Following up on my earlier question, I want to check if I've got a feel for this subordinate clause particle use correct. This is probably a duplicate, but it really helps me understand things better if I'm posing the question myself. If this infringes any rules, though, I'll happily remove it.

In the sentence

私 (??) 朝起きるとき、鳥 (??) いつも歌います。

which instance uses が, and which は? I get the feeling the first instance is が, and the second, は, but I could be wrong.

Any help is much appreciated.

  • 2
    Where did you get this sentence? It is not very natural-sounding even without the は/が issue. It sounds like it was written by a Japanese-learner. It feels "translated".
    – user4032
    Nov 23, 2017 at 3:25
  • I'm a newbie at Japanese, so obviously it's not natural at all. Feel free to correct it :). Nov 23, 2017 at 3:29
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    I'm not really sure but maybe you're trying to say 「私が朝起きると、いつも鳥歌っています」 (Whenever I wake up in the morning, birds are singing) ? Or maaaybe 「私が朝起きると、鳥いつも歌っています」(Whenever I wake up in the morning, THE bird is singing) ??
    – chocolate
    Nov 23, 2017 at 13:55
  • Doesn't ga put emphasis on a word, not ha, so I feel like you're English translations are backward...? Nov 24, 2017 at 3:07
  • @Fireheart251 が is often taught to Japanese students to be used for emphasis, but in many cases it doesn't add emphasis and is just plainly saying something. I wrote some stuff about the differences between は vs が in my answer below.
    – Rimilel
    Nov 25, 2017 at 7:19

4 Answers 4


It actually depends on the context, but the "usual" way to say this is:

When I wake up, (I find) birds are always singing.

  • が should be used after 私 because 私 is in a subordinate clause (私が朝起きる時 is the subordinate clause.) This is the basic rule. As an exception, in rare contexts where you're comparing 私's mornings with someone else's mornings, は can be used.
  • が should be used after 鳥 because the word 鳥 has probably not been introduced into "the universe of discourse". If you have already mentioned these 鳥 before this sentence in some way or another, は should be used. In other words, 鳥は is "the bird(s)", 鳥が is "bird(s)" without "the".
  • I replaced 歌います ("birds (will) sing") with 歌っています (progressive form, "birds are singing"). Saying 歌います sounds like these birds are waiting for 私 to wake up and start singing only after the wake-up.
  • (naruto, I can't seem to tag you, sorry). Thanks to you, and the other kind folk here, I've reached the conlusion that (私が)朝起きる時、いつも鳥は鳴いています。is the meaning I'm going for (i.e. the focal point is that birds in general are singing when I wake up). Many thanks for the clarification on verb forms; I get the distinction now. Nov 26, 2017 at 18:22
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    @ohnotheklaxons What do you mean by "in general"? To me, saying 私が起きるとき鳥は歌う all of the sudden sounds like you're Goddess of Forest or something like that and knows all the birds around you have the nature of singing to celebrate your awakening. Is that really what you want to say?
    – naruto
    Nov 27, 2017 at 0:54
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    Yeah, if you say that it does sound very grandiose. But "朝起きる時、いつも鳥は鳴いています" sounds perfectly fine to me for narration or a diary entry. I think the いつも sounds better after 鳥は but the difference is just a nuance thing.
    – Rimilel
    Nov 27, 2017 at 21:57
  • @naruto Hahaha! Yeah, I completely forgot about the nuance of using certain verb forms. The original way I put it sounded like something out of the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. Tralalaaaa, tralalaaa! Fun fact: I once did similarly with「分かっている」when I should have said「 分かる」. Oops! Nov 29, 2017 at 3:30

In your example, "私は" sounds unnatural because it gives too much emphasis on "私", while actually it's so much unimportant that most of native Japanese speakers would omit it at all.

You have also to note that the verb "歌う" is only used when talking about human beings. When talking about birds, you have to use "鳴く" instead.

And as you're talking about a natural phenomena which is still occurring in present, it's definitely better to use continuous form.

