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I was doing some exercises and the book that I'm using translated:

I don't want shoes

to

靴は欲しくないです

I answered using が particle instead は, since, as far as I know, I should use が before 欲しい. So why did the book use は this time?

I imagined that the reason is to make a contrast/comparison that は provide. Is that why?

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"I want xxx." vs. "I do not want xxx."

When you want something, you will generally say:

「XXX + + ほしい」

and when you do not want something, you will generally say:

「XXX + + ほしくない」

The only times you can and must use 「XXX + + ほしくない」 is when it is used in the if-clause or relative clause. Thus, it is correct to say:

Relative Clause:「靴{くつ} + + 欲{ほ}しくない人は靴屋{くつや}へは行かない。」

"A person who does not want shoes would not go to a shoestore."

If-Clause:「靴 + + 欲しくなければ、なんで靴屋に来たの?」

"If you do not want shoes, why did you come to a shoestore?"

Moving on...

The contrastive 「は」

This is essentially a different topic from what has been discussed above.

It is correct to say:

「靴 + + 欲しくない。」

when you do not want shoes but want another thing. Thus, you can say:

「靴欲しくないけど、ジーンズ欲しい。」

That is a pair of contrastive は's. "I don't want shoes, but I want some jeans."

I imagined that the reason is to make a contrast/comparison that は provides. Is that why?

No, as I stated above. We are talking about two different things. One is affirmative vs. negative. The other is contrastive.

  • Why is it wrong to think of this は as being contrastive? Because there's only one? – Fireheart251 Aug 19 at 2:23
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    Right. All we know is this person doesn't want shoes. There is no information provided as to what else s/he wants or doesn't want. – l'électeur Aug 19 at 3:21
  • I thought the complement for contrast can be omitted (perhaps ending the sentence after けど) and the speaker being left with either the other part being unspecified or guessing what it is based on context or such, similarly to saying only either より or の方 part of comparison and leaving out the other. Is that incorrect? – NoxArt Aug 19 at 6:24
  • ^ exactly my thought. – Fireheart251 Aug 19 at 23:52
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He may be asked “what do you want as a present?” or “ do you want shoes as a present?”
Then he uses は containing contrast/comparison meaning.
He wants something but shoes.

靴は欲しいです。
I want shoes. (He wants other things too.)
靴が欲しいです。
I want shoes. (He doesn’t want other things.)
靴が欲しくないです。
I don’t want shoes.(He’ll accept anything but shoes.)
靴は欲しくないです。
I don’t want shoes.(He’ll refuse something besides shoes.)

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As to the question of when to use はほしい [はほし and not ほしくない]:

I think that @l'électeur gave one good example (=when emphasizing the contrast of what one wants and what not) with the example 「靴は欲しくないけど、ジーンズは欲しい。」

IF YOU READ FURTHER [NOT ADVISABLE, BUT I DON'T DELETE THIS

  1. Due to the valuable comments

  2. To indicate when 欲しい IS NOT USED ;-)

  3. To call for additional case where 欲し (and not e.g. が欲しい or は欲しくない) is used

]

In addition I can think of at least two other situations to use は but at least I clicked on this question to find out more, so I hope the natives / gurus [also others than @l'électeur ] correct / add:

Can be used like in a [phrase or at least close] "あれはほしいこれはほしい" as a critical statement about someone with too many requests [and here it is more about requests than aspirations], i.e. in a stereotypical case two employees could talk about their boss [or similarly 2 managers could talk about someone's difficult team member] who is never satisfied and comes up with continues and unreasonable requests.

Can be used when the target of the aspirations is a bit abstract and/or not immediately achievable / obtainable, like I want that kind of life [ああ言う人生はほしい]

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    あれはほしいこれはほしい って言わない気がするんですが・・・  「あれがほしいこれがほしい」「あれもほしいこれもほしい」ならたくさんヒットするんですが、「あれはほしいこれはほしい」って、ほとんどヒットしないですし。。。 「ああいう人生はほしい」も言わない気がするんですが・・「ああいう人生が送りたい」とか? – Chocolate Aug 20 at 1:03
  • @Chocolate, いつもありがとう! I will delete or edit the above later once I know more. By my first (あれはほしいこれはほしい) If I still may clarify, if complaning eg the boss asks you to DO many things, like 土曜日でも出勤してほしい、レポートーを書いてほしい if you were referrig to these in a structure [not listing the requests but indicating there are too many of them inX部長のせいで大変です。いつも あれ○やって欲しい、これ○やって欲しい I guess が is not OK if you don't include the 欲しい, but would also は be wrong? – Tuomo Aug 20 at 1:49
  • @Chocolate as for the "abstract/not immediately achievable / obtainable" I mean the use like in the "catalog" of books.rakuten.co.jp/rb/4025490 or elsewhere searching for これは、欲しい。山口淳 – Tuomo Aug 20 at 2:04
  • 「X部長のせいで大変です。いつも、あれやって欲しい、これやって欲しいって…」とか「X部長のせいで大変です。いつも、あれをやって欲しい、これをやって欲しい、って…」とかですかね・・ これは、欲しい。 -- 「そういう生き方は、してみたい。」とか? – Chocolate Aug 20 at 3:23
  • ありがとう!I think I have used up my careless mistake quota for the next weeks. I should have written "...if you don't include the やって" instead of saying not including 欲しい. [Instead of just ありがとう! I wanted to say it while expressing being shamed, not of my lack of Japanese skills [as I think this site is here to help people like me] but lack of writing carefully enough. – Tuomo Aug 20 at 4:32

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