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I was working on Duolingo and there is this sentence: My favourite food is sushi. I put down:

寿司は私の好物です,

thinking "My favourite food is sushi" is essentially the same as "Sushi is my favourite food". Correct? It turns out that the correct answer is:

私の好物は寿司です

My question is, do the two sentences mean the same thing? Or is there some nuance I am missing somehow? My understanding is that the noun phrases before and after は are switchable without changing the basic meaning of the sentence. Am I correct? Or is that an over-generalisation?

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Let's think about this simpler example:

  • これは私の車です。 This is my car.
  • 私の車はこれです。 My car is this.

Are these English sentences used interchangeably? No. The former is natural as a response to "What's this?", whereas the latter is natural as a response to "Where/Which is your car?"

Likewise, the two Japanese sentences you listed are different although the basic information they convey is the same. The difference is the same as the difference between "My favorite food is sushi" and "Sushi is my favorite food" in English. The phrase before は is the topic, or what you're trying to talk about, and it is often omitted. For example, when you happened to pass by a sushi restaurant while discussing what to have for lunch, I believe it's more natural to say "Sushi is my favorite food", because the topic of the conversation is sushi, not someone's favorite food.

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  • I wonder if OP was thinking in terms of が instead of は,. E.g. これが私の車です as a natural response to "Where/Which is your car?" Since 寿司が私の好物です would also ofc make sense to say if OP were asked about their favorite food. The reason 寿司は私の好物です sounds weird is because it makes the listener think, "huh, I thought we were talking about favorite foods, when did we start talking about sushi?" Jun 6 at 10:07
  • @weirdalsuperfan Yes, my answer would have been much longer if we had taken exhaustive-listing-ga into consideration, but I think OP was not asking about it.
    – naruto
    Jun 6 at 10:26
  • @weirdalsuperfan My Japanese is actually at a rather elementary level. So I wasn't thinking about が versus は. That will probably be another question for another day :)
    – monalisa
    Jun 7 at 4:38
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    @naruto As I said in another comment, my Japanese is at a very basic level still. Your answer is very concise and helpful at my level. Hopefully I will be able to understand more as I build up on my language skills.
    – monalisa
    Jun 7 at 4:45
  • @monalisa Basic questions are more than welcome on this site as long as you can describe your level and problem!
    – naruto
    Jun 7 at 4:51

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