「生き残った男の子」 : Grammar : は and が

プリベット通り四番地の住人ダーズリー夫妻は、「おかげさまで、私どもはどこから見てもまともな人間です」というのが自慢だった。不思議とか神秘とかそんな非常識はまるっきり認めない人種で、まか不思議な出来事が彼らの周辺で起こるなんて、とうてい考えられなかった。

プリベット とおり よんばんち の じゅうにん ダーズリー ふさい は、 「おかげさまで、 わたし ども は どこから みて も まとも な にんげん です」 と いう の が じまん だった。 ふしぎ とか しんぴ とか そんな ひじょうしき は まるっきり みとめない じんしゅ で、 まかふしぎ な できごと が かれら の しゅうへん で おこる なんて、 とうてい かんがえられなかった。

Grammar

My previous post quickly covers the Subject-Object-Verb order of the Japanese language.

Now let us try to group the sentences above into their subject-predicate groups:

Sentence 1:
プリベット通り四番地の住人ダーズリー夫妻<は>「おかげさまで、私どもはどこから見てもまともな人間です」というのが自慢だった。

Sentence 2 – a:
不思議とか神秘とかそんな非常識<は>まるっきり認めない人種で

Sentence 2 – b:
まか不思議な出来事<が>彼らの周辺で起こるなんて、とうてい考えられなかった

The は and が surrounded by angle brackets are the particles we will be covering in this post. As personal preference I will discuss these two particles in one post. However, we will only cover the first of many usages of these two particles – to indicate the topic and subject.

は (wa) – a particle which marks a topic

Topic (subject)


Watashi

wa
学生です。
gakusei desu.
(I am a student.)

The topic of a sentence is what the sentence is about. For the above example, Watashi is the topic and the rest of the sentence provides information about me, i.e., me being a student.

Usually a topic is (1) something that has been mentioned in a previous discourse, (2) something the speaker and the hearer perceive through their five senses, (3) a proper noun or (4) a generic noun.

To expound on (1), lets take an example:

おじいさんはとても貧乏でした。
おじいさん は とても びんぼう でした。
The old man was very poor.

At first glance, you will assume that the old man has been introduced sometime prior to this statement. Otherwise, taking the sentence as it makes it somehow incomplete.

When wa is used as a topic marker, as in X wa Y, X is something the rest of the sentence Y is about and the focus of the sentence falls on Y or part of Y. The topic X wa normally appears at the beginning of a sentence.

The topical wa does not appear in subordinate clauses:

花子は私が昨日酒を飲んだことを知っている。
はのこ は わたし が きのう さけ を のんだ こと を しっている。
Hanoko knows I drank sake yesterday.

So going back to Harry Potter paragraph 1,

プリベット通り四番地の住人ダーズリー夫妻「おかげさまで、私どもはどこから見てもまともな人間です」というのが自慢だった。

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud [to say] that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley…” is the topic. We can translate the above sentence as: “Speaking of the Dursleys of number four Privet Drive, …”.

不思議とか神秘とかそんな非常識まるっきり認めない人種で、まか不思議な出来事が彼らの周辺で起こるなんて、とうてい考えられなかった。

They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

Here, we talk about 非常識 (nonsense), marked by wa, which they don’t tolerate. Since the topic has already been introduced, the second part of the sentence uses the particle ga to mark まか不思議な出来事 (mysterious happenings). If wa was used, then we would have introduced another topic, which is not the case here.

Do note though, that wa never marks WH-words, such as what ‘なに’, who ‘だれ’, and where ‘どこ’.
だれがパーティーに来ましたか? Not だれはパーティーに来ましたか?

が (ga) – a particle which indicates the subject

Subject

Predicate

Ame

ga
降っています
futte imasu.
(It is raining. (Litterally: Rain is falling.))

Another important usage of ga is to mark elements of a transitive adjectives or stative transitive verbs, e.g.:

僕はスポーツかーが欲しい。
I want a sports car.

ボブはスペイン語が分かる。
Bob understands Spanish.

However though, it is still possible to replace ga with wa in our examples above. In which case it is used as a contrastive marker instead of topic marker. This will be discussed in a separate lesson.

The important thing to remember in this grammar lesson is identifying between topic and subject.

 

Now, let’s have a look at our vocabulary.

Vocabulary

通り – Avenue, street
四 – four
番地 – house number
夫妻 – married couple
おかげさまで – Thanks to you
見て(見る) – to see
まとも – normal, direct
人間 – human being
自慢 – pride
不思議 – mystery
とか – such things as
神秘 – mystery
そんな – such
非常識 – non-sense
まるっきり – completely, perfectly
認めない (認める) – disapprove (to recognize, to approve)
人種 – race (or people)
まか不思議 – mysterious
出来事 – event, happening
彼ら – they
周辺 – neighborhood
起こる – to happen
なんて – such as
とうてい – (cannot) possibly
考えられなかった (考えられる) – unthinkable (to think)

Source:

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar
ハリー・ポッターと賢者の石

Harry Potter copyright owned by JK Rowling
translated by 松岡佑子
published by 静山社

One Response to 「生き残った男の子」 : Grammar : は and が

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