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I am just a beginner and am currently reading particles. I came across a thought of using に instead of は in a certain example and I couldn't find the difference in the usage and the context as well.

E.g. 君の出身地はどこですか? and 君の出身地にどこがありますか?

In the above example, both the sentences mean "Where is your hometown?". So, my questions are

  1. Is there any difference between the two?

  2. Can に replace は if we talk about the description of the place like where a thing is or likewise? If yes, could you please explain?


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    君の出身地にどこがありますか? is unnatural. I think you want to contrast 君の出身地は何がありますか? with 君の出身地に何がありますか?. – Yuuichi Tam Jan 30 at 14:01
  • @YuuichiTam but the meaning is coming out to be same. Moreover I think that に fits more because it more aptly talks about the existence of a Hometown at a certain location. And yes, if you could please differentiate, the same I will be able to understand more. – APK Jan 30 at 14:08
  • @YuuichiTam I think they are trying to ask the same question worded differently. – ajsmart Jan 30 at 14:08
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君の出身地にどこがありますか?

I'm sorry to say that this sentence (using に) is not grammatically correct. に is a particle that indicates:

  1. Direction of movement.
  2. Place of existence
  3. Destination
  4. Result of Change
  5. Object of a verb
  6. Source (of a verb)
  7. Specific time
  8. The Japanese equivalent of the English 'per' (as in 'three meals per day')

You can read more about the に particle at this source, but for now I will focus on why this particular usage is not grammatically correct. So let's break it down real quick.

君の -- Your

出身地 -- birthplace

-- ? (I don't know what this could be here since it is not grammatically correct)

どこ -- where

-- topic marker (this is another grammar mistake)

ありますか -- does it exist?

Breaking it down, we can see that 出身地 should actually be the subject of the sentence marked by は. Further, because どこ is not a topic in this sentence, but rather a place of existence, I would replace it with に, making the end result:

君の出身地どこありますか?

But this still feels clunky to me because using the existence verb ある in this case is too repetitive. The birthplace exists because you exist, so why question its existence? It would sound much more natural as:

君の出身地はどこですか?

Which is your first sentence.

So to answer your first question, the difference is that the second of your two examples is not grammatically correct, while the first one is.

The answer to your second question is simply that に and は are not interchangeable. The source I listed above (and here) shows particles that can be exchanged with に, and in what circumstances it is allowable. You will note that は is not one of them.

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  • Thanks !, so can we say that though, 君の出身地はどこですか? and 君の出身地はどこにありますか?have translations same. However, 君の出身地はどこにありますか?would emphasis and mean more on the existence of the birthplace rather than where it is. – APK Jan 30 at 14:27
  • @APK I wouldn't say that. Rather, I would say that 君の出身地はどこにありますか just feels clunky without really adding any meaning. I don't think any native Japanese speaker would say it. – ajsmart Jan 30 at 14:33
  • I agree with you that we should use, は and the correct sentence would be 君の出身地はどこですか?. However, what about using 君の出身地はどこがありますか?You just told that using が in this sentence is wrong grammar because it is not the topic of the sentence but place of existence. I Agree to great extent. However, I also think that "doko" i.e. "where" in itself is a topic, thus making it valid for using "ga". Could you please explain. – APK Jan 30 at 15:06
  • @APK I cannot think of a situation where I have ever used どこ as a topic, since it is always used in conjunction with a place of existence. The same can be said of ここ, そこ, and あそこ. These words all mark a place where something exists. In short it's a modifier, and as such it cannot be the topic of a sentence. That something can be the topic: あそこに__がある。 But the modifier cannot be the topic. – ajsmart Jan 30 at 15:14
  • Ooh.. so that's why you said it cannot be used as a topic. I get it now thanks ! – APK Jan 30 at 15:19
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「は」 marks topic, while 「に」 marks direction (「海{うみ}に行{い}きます」) or place of existance (「この町{まち}に映画館{えいがかん}がありますか」), and a lot of other things. So 「君の出身地はどこですか」 means "Speaking of your birth place, where is it?", while 「君の出身地にどこですか」I guess sounds something like "About what's in your birthplace, where is it?", if anything at all, which doesn't really means anything, it sounds quite unnatural.

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  • Thanks ! But I used it because I thought it is giving some type of direction. As in like which place and all – APK Jan 30 at 15:09
  • But it's not marking a direction; maybe thinking about the difference among "Where is your birthplace?" and "In which direction is your birthplace?" could help? In the first there is no direction, so no "in" in English either; while in the second there is, so there is "in". If you are asking 「君の出身地はどこですか」 you are not asking about a direction, but about the location of a place, so 「に」, which marks movement, doesn't fit. – Mauro Jan 30 at 16:13

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