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I wrote this sentence (meaning "The temple is next to the park") in my Japanese course and my teacher said it's wrong, because I was supposed to use a は instead of a が.

My understanding is that there is always a が in a sentence, which may or may not be visible/dropped (zero-ga pronoun) and the subject marked by が may or may not be additionally marked with は. So I asked my teacher for clarification, what the subject of that sentence is and why using が was wrong, but the only explanation I got was "This sentence pattern uses a は", which doesn't really start explaining anything.

I tried to clarify, if using が here is merely unnatural (and that is what my teacher meant by "wrong") or actually grammatically incorrect, but my teacher assured me, that using が is ungrammatical in that sentence.

Can someone elaborate as to why が is indeed ungrammatical in this sentence? And if so, what is the subject of the sentence if not お寺?

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    I know it's a classical source of confusion, but I already went through a dozen or so explanations of the differences. I would say generally I have a very good grasp on the function of both particles, which is why in this instance I am so confused. You say yourself は is more often used than が in this scenario, which I can accept without question. My confusion stems from the fact, that my teacher didn't talk about "more or less used", but said that the sentence is outright ungrammatical (i.e. never used). – Wolf Jun 18 at 14:05
  • I tried getting a straight answer for this from a native speaker, but retreated before any permanent damage was done... Using は gives the sentence a more general meaning, and while が didn't seem exactly wrong, it was getting into the hairy area of context and hidden meanings at the speed of light. You might need that supporting context before it to use が, maybe... – vlumi Jun 18 at 14:08
  • @vlumi One way が in this particular sentence may be problematic (from my incomplete understanding), would be, that my sentence implies, that only the temple is next to the park (and nothing else). That would not make it ungrammatical though, which is my only concern here :/ – Wolf Jun 18 at 14:15
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In this case, が is incorrect because you are conveying a known piece of information. When you describe a known or general fact about a subject (お寺), you have to mark it with は, making it the topic of the sentence.

お寺公園の隣です。
The temple is next to the park.
(This is a known fact to you.)

飛べます。
Birds can fly.
(This is a general fact.)

Note that the subject of the first sentence is still お寺, but now it's marked with は instead of が.

You have to use が when you firstly introduce something in the "universe of discourse":

お寺公園の隣にあります。
There is a temple next to the park.
(As a response to something like "Is there a building related to Buddhism around here?")

あの木の上に鳥います。
There is a bird on that tree.
(No one else has noticed this bird before this sentence.)

You have to use が when you report a new event or temporary status you have just noticed regarding the thing marked with が. (neutral-description-が)

お寺燃えています!
The temple is on fire!
(The listener knows which temple you are talking about, but the information ('on fire') is something you just noticed.)

逃げました!
Our/The bird flew away!
(The listener knows which bird you are talking about, but the information is something new.)

In addition, there is something called exhaustive-listing-が. With this, you are choosing and emphasizing something from several possibilities:

お寺公園の隣です。
It's the temple that is next to the park.
(As a response to "So, what's next to the park is the post office, right?")

飛べます。
Birds can fly.
(As a response to "Which vertebrate can fly?")

This is probably the only case where お寺が公園の隣です would make sense, but if this is too difficult to you now, you can forget this and learn the easier ones first.


My understanding is that there is always a が in a sentence, which may or may not be visible/dropped (zero-ga pronoun) and the subject marked by が may or may not be additionally marked with は.

What do you mean by "the subject marked by が may or may not be additionally marked with は"? You can think は replaces が when the subject is topicalized, but you cannot mark a word with both が and は simultaneously. (は can replace を, too.)

using が here is merely unnatural (and that is what my teacher meant by "wrong") or actually grammatically incorrect

I would say it's grammatically incorrect (for your intended meaning). The distinction of は and が is critically important in most cases. People may guess what you are saying if you are lucky; in this specific case, people will probably understand you, but they never fail to think "Oh, this person is still bad at Japanese." If you are unlucky, it may end up with a severe confusion (example).

Related (if some of my explanation didn't make sense, please read these first):

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    So yeah, perhaps if the teacher had made the distinction of "grammatically incorrect for the intended meaning" it would have made it clearer. As opposed to "grammatically incorrect" being interpreted as "a sentence like this could never appear in Japanese." Presumably he intended to write this sentence, as you said, for the purpose of introducing a known fact, and for that meaning it is grammatically incorrect. – Leebo Jun 19 at 2:04
  • @Leebo Righ, I should've said "for the intended meaning". – naruto Jun 19 at 4:51
  • Good explanation. Rule of thumb: is the subject the part of the sentence containing the main chunk of new information? Mark the subject with が. Is some other grammatical part of speech the source of new information? Mark the subject with は. If it was taught this way, I think it would lead to much less confusion. – Will Jun 19 at 10:06
  • Thanks for your explanation! I think I understand everything you said and also knew much of it before. I came to the conclusion that my fundamental problem lies in the word "ungrammatical" and not within the Japanese language. When I say ungrammatical, I mean sentences like 「彼女が綺麗」(as it misses the copula だ/です and therefore is not a correct sentece). You give an example where the sentence is question actually is correct, so at least in my understanding that makes it grammatical (even though it may be wrong in certrain contexts). I still am thanful for your insightful explanation! – Wolf Jun 19 at 10:45
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    @Fireheart251 Ah, sorry, I got your question wrong. As you said, you usually cannot introduce something/someone in the discourse with ~が + place + だ/です. (As an exception, when you introduce many things with their locations, you can say something like 「Aが右にいます。そしてBが左、Cが上です」.) After you have introduced something/someone in the discourse, you can safely say 彼はアメリカです, 先生は教室の前だ, 虫は頭の上です, etc. – naruto Jun 21 at 3:32

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