I am a beginner in Japanese language and I started studying particles は and が and I wanted a confirmation to make sure I understand things properly.

When it comes to saying "I like you", it should be "わたしはあなたがすきです". Am I to understand that "わたし" is the object in the sentence and "あなた" the subject? The use of the particles seem to suggest so. Would a more literal translation be "You are liked by me."?

Sorry for not using Kanji, I'm not yet familiar with it. I just learned Hiragana fairly recently.

  • 2
    Related: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/17857/9831 – Chocolate Jun 3 '18 at 1:08
  • Incidentally, there is a very satisfying discussion of this question in the book 日本語の謎を解く, which I highly recommend once you’re ready. It covers not only 好き but also 羨ましい and 怖い and other adjectives that correspond to verbs in English. – mamster Jun 3 '18 at 3:51

Japanese word order is different to English. These “particles” は (pronounced “wa”) and が along with を are important for this.

In the example: 「私{わたし}はあなたが好{す}きです」 which translates to “I like you” we understand the grammatical roles in the sentence in English by word order.

I (subject/agent) like (verb/action) you (topic/object/predicate).

So in English: “You like me” has a different meaning. In Japanese actions come at the end but the roles of other words in a sentence are marked by “particles” and “post-positions” (which is different to articles and prepositions). Aside: there is no “the” in Japanese and no “は” in English so it is difficult to translate literally sometimes (even if you unscramble the word order, particles add emphasis).

While there is a more common used word order 私{わたし}はあなたが好{す}きです, the meaning is unchanged in あなたが私{わたし}は好{す}きです (although you might sound like Yoda). This flexible word order allows meaning to be preserved so have fun with song lyrics and haiku poetry. Often it is obvious that you are talking about what you like so すしが好{す}きです means “I like Sushi” and すしが好{す}きですか? means “(do) you like Sushi?”

In this case 私{わたし} “watashi” is “I” or “me”, あなた means “you”, and 好{す}きです is the verb “to like”. The particles は and が are marking their grammatical roles in a sentence. The phrase is translated typically as “I like you” although “you are likeable by me” could also be argued.

Grammar note: 好{す}き “suki” (like) and 欲{ほ}しい “hoshii” (want) are adjectives (descriptions) in Japanese even though they are verbs (actions) in English. They are combined with です “to be” to form verbs so more accurately:

好{す}き(な) is “likeable” and 好{す}きです is “to be likeable” or “to like”

Similarly 欲{ほ}しい is “desirable” and 欲{ほ}しいです is “to be desirable” or “to want”

We do this in English such as the adjective “happy” used as a verb “to be happy”.

です is the present/future tense of “to be/will be” rather than the past tense でした “was”. So “liked by me” would be 好{す}きでした.

Culture note: Japanese people don’t use あなた to address each other very often. While translated as “you”, it is only used between people who know each other very well such as romantic partners. Saying あなた to someone you’ve just met can be interpreted as an expression of intimacy or romantic interest. So あなたが好{す}きです is appropriate but あなたはすしが好{す}きですか? is like calling someone “honey” or by a nickname. It is safer to refer to people by last name 田中{たなか}さんはすしが好{す}きですか? I hope this might save someone from an embarrassing moment in Japan.


Unfortunately there are not concrete translations for は and が. は does mark the subject and が does mark the object. In other words, the は marks who/what is doing the liking and が marks what is being liked.

This does not translate to "you are like by me". It makes decent sense in this context, but not in every context. the XはYがすきだ is not a passive construction.

For example, if you were talking about food:わたしは、ステーキがすきです。 "the steak is liked be me" doesn't make sense in English, nor is it the proper translation. It simply means "I like steak".

The XはYがすきだ structure can be a little confusing at first, because some beginners want to treat すき as a verb, but it is not.

  • 2
    I think claiming "は does mark the subject and が does mark the object" is quite misleading. 'I' and 'you' are the subject and object in English, but this is not an English sentence. は marks the 'topic' and が marks the subject. Then you need to re-evaluate how you think about 好き. Any other approach is going to lead to some serious confusion in the future. – user3856370 Jun 3 '18 at 8:46

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