第21課: The Particle Ga が II: The Object Marker Ga

In Lesson 15, we learned how the particle wo を marks the direct object of a sentence. Direct objects are typically acted upon by an active agent (doer). Usually, there is someone or something that is purposefully and willingly exerted his/her/its intent on another entity.

i. Sam chopped the lettuce.
ii. Sarah threw the ball.
iii. Dusty petted the cat.

However, not all verbs involve an activity with an active agent. Some verbs simply express a stative state. In these situations, the agent isn’t necessarily exerting his/her control over the object. The relation between agent and object, then, can be viewed as a mere statement of reality.

iv. I understand the situation.
v. I have three dogs.
vi. I need money.

In English, these verbs (in italics) are all treated as transitive verbs because they have objects (in bold). However, their meanings are stative in nature. A stative verb is one that expresses a state/condition rather than an activity. In English, stative verbs can either be intransitive or transitive depending on the existence of an object or the lack thereof.

vii. There are horses here. (intransitive)
viii. The flag stands still. (intransitive)
ix. The fire burns brightly. (intransitive)
x. Everyone wants money. (transitive)
xi. I like dogs. (transitive)
xii. I hate cats. (transitive)

In English, objects are typically linked to verbs of activity, but this is not the case for stative-transitive verbs. In fact, these verbs share much in common with adjectives. After all, adjectives are primarily used in expressing the state/condition of something.  

xiii. I’m good at math.
xiv. I’m bad at physics.
xv. Spiders are scary.
xvi. I’m scared of spiders.

Whether it be a stative-transitive verb or an adjective with an object, they both constitute what are called stative-transitive predicates. In Japanese, the objects of these so-called “stative-transitive predicates” are marked by ga が rather than wo を. The types that exist include those concerned with human attributes such as perception, necessity, possession, desire, etc. These attributes are outside the realm of the subject’s control. Even when someone “wants something,” the want is treated as an emotion the speaker can’t control. This lack of control prompts the use of ga が instead of wo を.    

Stative-transitive predicates in Japanese involve intransitive verbs, adjectives, or adjectival nouns. The stative-transitive verbs of English are not transitive verbs in Japanese. Instead, they either correspond to intransitive verbs or adjectives/adjectival nouns. In Japanese, jidōshi 自動詞 refers not only to verbs that have no objects, but also to verbs whose objects are marked by ga が. The term tadōshi 他動詞 is reserved only to verbs whose objects are marked by wo を. Lastly, when an English stative-transitive verb corresponds to an adjective/adjectival noun, it’s because of differences in morphology between the two languages.

Now that we’ve learned what stative-transitive predicates are in English, it’s time to see what they look like in Japanese. These predicates will be divided into two broad categories with further semantic divisions:

Stative-Transitive Predicates of Objective Fact

・Possession
・Necessity
・Non-intentional Perception
・Non-intentional Understanding
・Ability

Stative-Transitive Predicates of Subjective Emotions
・Internal Feeling
・Like/Dislike
・Want/Desire
・Competence

Curriculum Note: Some of these categories exhibit interchangeability between ga が and wo を. In this lesson, we will focus first on the instances ga が can and does mark the object of a sentence. For more information about the interchangeability between ga が and wo を, you will be directed to later lessons.

Stative-Transitive Predicates of Objective Fact

The subject/agent of a stative-transitive predicate is limited to nouns/pronouns which refer to people or things that are personified. Often, the subject and topic are the same, in which case the subject becomes a zero-pronoun, and because it isn’t spoken, there is no issue with two ga が being used in the same sentence. However, the exhaustive-listing function of ga が can still manifest in stative-transitive predicates. When this happens, the first ga が marks the subject and the second ga が marks the object (thing involved).

Curriculum Note: For some stative-transitive predicates, especially those of this type, the subject (experiencer) may alternatively be marked by ni (wa) に(は). The use of ni (wa) に(は) adds various kinds of emotions/semantic nuancing not intrinsic to the meanings of these sort of predicates. Because of this, we will discuss how ni(wa) に(は) can alternatively mark the subject of stative-transitive predicates in a later lesson. 


・Possession: ある & いる

On top of meaning “to be,” the verbs aru ある and iru いる can also mean “to have.” Aru is used to show possession of inanimate objects that may or may not be alive. Iru おる is primarily used to show possession of human relations. Although we will be avoiding instances of ni wa には marking the subject in this lesson, it is impossible to ignore for these two verbs. Whenever the subject is stated (not omitted), the use of ga が brings about the exhaustive-listing meaning, and the use of wa は bring out its contrastive meaning. When ni wa には is used, it is very like saying “X for one.”