So the correct sentence is:


  • 2
    I think "鳴いています" would be natural. "鳴っています" sounds like a timer-clock for me.
    – user25382
    Nov 23, 2017 at 7:10
  • 2
    There's not enough information to judge if 私は is redundant or not from OP's sentence only.
    – user4092
    Nov 23, 2017 at 7:27
  • 1
    you have to use "鳴る" instead -- You mean 鳴く, not 鳴る, right? It's perfectly fine to use 歌う for birds, though.
    – chocolate
    Nov 23, 2017 at 13:26
  • Sorry, I corrected my sentence accordingly. Thank you very much.
    – vdudouyt
    Nov 25, 2017 at 7:46
  • @vdudouyt many thanks for the correction! Thanks to the kind folks here, I've since reached the conclusion that the topic is about the birds singing, and the relative clause would be "朝起きるとき". But you weren't to know that :) Nov 26, 2017 at 18:11

(First, 起きるとき means when someone is about to get up from bed, not just when someone gets up.)

All the combinations are possible and each of them changes the meaning or the structure of the sentence.

What's important is that topic phrases and conditional clauses are independent from each other and both of them functions as topic parts in a sentence.

  1. 私は 朝起きるとき 鳥は いつも歌う

The structure of this sentence goes this way.

topic       comment

私は     … (いつも歌う)

朝起きるとき … (いつも歌う)

鳥は     … (いつも歌う)

Since it has too many topics, it's ambiguous who is the agent to sing or the one who gets up. For example, if 私 is the one who sings, it naturally leads to 鳥を歌う (an obscure expression, though) with 鳥 topicalised and the one who wakes up is probably the same 私. As for the reason why 鳥 is topicalized here, it may be shared information between the listener (in this case, 鳥は is often omitted) or convey contrastive nuance depending on stress in pronunciation or interpretation from context, or because of the both factors.

If 鳥 is the one who sings, it's probably conversation among pet owners. In this case, it's unsure who is the one to get up.

  1. 私が 朝起きるとき 鳥がいつも歌う

This time, it's like this.

topic        comment

私が朝起きるとき … 鳥がいつも歌う

This can only translate to "everytime I'm getting up, birds sing". When the fact that birds always sing is new information or feels unexpected, it's expressed without being topicalized. If you use 鳥は instead, the issue behind it is parallel to the above.

Edit; In reality, it should be a little more complicated because we have to consider difference between とき and ときは, and the topic-comment model shouldn't be flat.

  • Many thanks for your reply. It seems to make sense right now, although I often think I understand something and later realise I actually don't (but that's my problem). (sidebar: I should express that in a Japanese ~は + implied ~は construction (whatever the technical term is), but my attempt would be laughable: せめて当分は、分かるかもしれない。I think I'll make another post on that one). Nov 26, 2017 at 18:10

It's clearly the speaker who is the one getting up, and that is when the birds are always singing. 朝(私が)起きる時、鳥(が/は)いつも鳴いている。

For the second part, both が and は are possible. が would be normal just be stating the fact that the birds are always singing. は would be shifting the focus of the sentence to the birds. It would be more of you dwelling and commenting on the birds, rather than your experience waking up. A good way to think of Xは... is "About X..." or "As for X..."

が is normal, but there is a context where it can have the effect of emphasizing. That is when you are specifying which thing/person out of a bunch of possibilities. It depends on the sentence and how you say it, whether or to what degree the が sounds emphasizing.

彼が言った。 (Who said that?) He said that.

あいつらがやった。 (Who did it?) They did it.

彼女がここの担任。 She is the teacher in charge of this class.

私が毎日学校に行く。 Everyday I go to school.

Back to 私(は・が), if you were to say 私は, then that would be like drawing the focus towards you ie. "As for me...". That would sound unnatural, because there's no reason to center the subject of the sentence so much around yourself when you're just saying that there always are birds singing when you wake up. At least that's how the sentence sounds by itself. A specific example of a situation where it might make sense to use 私は is if you were discussing with other people, and the topic was "What it is like at your place in the morning." Then, it would be natural to use 私は, to the effect of "As for me...".

  • (Chronopolis, for some reason I'm unable to tag you or virtually anyone else). Totally makes sense. Many thanks! Nov 26, 2017 at 18:27
  • 1
    @ohnotheklaxons Glad it made sense to you. Btw, if you found them helpful, you should accept one of the given answers.
    – Rimilel
    Nov 27, 2017 at 22:02
  • (Chronopolis, I'm still unable to tag people, btw), either that feature wasn't available to me until just now, due to the lack of reputation factor, or it was but I never noticed it. I did try to upvote all of them but was told something about not having enough reputation. It seems to have worked now I'm past the 15 points bar. Nov 29, 2017 at 3:35

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