understood, in the phrase A, I want to underline the location of the desk, in this case the room. In the phrase B, instead, I want to underline that in the room there's a desk, so I give more importance to the object, not to the location.

If I would want to translate the phrase "there's a desk" without pointing out the location, I can choose between:

C. つくえあります

D. つくえあります

indifferently or, if my previous argument is correct, I have to choose C?

7

The basic difference is already covered in this question: What's the difference between wa (は) and ga (が)?

The following is a brief summary. As you can see in the above link, each sentence has two different meanings.

  • C. つくえがあります。
    ① There is a desk.
    ② (Among the aforementioned options,) The desk is what exists. [exhaustive-listing]
  • D. つくえはあります。
    ① The desk (we are talking about) exists. [thematic]
    ② (By contrast / However,) There is a desk. [contrastive]

Regarding Sentence C:

  • ① You are bringing a desk into the current conversation. In English, you mention something firstly using 'a' (e.g., "a boy") and then talk about it using 'the' (e.g., "the boy"). In sentence C, が in つくえがあります is similar in purpose to the article 'a' in English.
  • ② is a bit tricky, but this is possible when someone asks you "What do you have at home, a desk or a kotatsu?".

Regarding Sentence D:

  • ① When you have been already talking about some desk, and someone asks you "Does the desk exist?" or "Do you really have the desk?" then you would answer, "はい、つくえはあります。"
  • ② If you stress は when you read this out loud, it would be "contrastive." For example, when someone asks "Do you have a kotatsu at home?", you could answer, "いいえ、こたつはありません。つくえはあります。". In English, you would directly stress the "desk" in this situation.

So when you simply want to say "(Look!) There is a desk.", you have to use が. If you said "つくえはあります" in an inappropriate situation, it would sound very awkward to native speakers.

  • Thanks very much for your explanation and examples, I understood more about は and が usage. Perfect answer – Giorgio Antonioli Sep 14 '16 at 9:22
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To add to @Naruto's brilliant answer:

When asked "What's there? / What do you have?" (なにがありますか?), you'll reply with (C) つくえあります, not つくえは...*

When asked "Are there any desks? / Do you have a desk?" (つくえはありますか?), you'd reply with (D) つくえあります, not つくえが...

*You might reply つくえあります to mean "We have desks, at least (but we may not have other things)."


Similarly, you might say (A) つくえへやにあります as a response to "Where's the desk?" (つくえはどこにありますか?)

You might say へやにつくえがあります as a response to "What's in the room?" (へやにはなにがありますか?)

You might say (B) へやにつくえがあります to simply state that there's a desk in a room (≂ つくえがへやにあります), or to emphasize that the desk is in the room and not in other places (with a stress on へやに).

  • +1 for pointing out the は I though it was missing in B. – Tommy Sep 14 '16 at 5:42
  • Thanks very much for your additional explanation to @Naruto answer and for the two examples on A and B! – Giorgio Antonioli Sep 14 '16 at 9:23
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Comparing A and B. -- I'd say in A there may be emphasis on what's sentence-initial == つくえは.

An indifferent assertion "There's a desk." (a certain, particular desk), like a scientific statement, like Spock or Data or HAL might say:

    C.   つくえがあります

D. つくえはあります sounds like (for example) ---- [ We don't have that other X that you asked about, but we do have a desk (for sale). ]


Please see:     「電話は切れた」 vs. 「電話が切れた」

https://japanese.stackexchange.com/a/38782/16344

「AがBである」の時は、Aに重点がある。 .......... 「AはBである」の時はBに重点がある。 ......

  • Understood with the two examples, thanks! – Giorgio Antonioli Sep 13 '16 at 21:45

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