These two verbs primarily show existence, and this is reflected in their secondary meaning of “to have,” so much so that the use of ni wa には can still be literally interpreted as showing the place where possession of something exists.” The connection between the possessor and possessed entity becomes heavily emphasized as an effect, which is what brings out the translation “X for one.”

1. (わたし)(に)は腕時計(うでどけい)があります。
Watashi (ni) wa udedokei ga arimasu.
I (for one) have an arm watch.

2. (わたし)たち(に)は十分(じゅうぶん)なお(かね)があります。
Watashitachi (ni) wa jūbun na okane ga arimasu.
We (for one) have enough money.

3. ((わたし)【には・は】)(あに)がいます。
(Watashi [ni wa/wa]) ani ga imasu.
[I, for one,/As for me,] have an older brother.

4. (わたし)(に)は友達(ともだち)が【います・いません】。
Watashi (ni) wa tomodachi ga [imasu/imasen].
I (for one) [have/have no] friends.

Having Pets

Having pets/livestock is usually expressed with katte iru 飼っている.

5. (わたし)は【(いぬ)(ねこ)・ウサギ・(かめ)・アライグマ・(きつね)鹿(しか)】を()っています。
Watashi wa [inu/neko/usagi/kame/araiguma/kitsune/shika] wo katte imasu.
I have a [dog/cat/rabbit/turtle/raccoon/fox/deer].

6. (わたくし)には(ねこ)がいます。
Watashi ni wa neko ga imasu.
I, for one, have a cat.

Sentence Note: Students are often tempted to use iru いる to express having pets. Although this isn’t technically wrong, ni wa には would need to mark the subject, and the sense of “for one” becomes heavily emphasized.

7. 【()()(いえ)】には(ねこ)がいます。
[Wagaya/ie] ni wa neko ga imasu.
I have a cat at my/our house.

Sentence Note: A more practical way to say one has a cat or any other kind of pet is to say that you have it at one’s home. This will mean that you’re using iru いる in the literal sense of the pet existing at a certain location but also implying ownership because of where that location happens to be, your home.


・Necessity: Iru 要る

Pronounced the same as iru いる but is instead a Godan 五段 verb, iru 要る means “to need.”  It is used to express a need and/or want that is felt to be a certainty. It is used most with nouns regarding time, resources, money, etc.

8. 入場料(にゅうじょうりょう)()らないですが、()(もの)はお(かね)()ります。
Nyūjōryō wa iranai desu ga, norimono wa okane ga irimasu.
Admission fee isn’t needed, but you need money for the rides.

9. 最初(さいしょ)(すこ)しコツが()ります。
Saisho wa sukoshi kotsu ga irimasu.
Some skill is needed from the start.

10.このお菓子(かし)()る?
Kono okashi, iru?
You really want this candy?

11. 【(ばん)(はん)(よる)(はん)】、()る?()らない?
[Bangohan/yorugohan], iru? Iranai?
Do you need dinner or no?

Iru 要るVS Hitsuyō da 必要だ

Iru 要る is similar to the expression hitsuyō da 必要だ, which means “to be necessary.” Hitsuyō da 必要だ is far more broad in usage as anything could be presented as being a necessity/must, whereas iru 要る is typically limited to nouns that can be conceptualized as some sort of resource. To “need” has a somewhat subjective tone to it, as is also the case with iru いる, but hitsuyō da 必要だ can be used in very objective contexts.

12. 注意(ちゅうい)必要(ひつよう)です。
Chūi ga hitsuyō desu.
Caution is necessary.

13. お(かね)必要(ひつよう)だ。
Okane ga hitsuyō da.
Money is needed/necessary.


・Non-intentional Perception: Mieru 見える & Kikoeru 聞こえる

The verbs mieru 見える and kikoeru 聞こえる express that something is visible and audible respectively. Neither verb implies volition. Rather, they merely express the natural phenomena of sight and hearing. They are typically translated as “can see” and “can hear,” respectively, but it may be best to perceive them as meaning “visible” and “audible” so that you don’t accidentally attribute volition to them.

14. (やま)景色(けしき)()えます。
Yama no keshiki ga miemasu.
The mountain scenery is visible.
I/one can see the mountain scenery.

15. (なに)()えますか。
Nani ga miemasu ka?
What’s visible?
What can you see?

16. ()こえましたか?
Kikoemashita ka?
Did you hear it?

17. (おお)きな爆発(ばくはつ)()こえました。
Ōkina bakuhatsu ga kikoemashita.
I heard a large explosion.


