I'm confused by the reaction to は in this exchange


source context: http://neetsha.jp/inside/up/1/2/12840/24.jpg




This is the contrastive 「は」 or at least that is what B takes it to be.

A's line can be interpreted as "You are good at games (if not anything else)!", which is exactly how B interpreted it. That is why B reacts (jokingly) by emphasizing the contrastive 「は」.

B's line is obviously difficult to translate literally as English has no such particles. In that sense, A's line is already difficult to translate to begin with.

Particles can be so powerful that this shortest exchange can stand as a valid joke in itself. (And this often takes place with the contrastive 「は」 in real life.) The 「は」 in B's line would receive much stress in actual pronunciation.

B could have also said:




  • Maybe "you're just so good at games" / "you mean just games don't you?" – virmaior Nov 10 '17 at 1:01
  • 4
    I personally believe that every beginning Japanese learner should understand this translation of は. If I had understood this sooner, I wouldn't have insulted as many people with what I thought was a genuine compliment: 今日はきれいですね。 The things you learn. – ajsmart Nov 10 '17 at 2:27
  • 1
    I think a good translation could be "At least you are good at games" "At least?". – Marco Nov 11 '17 at 0:37
  • @Marco That would be true if it carries the implication that he isn't good at other things. – ajsmart Nov 11 '17 at 14:41

The normal and neutral way to say "Someone is good at games" is "(先輩は)ゲーム上手い". Using は instead of が in this position is almost certainly taken as "contrastive wa", i.e., it implies he is good only at games and not good at anything else.

Maybe the girl was careless and incidentally leaked her inner feelings, and it hurt 先輩 all the more for her innocence. Or maybe she intentionally said it as a sarcasm. Native speakers of Japanese don't know grammatical terms like "contrastive wa", but they can instantly feel the critical difference between は and が here.


The function of は is twofold:

  1. It throws the attention toward the end of the sentence (the predicate).
  2. It distinguishes its topic from other possible topics.

In this case the important bit is the second function. 「ゲームは上手いですよね」 can be interpreted as, "I don't know about other things, but you sure are good at games!"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.