Good afternoon all,

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.

So basically I was wondering who is right? Is it possible to have two は-particles in a sentence, both of them not having any comparative / contrastive hints?

  • 1
    does anyone want to put money down on this one? – yadokari Apr 30 '12 at 3:39
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    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 '12 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 '12 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 '12 at 15:39

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.

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    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 '12 at 4:00
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    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 '12 at 4:10
  • @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 '12 at 12:11
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    @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 '12 at 15:45
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    @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 '12 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.)

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    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 '12 at 4:50

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