・Non-intentional Understanding: 分かる

There are two different meanings of wakaru 分かる. It can be used to mean “to understand” or “to become known.” For the first meaning, it's clear that wakaru 分かる falls under the same syntactic situation as other stative-transitive predicates. There is an object to understanding, but the understanding is out of the volition of the person who knows, thus the object is marked with ga が. However, for the meaning “to become known,” ga が functions more as a subject marker than object marker.

18. 日本語(にほんご)()かりますか。
Nihongo ga wakarimasu ka?
Do you understand Japanese?

19. (わたし)韓国語(かんこくご)()かりません。
Watashi wa kankokugo ga wakarimasen.
I don’t understand Korean.

20. 関東人(かんとうじん)関西弁(かんさいべん)()かりますか。
Kantōjin wa Kansaiben ga wakarimasu ka?
Do people from Kanto understand the Kansai dialect?

Word Note: Kantō 関東 is the region of Japan where Tokyo resides.

21. その原因(げんいん)()かりました。
Sono gen’in ga wakarimashita.
The cause has become known.

22. (ぼく)気持(きも)ちをわかってくれ。
Boku no kimochi wo wakatte kure.
Understand my emotions!

Particle Note: The particle wo を is occasionally used instead of ga が with wakaru 分かる whenever it is used with contexts involving emotion. This usage is quite different as it does imply volition in the knowledge had about said emotion. This usage, though, is ungrammatical to many speakers, especially those of older generations. Properly, this meaning is carried about by the verb rikai suru 理解する, which is a transitive verb.

Grammar Note: The ending -te kure てくれ is a very strong means of commanding someone to do something.   


・Ability: Dekiru 出来る

One of the meanings of the verb dekiru 出来る is “to be able to.” It is treated as the potential form of the verb suru する (to do). The potential form of verbs is not something we have discussed yet, and so we will only look at dekiru 出来る for now. As for dekiru 出来る, the object is always marked with ga が. For other potential verbs, including those that also incorporate dekiru 出来る, there is interchangeability between ga が and wo を to mark the object, which is delved into in Lesson 167.

23. 日本語(にほんご)出来(でき)ますか。
Nihongo ga dekimasu ka?
Can you speak Japanese?

24. (かれ)はテニスが出来(でき)ます。
Kare wa tenisu ga dekimasu.
He can play tennis?

25. (わたし)(すこ)手話(しゅわ)出来(でき)ます。
Watashi wa sukoshi shuwa ga dekimasu.
I can speak a little sign language.

26. どんなスポーツが出来(でき)ますか。
Don’na supōtsu ga dekimasu ka?
What kind of sports can you play?

Stative-Transitive Predicates of Subjective Emotions

・Internal Feeling

Broadly speaking, all stative-transitive predicates that relate to subjective emotion deal with one’s internal feelings.

27. 妖怪(ようかい)(こわ)い!
Yōkai ga kowai!
Ghosts are scary!
I’m scared of ghosts.

28. 私が怖い?
Watashi ga kowai?
I’m scary?
Are you scared of me?

29. 「(おれ)、クモが(こわ)くないよ」「本当(ほんとう)(ぼく)(こわ)いけど。」
“Ore, kumo ga kowakunai yo.” “Hontō? Boku wa kowai kedo.”
“Me, I’m not afraid of spiders.” “Really? Well, I am.”

30. (わたし)(こわ)母親(ははおや)です。
Watashi wa kowai hahaoya desu.
I’m a ‘scary’ mother.

Grammar Note: In isolation, X wa kowai Xは怖い is grammatically ambiguous. It could be that there is a zero-pronoun, which would indicate that “X” is the subject and not the object of fear. “X” could also be the object of fear like in Ex. 30. Although kowai 怖い is modifying a noun, making watashi 私 function as the subject, watashi 私 still behaves as the object of fear of the mother’s child(ren). In short, in isolation, watashi wa kowai 私は怖い can mean both “I’m scary” or “I’m afraid.” Remember, the comment is what dictates the usage of wa は, and this can’t be more true for this situation.

31. (ぼく)(かき)が待ち(どお)しい。
Boku wa kaki ga machidōshii.
I look forward to persimmons.


・Like/Dislike

The adjectival expressions suki da 好きだ and kirai da 嫌いだ respectively show personal like and dislike. They may be used to either express first person like/dislike or ask about second person like/dislike. However, there is a general principle in Japanese that one can never definitively state the mindset in third person. In such a situation, a qualifier must be added to make clear that one isn’t asserting absolute knowledge pertaining someone else’s feelings (Ex. 34).

32. どんな料理(りょうり)()きですか。
Don’na ryōri ga suki desu ka?
What kind of food do you like?

33. (わたし)(かれ)()きです。
Watashi wa kare ga suki desu.
I like him.

