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Maybe I haven't heard enough spoken Japanese to know how fluent speakers do it, but I always get confused with how to translate the way I emphasize words in English into Japanese.

The boy kicked the ball

Take this sentence for example. If I write any of those words in all caps or say any of them with a lot of emphasis then it changes the meaning of the sentence.

THE boy kicked the ball- as opposed to A boy

The BOY kicked the ball- as opposed to the girl, man, dog, etc.

The boy KICKED the ball- as opposed to punching, throwing, etc.

But then trying to translate this to Japanese I get stuck, because I don't feel like I've heard how Japanese speakers would say things with emphasis like this.

I think I get how to use は and こそ to emphasize things.

I think 少年{しょうねん}はボールを蹴{け}った。in the right context means "The BOY kicked the ball. But maybe someone else didn't or did something else"

And I think これこそがほしい。means "THIS is what I want"

But as for other cases or just having a general way to emphasize things, I'm not sure. It seems like it's a case-by-case thing in Japanese that depends on what you're trying to emphasize, while in English I just say the word louder and that accomplishes it.

My specific questions would be:

What ways are there to put emphasis on words in Japanese? I'm not looking for a detailed breakdown of how は or こそ or anything else works, just some starting points to go off of.

How does just saying certain words louder sound in Japanese? Do people really do that...? Like instead of saying

少年{しょうねん}はボールを蹴{け}った。

I said ショウネンはボールを蹴{け}った。putting emphasis on 少年

Or 少年はボールをケッた。putting emphasis on 蹴る

Would it accomplish the same nuances as saying "The BOY kicked the ball" and "The boy KICKED the ball"?

Maybe I'm overcomplicating this but any help is appreciated!

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I'm going to answer your question anyway to the best of my ability, but I'll start off by saying you really shouldn't try to take English ways of expressing things and try to map them particularly into another language, particularly one as alien to English as Japanese is. The way the two languages prefer to represent things generally involve very different ways of thinking, and while emphasizing individual words in an English sentence can be an effective tool for drawing out various possible meanings, it doesn't really apply very effectively to Japanese, IMO.

In Japanese, emphasizing information is often done by choice of word ordering, sometimes by pausing (especially after a は particle), or added enunciation, or choice of は vs が.

For your first few English emphasis examples, if someone says:

The boy kicked the ball

with no particular emphasis, I'd go for 少年はボールを蹴った.

The BOY kicked the ball

The way of saying this that came immediately to my mind, was to swap the は in for a が: 少年がボールをけった. That's how you'd emphasize that the fact that it was the boy who did the kicking is the "informational" part of the sentence, as opposed to it having been someone or something else.

As you pointed out, は is also used to indicate contrast, so you might think that's the right choice for "as opposed to someone else", but contrastive は is really used when the information that someone else did not kick it is just as important as the fact that the boy did. There's usually an implied "but" at the end (and often it's an explicit けど or が).

As an example, if someone asked if the boy and the girl were kicking the ball around, and you answered 少年はボールを蹴った, the implication is "... but the girl wasn't involved in that." But if you want to answer the question, "WHO kicked the ball?" with "The BOY kicked the ball," then が is what you want.

The other cases are more awkward to come up with equivalents for. "The boy KICKED the ball" doesn't really have a direct equivalent in Japanese by using simple emphasis; I feel like the closest is a rewording along the lines of "ボールに対して少年がやったことは、蹴ったんです。”: "The thing the boy did to the ball, is he kicked it." But you could do that kind of rewording in English (as I just did), as easily as you can in Japanese. I don't think there's much of an equivalent in Japanese, but if you keep close to the original 少年はボールを蹴った wording, I'd say the closest would be to use the explanatory の (or its contracted form ん: 少年はボールを蹴ったんだ, or if you're being polite, 少年はボールを蹴ったのです, perhaps with emphasis, as 少年はボールはケッタんです.

THE boy kicked the ball.

That's especially difficult, to me, especially since Japanese has no equivalent to definite (or indefinite) articles. I feel like the Japanese equivalent would be to restate some things for emphasis, and draw an explicit connection. Since Japanese doesn't have a "the" (and I reject a commonly-spouted notion that は is equivalent, particularly here). You could say "THAT boy kicked the ball", in an attempt to indicate that it's the same boy you were talking about earlier, or that both the speaker and listener are aware of... but I feel like a Japanese speaker would probably go even further and say "That boy that we saw swimming in the lake earlier, the one who kicked the ball was that boy", or some such. There really is no direct equivalent in Japanese for expressing the idea of "the" (or one of the possible ideas), let alone emphasizing it.

Hope that helps!

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  • Well explained! – istrasci Jul 14 at 15:49

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