From what I understand, there are two types of は-particle:

  1. The thematic-は (topic-marker) which is used to introduce things into the universe of discourse.

  2. The contrastive-は.

jkerian states that:

There can be only one thematic は in a sentence. If you see a second one, the second is certainly contrastive, and the first might be. (source)

But Derek states that:

The [non-first] は often adds a hint of comparison or contrast. (source)

These two sentences are contradictory.

Assuming that jkerian is right, that there is only one thematic は in a sentence, so the non-first は will always add a hint of comparison / contrast, which contradicts what Derek said.

Assuming that Derek is right, that it is possible for the non-first は not to add any hints of contrast / comparison, then it suggests that we can now have more than one thematic は in a sentence, which contradicts what jkerian said.

Who is right? Is it possible to have two は-particles in a sentence, both of them not having any comparative / contrastive hints?

  • 1
    Just curious... do we have any "authoritative" sources saying multiple はs are wrong? It might be considered bad style, but downright wrong? rate.livedoor.biz/archives/50375900.html
    – dainichi
    May 2, 2012 at 5:30
  • @dainichi: Multiple はs are definitely not wrong, the discussion is over whether there is a set pattern to the interpretation of multiple はs chained to each other.
    – jkerian
    May 17, 2012 at 15:36
  • I should probably mention that my statement mentioned above by Pacerier is a quotation, pretty much verbatim, from Kuno's book. I'm really in no better position to defend it than anyone else.
    – jkerian
    May 17, 2012 at 15:39

4 Answers 4


Yes, but only in some cases.

Consider the following.


This is perfectly correct and a common pattern. The reason being is that some phrases set to always have a は in them.

In the case of something like the following


The second は is allowed because they only apply to one of the sentence fragments.

Now there are some cases that you might hear a second は that are technically incorrect, but are still fairly common. Such as


The reason for this being common would seem to be that people haven't thought about the end of the sentence until they have already said the start of it.

When it comes とは には etc, these can be considered technically different from は, that is to say they can't be broken down into something else + は thus they can be used in sentence with another は however their use is normally limited to cases when は is not used in the sentence.

  • 3
    These usages fit with Tanimori's description of multiple は marking subordinate clauses. So the time interval "from the 19th to the end of the month" is the topic. And then the "watashi" in "watashi will not go" is not the topic. In relation to the topic, it is "watashi" who will not go at that time (but maybe other people will). If we reverse the order of these two, then it becomes: about me (the topic) I won't go at that time (but maybe I will go at some other time). There is a kind of contrast in the second は in either case: watashi against other people, or the time against other times.
    – Kaz
    Apr 30, 2012 at 4:00
  • 3
    Also, we can't make it 私が, because that is not the same, "From the 19th to the end of the month, the person who isn't going is me". So, what I'm getting to is that this is not "technically incorrect".
    – Kaz
    Apr 30, 2012 at 4:10
  • 1
    @Kaz + Ian, Btw in the sentence "実は、私は行いきません。", can it be true that the second "は" is the contrastive-"は" particle (contrasting with the current thought) similar to the contrastive-"は" in "雨は降っていますが、たいしたことはありません。" (the "は" after "雨")?
    – Pacerier
    Apr 30, 2012 at 12:11
  • 1
    @Pacerier: Negative sentences with は can very easily be contrastive with the context, since these are generally presumed to be positive. Just looking at the sentence, I would expect it arise in a conversation about a plan to go somewhere, so the contrast is fairly straightforward.
    – jkerian
    May 17, 2012 at 15:45
  • 2
    @jkerian Is it ever possible that the second は in "実は、私は行いきません。" is not contrast? Or is it 100% sure to be a contrast, since it's not the first は?
    – Pacerier
    May 17, 2012 at 17:48

When we say "contrastive", it is ambiguous.

Sometimes there are two は in a sentence that are being contrasted with each other, such as in これ<は>僕ので<は>ありませn. But sometimes the extra, non-topical は is being contrasted with some other instances of something similar in its category, not the other は. Like this particular thing, and not others.

