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A過去の通知はありません There are no past notifications

B参加予定のイベントはありません There are no planned events.

C(あなたは)メッセージがありません You have no messages.

In A and B, it can either be the main topic or the contrastive は as in: (あなた(に)は)過去の通知はありません。 This would emphasize the ない. I think it is definitely the former (hence my translations), as it is a general statement that there are no past notifications. I think that “you have no past notifications” kind of sentence would have to be written as C so it would be clear that (あなたには) is implicit.

Also in:

A 私(に)は財布はない “I do not have a wallet” 財布は is contrastive, 私(に)は is the main topic

B 私(に)は財布がない the same as A, but the emphasis is not on ない

Or is it more like 財布は私に(は)ない with the 財布は as the main topic? 財布が私に(は)ない would then be the 現象文? は optional as a contrast.

Without 私は and any context, 財布はない seems like a general statement that there (somewhere) is no wallet. Or reversed; そこには財布が(は)ない with そこには as the topic.

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  • I have seen this, but that is exactly why I asked this. I thought it was the contrastive は, until I saw “メッセージがありません” on Playstation. The other sentence with 参加予定 is also from playstation. I find the は ambiguous in these examples. Jul 25, 2022 at 0:39
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    Hint: the contrastiveness of those contexts has absolutely nothing to do with personal pronouns such as 私 or あなた (implicitly or otherwise). Just let go of them, and look at the juxtapositions that are right in front of you. "you" are not the subject or topic of these sentences.
    – Will
    Jul 25, 2022 at 1:29

1 Answer 1

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You have to think a bit differently when a negative sentence is concerned. In a negative sentence, は is the default choice (See: Why is the topic marker often used in negative statements (ではない, ~とは思わない)?). Aはない/Aはありません is "There is no A" stated as a known fact (I don't know if this は is contrastive or thematic). On the other hand, when someone says Aがない/Aがありません, this is a 現象文. It tells "A was not found" or "A is missing" stated as a newly found fact.

You seem to already know those basics, so let me explain the difference using examples.

In a typical message list UI, メッセージはありません and メッセージがありません are almost the same, but the latter sounds like the system searched for messages and just noticed there was nothing.

On the other hand, メッセージがありません is the only choice as an error message shown after a user clicked a "Send" button, because it's a newly found fact noticed only after the click. Likewise, most unpredictable error messages use が (e.g., 通信が切断されました, ストレージ容量が不足しています, ファンに異常が発生しています), while some error messages use は (このディスクの再生はサポートしていません).

財布はない and 財布がない sound very different to native speakers. Besides, when there is another は-marked argument working as the topic, the story is totally different.

  • 財布はない。
    I don't have/use a wallet. / There is no wallet.
    (Stated as a known fact)
  • 財布がない。
    My wallet is missing!
    (Typical 現象文/中立描写文)
  • 私には財布はない。
    I don't have a wallet at least (but I use something else).
    (The first (に)は is thematic, the second は is contrastive)
  • 私には財布がない。
    I don't have a wallet. / There is no wallet I use.
    (The first (に)は is thematic, the が is a simple subject marker. This is a typical "double-subject" sentence.)
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  • I see. I’m glad I wasn’t completely wrong :). But what confused me is that “財布はない” is almost the same as “私(に)は財布がない” but without a pronoun, which I found ambiguous. That’s why I thought 私に(は) is left out and the は is optional as it would be the contrastive は. But this works only in certain contexts right? Because, otherwise it might not be clear it is MY wallet, or that I’m talking about myself. Also, does the に particle make much difference? Jul 25, 2022 at 2:21
  • Btw. If it is the same as in English, the verb “to support” is transitive, so in “このディスクの再生はサポートしていません” there must be an implicit subject が. That might be the reason は is used as a main topic. Jul 25, 2022 at 2:23
  • @美しい孤独 財布はない in isolation makes sense only when the context is clearly about someone's wallet (e.g., "早く財布出して!" "財布はないの!"). 財布はない said without any context is very vague (it could even mean "This store doesn't sell wallets" depending on the context). If you want to say "I don't have a wallet" at the beginning of a discourse, it would be 私は財布を持っていません, 財布は使っていない, etc. は in このディスクの再生はサポートしていません is an object-as-a-topic marker (it replaced を, and this サポートする is transitive).
    – naruto
    Jul 25, 2022 at 3:06
  • Right, so I was correct, it is the same as in English. Because I noticed, for example アクセスする is used with に although “to acess” is alway transitive in English. Jul 25, 2022 at 3:25
  • @美しい孤独 Yes.
    – naruto
    Jul 25, 2022 at 3:26

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