34. (ねこ)はみんな(ぼく)()きみたいですねえ。
Neko wa min’na boku ga suki mitai desu nē.
All cats seem to like me, don’t they?

35. (ひと)が【異性(いせい)同性(どうせい)】{が・を}()きになる理由(りゆう)(なん)ですか。
Hito ga [isei/dōsei] [ga/wo] suki ni naru riyu wa nan desu ka?
What are the reasons for why people like the [opposite sex/same sex]? 

Particle Note: The particle wo を is occasionally seen instead of ga が with suki da 好きだin casual speech, especially when doing so can prevent two ga が’s in the same sentence. However, switching ga が for wo を like this is ungrammatical regardless of the circumstances to many speakers as Japanese grammar allows for such instances of the doubling of ga が as we’ve come to learn.

36. 上司(じょうし)(きら)いです。
Jōshi ga kirai desu.
I hate my boss.

37. 【(むすめ)息子(むすこ)】の彼氏(かれし)(きら)いです。
[Musume/musuko] no kareshi ga kirai desu.
I hate my [daughter’s/son’s] boyfriend.

38. ()(もの)(なに)(きら)いですか。
Tabemono wa nani ga kirai desu ka?
What foods do you hate?

39. (わたし)がすぐ(ひと){が・を}(きら)いになる理由(りゆう)(なん)だろう。
Watashi ga sugu hito [ga/wo] kirai ni naru riyū wa nan darō?
I wonder what the reasons are for why I end up hating people immediately?

Particle Note: Although not as common as with suki da 好きだ, some speakers will occasionally replace the particle ga が with wo を when using kirai da 嫌いだ; however, this is usually done to avoid the doubling of ga が. Nonetheless, this is still prescriptively incorrect as well as ungrammatical to most speakers.


・Want/Desire

The adjective hoshii 欲しい is used to show personal want/desire for something. It is not used to show third person want. This adjective is also not used to show personal want to do something. These grammar points will be discussed in Lesson 99.

40. 子供(こども)()しいです。
Kodomo ga hoshii desu.
I want a child/children.

41. (はな)相手(あいて)()しいです。
Hanashi aite ga hoshii desu.
I want someone to talk to.

42. 明確(めいかく)返事(へんじ)がほしいです。
Meikaku na henji ga hoshii desu.
I want a clear response.

43. どちらがほしいですか。 
Dochira ga hoshii desu ka?
Which one do you want?


・Competence

There are several phrases in Japanese for “to be good at” and “to be bad at.” How they mainly differ is to what degree they qualify someone and who the subject can be.

Good At

Jōzu da 上手だ – This is used to express that someone is good at something. 
Umai うまい – This is used to express that someone is good at something.
Tokui da 得意だ – This is used to express one’s forte or someone else’s forte.

Bad At

Nigate da 苦手だ – Neutral way of expressing “bad at.”
Futokui da 不得意だ – Neutral way of expressing that something is not one’s forte.
Mazui まずい  - Subjective way of expressing “bad at.”
Heta da 下手だ – Often rude way of showing poor skill.
Hetakuso da 下手くそだ – “Shitty.”

For “bad at” phrases, they can all essentially be used to refer to oneself as well as others. When commenting about others, a word of caution must be had because they can all be taken the wrong way if the person in question hears your comment.

44. 日本語(にほんご)が(お)上手(じょうず)ですね。
Nihongo ga (o-)jōzu desu ne.
Your Japanese is good.

Grammar Note: Adding o- お to jōzu 上手 makes it politer.

45. (わたし)料理(りょうり)得意(とくい)です。
Watashi wa ryōri ga tokui desu.
I’m good at cooking.

46. 運転(うんてん)がうまいですね。
Unten ga umai desu ne.
Wow, your driving is good.

47. 英語(えいご)苦手(にがて)ですが、頑張(がんば)ります。
Eigo ga nigate desu ga, gambarimasu.
I’m bad at English, but I’ll try.

48. (ぼく)早起(はやお)きが苦手(にがて)です。
Boku wa hayaoki ga nigate desu.
I’m bad at waking up early.

49. 彼女(かのじょ)はメイクが下手(へた)だ。
Kanojo wa meiku ga heta da.
She’s bad at makeup.

50. あいつはどうも苦手(にがて)だ。
Aitsu wa dōmo nigate da.
He’s terribly hard to deal with.

Word Note: Nigate da 苦手だ may also express that one has difficulties dealing with someone.  

51. お(まえ)()下手(へた)くそだな。
Omae wa ji ga hetakuso da na.
Your handwriting is shitty, you know.

Word Note: Omae お前 is another word for “you,” but it is used in coarse situations and should only be used with people you are incredibly familiar with like a childhood friend. This is used mainly by male speakers.