According to Masahiro Tanimori (Handbook of Japanese Grammar):

Wa cannot be used in a relative clause, and is rarely used in other subordinate clauses (conditional/concessive clauses) when it has been already used to introduce a word as the topic of the whole sentence or the main clause.

That is not talking about the situation in which two words are contrasted.

Let me make up some examples:

Two は:

十月には、私は日本に帰るつもりです。 In October, I intend to return to Japan. (The topic is October. In that month, I intend to return to Japan.)

What happens if we replace the second with が:

十月には、私が日本に帰るつもりです。 In October, I intend to return to Japan. (The topic is October. In that month, I'm the one who intends to return to Japan.)

  • 2
    Thanks for the answer, btw I was wondering in your example sentence "十月には、私は日本に帰るつもりです。", do you agree/disagree that the "は" after "私" is the second thematic-は particle in that sentence?
    – Pacerier
    Apr 30, 2012 at 4:50

I see a challenge with trying to discuss Japanese grammar in English; if the following statement is true

There can be only one thematic は in a sentence.

...really depends on what the definition of "a sentence" is. In the English idea of sentence it may be right, in that sentence refers to some form of subject-verb pair. If a sentence here is Japanese idea of anything and everything between まる「。」then that's a different story. As others pointed out, I can throw as many は as I care and still sound legit.これこれ、それそれという見方その場合に正しいと言えなくもないと言ったのそもそもお前だろう。

  • Nice example. Though the は in 場合には is contrastive. Jul 26, 2022 at 2:38

That's a little bit hard question, because any language is so big that very often we can find extremely rare, but still possible exception.

Generally, I would say in a phrase only one は can be thematic. The idea of the topic is to disambiguate. Any sentence has content which we want to say and some area to which it belongs. For example, if we provide only content like "will go to a shop", then such sentence doesn't make any sense, because we don't know about who we are talking here. Such sentence is possible with context as:

- And what you will do?

- Go to a shop.

It's not very common in English, but still understandable. We have context-topic "you/I" and action "go to a shop". It's very hard to think about any situation when we would need to use double layer disambiguation and the closest version is probably a very standard sentence like:

像は鼻が長い (elephants have long trunks)

像の鼻 は・が 長い (Elephants's trunks are long)

These sentences have different nuances due to different topics, but it's easy to see when we need to talk about some part of a whole, we can use の and string as far as we want. We can bring some general topic and narrow down to something much more specific within a single は. At the same time such disambiguation function gives another usage. If we intentionally emphasize there are several candidates and our sentence is true for one of these, people can assume it's false for others and thus we get contrastive implication. it's similar to a situation like this:

- What about the Smiths?

- John will come (which implies others members of the family probably won't do so).

With the only difference here we used context to make plural candidates, but in Japanese it's done simply by using は. It's the main function of は to restrict and If we use は, we automatically mean it could be applied to something else. Thus you can see so called contrastive function is rather an intention of speaker to emphasize on a choice and there are many ways to make that. In can be a flow of conversation when we start to bring similar topics, or it can be intentional usage of は in unusual places. We can make double particles like には and it's a place where there is no need for は in a neutral sentence, we can replace other particles like をー>は as in ケーキは食べる (I will eat the cake), which implies person probably won't eat something else, or in some rare cases we can even put は in relative clause to make contrast.

At the same time there are many words like 実は (truth, reality) or situations like negation ではない, which technically require は particle. Everything we say can be either truth or lie. And while it's rather contrastive, many people use that as a filler word similar to "honestly speaking". Without intention to emphasize, that doesn't bring significant counter implication. It's also a little bit hard to categorize, because the only difference between two is that thematic-は is an old information. Any sentence has new information (something we want to say) and old information (something about what we say). Thus there is only one thematic-は and all other forms like 実は bring something new. But that's a little bit arguable and depending on how we try to explain what は does, that can be either another thematic-は, contrastive-は or maybe an exception. We mix here old/new information, disambiguation and implication. All 3 are slightly different concepts.

In my opinion both statements are rather true, because there is a huge gap between technically contrastive words/forms, and intentional implication done by speakers. But picking more precise definition would be something like "There is only one thematic-は, which can be contrastive or not depending on context, and any other は is contrastive by default with a different amount of implication".

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