In Lesson 16, we learned how the particle wo を marks the direct object of a sentence. Direct objects are acted upon by an active agent (doer). Meaning, there is someone or something that is willfully exerting intent on another entity.
i. Sam chopped the lettuce.
ii. Sarah threw the ball.
iii. Dusty petted the cat.
Some verbs, however, don't involve an activity with an active agent. Some simply express a stative state. For these verbs, 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 whether there is an object.
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” in English are marked by ga が rather than wo を.
These sort of predicates involve 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 over wo を.
Stative-transitive predicates carry over into Japanese as either intransitive verbs or adjectives/adjectival nouns. Why some correspond to intransitive verbs and others to adjectives/adjectival nouns is arbitrary because, either way, they are still predicates with objects marked by ga が.
In Japanese, "intransitive verb" jidōshi 自動詞 refers not only to verbs that have no objects, but also to verbs whose objects are marked by ga が, and "transitive verb" tadōshi 他動詞 is reserved only to verbs with an active agent whose objects are marked by wo を.
Now that we’ve learned what stative-transitive predicates are in English, it’s time to see how they translate into and function in Japanese. These predicates will be divided into two broad categories with further semantic divisions as shown below. You may notice the deletion of the word "transitive." This is because in the world of Japanese grammar, these verbs all correspond to intransitive verbs as mentioned.
Objective Stative Predicates
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.
Before we delve into what these verbs look like in Japanese, let's recap some grammar rules, some of which relate to past discussions.
1. The subject/agent of a stative-transitive predicate must be a person or a personified entity. If such a subject is not paired with said verb, the particle ga が would simply be marking the subject of a typical intransitive verb.
2. The subject and topic are often the same entity. When said entity is marked as the topic by wa は, the subject is there, in theory, in an unspoken state known as a "zero-pronoun."
3. When the subject is marked by ga が and there is also another ga が to mark the object of a stative predicate, the subject ga が is exhaustive in nature. Meaning, out of any other entity, that subject is being singled out as being an exclusive fact. As such, thinking a sentence is wrong because it has two ga が is flawed and all the grammar in this lesson demonstrates that to be so.
・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 ある is used to show possession of inanimate objects that may or may not be alive. Iru いる is primarily used to show possession of human relations. Whenever the subject is stated, ga が has its exhaustive meaning. The use of wa は to mark the possessor as the topic implicitly contrasts the agent with other entities to some degree, but when ni wa には is used, it is like saying “...for one" in English.
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 be literally interpreted as showing the place where possession occurs.” The connection between the possessor and possessed entity becomes heavily emphasized as an effect, which is what brings out the translation “...for one.”
Watashi (ni) wa udedokei ga arimasu.
I (for one) have an arm watch.
Watashitachi (ni) wa jūbun na okane ga arimasu.
We (for one) have enough money.
(Watashi [ni wa/wa]) ani ga imasu.
[I, for one,/As for me,] have an older brother.
Watashi (ni) wa tomodachi ga [imasu/imasen].
I (for one) [have/have no] friends.
Having pets/livestock is usually expressed with katte iru 飼っている. 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.
Watashi wa [inu/neko/usagi/kame/araiguma/kitsune/shika] wo katte imasu.
I have a [dog/cat/rabbit/turtle/raccoon/fox/deer].
Watashi ni wa neko ga imasu.
I, for one, have a cat.
[Wagaya/ie] ni wa neko ga imasu.
I have a cat at [my/our house/home].
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
The verb iru 要る means “to need” regarding a certain need for time, resources, money, etc. Although it is pronounced the same as iru いる, it is actually a Godan 五段 verb.
Nyūjōryō wa iranai desu ga, norimono wa okane ga irimasu.
Admission fee isn’t needed, but you need money for the rides.
Saisho wa sukoshi kotsu ga irimasu.
Some skill is needed from the start.
Kono okashi, iru?
You really want this candy?
[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.
Chūi ga hitsuyō desu.
Caution is necessary.
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.
Yama no keshiki ga miemasu.
The mountain scenery is visible.
I/one can see the mountain scenery.
Nani ga miemasu ka?
What can you see?※
※This is not intended to refer to what you can actively look to see but what is naturally in view.
Did you hear it?
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, wakaru 分かる acts no differently than other stative-transitive predicates. There is an object to the 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 an object marker.
Nihongo ga wakarimasu ka?
Do you understand Japanese?
Watashi wa kankokugo ga wakarimasen.
I don’t understand Korean.
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.
Sono gen’in ga wakarimashita.
The cause has become known.
