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I'm trying to understand some basic phrases from this Japanese phrasebook:

https://wikitravel.org/en/Japanese_phrasebook

There is a phrase:

Is there a doctor who can speak English? 英語の出来る医者はいますか?

Why is the particle は used here instead of が? I thought that noun + がいますか is used to ask questions such as "Is there..?"/"Are there..?". Thank you!

  • I am also learning Japanese. I think that in this context, は is used to indicate contrast. What the questioner is asking is: None of the doctors here speaks English, in contrast, is there one who can? Whereas が is simply a subject marker. Suppose you are a hospital board member and you are simply inspecting the hospital. You may ask a administrative staff showing you around: 英語のできる医者がいますか?indicating since we often have foreign patients here. – Stack0verflow Aug 6 '18 at 17:20
  • Possibly helpful: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/39180/… – user3856370 Aug 6 '18 at 20:35
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    @Stack0verflow が can be a simple subject marker in a clause but not in a sentence, in the sense that a topicless sentence is limited for some special usages. – user4092 Aug 7 '18 at 0:13
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The particle は is used here to mark the topic of the sentence. In this case the topic, overall arching thing that is being talked about, of the sentence is a doctor (医者). This happens to be the same thing as the subject, which could be marked with the particle が.

I would say the reason that は is used instead of が based on the context is that a doctor is common knowledge. Also we are setting the stage (overall arching topic) that you are speaking about a doctor. Since the concept of a doctor is common knowledge it does have to be "introduced". You could probably still use が here and the meaning would not change, but if a が was used here I would assume that the topic was already set to talk about doctors.

To answer the second part of your question (used to ask questions such as). In this case the particle が is used when asking questions where the word that comes before the が is a wh- word

Example

Who ate the food?

誰が食べ物を食べた?

You are not sure who ate the food and in this case they, whoever this is, has to be introduced.


Your sentence broken down The portion 医者はいますか translates to

Is there a doctor that exists? -> Is there a doctor?

This is paired with the portion

英語の出来る

Creates a relative clause and adds more information to the 医者はいますか part

So the full phrase 英語の出来る医者はいますか translates to

Is there a doctor that exists who can speak English? -> Is there a doctor who can speak English?

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    OP probably wants to know "Why is the particle は used here instead of が?" Like how would it change the meaning if you were using "ga" instead, and why is ga "not valid" in this situation – Felipe Oliveira Aug 6 '18 at 21:28
  • @FelipeOliveira が version implies that 英語のできる医者 is arguable if it exists to begin with. – user4092 Aug 7 '18 at 0:21
  • @user4092 I felt like using が feels like assuming I already know at least one doctor can speak English. WHIle は assumes the fact that most doctors speak another language but want to know if, contrastingly, any doctor speaks English. – Felipe Oliveira Aug 7 '18 at 0:38

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