Understanding the Difference between は and が Particles in Japanese

In Japanese, particles play a crucial role in sentence structure, indicating the relationship between words and phrases. Two of the most fundamental particles are は (pronounced “wa”) and が (pronounced “ga”). Though they might seem interchangeable at first, their usages can also be distinct, so let’s over how to use these two special particles. 

Intro to Japanese Particles and what は and が mean

は (wa) is often referred to as the “topic” particle. It indicates what the sentence is about, providing context or background information. It sets the stage for the rest of the sentence and can be likened to the English word “as for” or “regarding.”

は comes after the topic it is modifying. Let’s take a look at an example. 

私は学生です。(Watashi wa gakusei desu) – I am a student.

In the above example the は comes after “I/me” so you know that is the topic of the sentence. 

が (ga), on the other hand, is known as the “subject” particle. It introduces the subject of the sentence—the doer of the action or the one being described. Here is an example of how が is used:

これが私の本です。(Kore ga watashi no hon desu.) This is my book.

Why は and が are hard to differentiate and how it’s okay if you aren’t certain

For learners of Japanese, distinguishing between は and が can be challenging due to their subtle nuances. One reason for this difficulty is that the choice between the two particles often depends on the speaker’s intention and the context of the conversation.

In many cases, both は and が can be grammatically correct, but they may slightly alter the emphasis or focus of the sentence. Native speakers also use these particles differently based on the situation and personal preferences, making the distinction less rigid.

However, as a learner, it’s essential to grasp the basic differences and gradually become more comfortable using them in various scenarios. Don’t be discouraged if you make mistakes—language learning is a journey, and practice will refine your understanding.

Example Sentences using は and が

We covered the basic meanings of は and が above, but these are not their only uses. In this section we will go over some different ways は and が are used and show clear examples to help you differentiate. 

a. は as the Topic and が as the Subject

We went over these before, but it is much more clear when both of these particles are used in one sentence. は (wa) marks the topic of the sentence, indicating what the sentence is about or providing context. It is often used to introduce new information or a subject for discussion. On the other hand, が (ga) is used as the subject of the sentence, indicating the doer of the action or the one being described. The subject is the primary focus of the sentence.


今日山田さんリーダーです。(Kyou wa Yamada-san ga riidaa desu.) (Today, Yamada is the leader.)

b. は as the Main Subject and が as a Small Subject

Here, は (wa) is used to emphasize the main subject of the sentence, while が (ga) introduces a smaller, contrasting subject or a subject that is only relevant to a specific part of the sentence.


英語得意ですが、数学は苦手です。(Kare wa eigo ga tokui desu ga, suugaku wa nigate desu.) (He is good at English, but he is weak in math.)

c. は as the Whole and が as a Part

In this case, は (wa) is used to refer to the whole or general concept, while が (ga) introduces a specific part or element related to the whole.


田中さん長いです。(Tanaka-san wa kami ga nagai desu.) Tanaka-san’s hair is long.

d. When describing things we like and dislike, are good at or bad at, etc.

When using verbs like “好き” (suki – like), “嫌い” (kirai – dislike), “上手” (jouzu – good at), “下手” (heta – bad at), “苦手” (nigate – not good at), “欲しい” (hoshii – want), etc., は (wa) marks the subject that likes or dislikes something or wants something, and が (ga) comes before the word representing the object of the sentiment.


好きです。(Watashi wa neko ga suki desu.) (I like cats.)

野菜苦手です。(Kare wa yasai ga nigate desu.) (He is not good with vegetables.)

ピアノ上手です。(Imouto wa piano ga jouzu desu.) (My younger sister is good at playing the piano.)

これ欲しい本です。(Kore wa watashi ga hoshii hon desu.) (This is the book that I want.)

e. Using は before an interrogative, using an interrogative before が

When asking a question, は (wa) can be used before interrogative words to emphasize the topic or what you want to know more about. Conversely, が (ga) is used after the interrogative word to indicate the subject of the question or what you want to find out.


あなた何が好きですか?(Anata wa nani ga suki desu ka?) (What do you like?)

どちらお姉さんですか?(Docchi ga onee-san desu ka?) (Which one is the older sister?)

By studying these example sentences and gradually incorporating は and が into your own conversations, you will gain a better understanding of their distinctions and become more confident in using them effectively. As with any language, practice and exposure are key to mastering these essential Japanese particles.

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