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 in heavily emotionally driven contexts, but this usage is quite different as it does imply volition. This usage is a neologism among younger speakers and is still deemed ungrammatical to many, especially to 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 できる
The verb dekiru できる can mean “to be able to” and its object is always marked with ga が. Abilities described by this verb come naturally to the beholder.
Nihongo ga dekimasu ka?
Can you speak Japanese?
Kare wa tenisu ga dekimasu.
He can play tennis?
Watashi wa sukoshi shuwa ga dekimasu.
I can speak a little sign language.
Don’na supōtsu ga dekimasu ka?
What kind of sports can you play?
All stative-transitive predicates in English involving emotion correspond to adjectives/adjectival nouns in Japanese. Just from the fact that they aren't verbs disqualifies them from being used with the particle wo を, but these predicates still have objects which are, of course, marked by ga が.
"To be scary" and "to be scared of" are two sides of the same coin, but one thing that might be confusing is that this 'coin' is just a flat surface in Japanese. Meaning, the word kowai 怖い covers both.
Yōkai ga kowai!
Ghosts are scary!
I’m scared of ghosts.
Saying something is scary is still a comment on one's feeling and that is where the subjective element applies. Even though both translations are valid, "I'm scared of ghosts" actually best reflects the grammatical reality we have been discussing in this lesson. "Ghost" would be the object of the stative-transitive predicate and the true subject "I" is simply omitted as subject-dropping is generally common in Japanese in the first place.
Watashi ga kowai?
Are you scared of me?
“Ore, kumo ga kowakunai yo.” “Hontō? Boku wa kowai kedo.”
“Me, I’m not afraid of spiders.” “Really? Well, I am.”
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.
Boku wa kaki ga machidōshii.
I look forward to persimmons.
The adjectival noun expressions suki da 好きだ and kirai da 嫌いだ respectively show personal like and dislike.
Interestingly, both these words did derive from regular transitive verbs, but their origin bears no weight on how they are currently used.
Don’na ryōri ga suki desu ka?
What kind of food do you like?
Watashi wa kare ga suki desu.
I like him.
Neko wa min’na boku ga suki mitai desu nē.
All cats seem to like me, don’t they?
Grammar Note: The word "personal" is used because there is a general principle in Japanese that one can never definitively state the mindset of another person (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).
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, but this is still viewed ungrammatical by most speaker and deemed to be a neologism among younger generations. It is possible that this has come about by influence from the English verb "to like."
Jōshi ga kirai desu.
I hate my boss.
[Musume/musuko] no kareshi ga kirai desu.
I hate my [daughter’s/son’s] boyfriend.
Tabemono wa nani ga kirai desu ka?
What foods do you hate?
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.
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.
Kodomo ga hoshii desu.
I want a child/children.
Hanashi aite ga hoshii desu.
I want someone to talk to.
Meikaku na henji ga hoshii desu.
I want a clear response.
Dochira ga hoshii desu ka?
Which one do you want?
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.
・Jōzu da 上手だ – Used to express how well someone is at something, it is meant to be a generally nice compliment, but in some situations, it may be taken sarcastically or poorly if the comment isn't really warranted. For instance, saying someone's Japanese is jōzu 上手 could be insulting to someone who has been in the country for decades. One's demeanor plays a major role in how this phrase is interpreted.
・Umai うまい – This is generally felt as a more lighthearted version of above and is more appropriate in casual situations, especially among men.
・Tokui da 得意だ – This is used to express personal forte, thus also able to refer to one's own.
・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" and is certainly rude but honest when not about oneself.
・Heta da 下手だ – A curt way to express how someone is bad at something. Although it can refer rather coarsely to one's inability, it's usually directed at others in a not-so-nice way.
・Hetakuso da 下手くそだ – A more vulgar/emphatic version of heta da 下手だ.
One word of caution that must be had when using any of these phrases is how you go about saying it. Your demeanor can turn a compliment into a backhanded insult, and not truly appreciating someone's skill or evaluating their lack of skill could be received poorly if you don't choose your words carefully.
Nihongo ga (o-)jōzu desu ne.
Your Japanese is good.
Grammar Note: Adding o- お to jōzu 上手 makes it politer.
Watashi wa ryōri ga tokui desu.
I’m good at cooking.
Unten ga umai desu ne.
Wow, your driving is good.
Eigo ga nigate desu ga, gambarimasu.
I’m bad at English, but I’ll try.
Boku wa hayaoki ga nigate desu.
I’m bad at waking up early.
Kanojo wa meiku ga heta da.
She’s bad at makeup.
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.
Omae wa ji ga hetakuso da na.
Your handwriting is crappy, you know.
Word Note: Omae お前 is a masculine, rough word for "you" that should only be used if you truly understand all of its connotations. In Ex. 51, they speaker is being overtly rude to the listener.