Chapter Overview

At the end of the last chapter, we used Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji to create a simple self-introduction. In the process, we used 「です」 to express state-of-being. In this chapter, we will learn more about the state-of-being and how to use nouns and adjectives.


In English, the verb “to be” is used to describe what something is or where it is, for example: “He is a student” and “He is at school”. In Japanese, the two are described very differently. The state-of-being we will learn is used to describe only what something is and not where it exists.

The state-of-being is very easy to describe because it is implied within the noun or adjective. There is no need to use a verb nor even a subject to make a complete sentence in Japanese. Take for example, a casual conversation among friends asking, “How are you?”

How are you? (casual)

  • 元気 【げん・き】 – healthy; lively
    ※Used as a greeting to indicate whether one is well

A: 元気?
A: (Are you) well?

B: 元気。
B: (I’m) fine.

Polite State-of-being

While the previous dialogue may be fine among close friends, you should use the polite form when speaking to a teacher, a superior such as your boss, or people you’re not very familiar with.

For nouns and adjectives, all that is required for the polite form is to add 「です」 to the end of the sentence. We did this in our simple self-introduction in the last section and because it’s understood by context that you are talking about yourself, there is no need to add a subject.

We can ask questions in the polite form by further adding 「か」 to 「です」. The 「か」 is a question marker so a question mark is not necessary. Below is a simple greeting in the polite form.

How are you?

A: 元気ですか
A: (Are you) well?

B: 元気です
B: (I’m) well.

Practical Applications

Here’s an example of a casual morning greeting between two classmates and a polite morning greeting with the teacher.

Casual Morning Greeting

  1. おはよう – Good Morning (casual)

Toggle Translations

アリス: おはよう。
リー: おはよう。
アリス: 元気?
リー: 元気。

Alice: Morning.
Lee: Morning.
Alice: (Are you) well?
Lee: (I’m) good.

Polite Morning Greeting

  1. 先生 【せん・せい】 – teacher
  2. おはようございます – Good Morning (polite)
  3. お~ – a honorific prefix used for politeness and never used when referring to oneself

Toggle Translations

先生: おはようございます。
スミス: おはようございます!
先生: お元気ですか?
スミス: 元気です。

Teacher: Morning.
Smith: Good Morning!
Teacher: Are (you) well?
Smith: (I’m) well.

You can follow a similar model to practice greeting people in the morning. We’ll learn the expressions for afternoon and evening greetings in the next section.

Topic Particles

Context plays a powerful role in Japanese so one word sentences are perfectly fine for simple question and answers. However, longer and more sophisticated sentences will consist of many words that perform various grammatical roles. In Japanese, the grammatical role each word plays in a sentence is defined by particles. Particles are one or more Hiragana characters that assign a certain grammatical function to the word that comes before it. We’ll see how this works by first learning the topic particle.

「は」 Topic Particle

As mentioned previously, context is very important in Japanese and is often silently understood by the situation. However, what you want to talk about may not always be obvious or you may want to change the topic of the conversation. For that purpose, the 「は」 topic particle is used to indicate a new topic for the conversation.

Important note!

The topic particle while written as 「は」, is pronounced 「わ」.


  1. これ – this
  2. 何 【なに/なん】 – what
  3. それ – that
  4. ペン – pen
  5. 今 【いま】 – now
  6. ちょっと – a little (casual)
  7. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 – busy
  8. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  9. 好き 【す・き】 – likable (unlike English “like” is an adjective not a verb)

Toggle Translations

  1. これは、何(なん)ですか?
    (As for) this, what is (it)?
  2. それは、ペンです。
    (As for) that, (it’s) a pen.
  1. 今は、忙しい?
    (As for) now, busy?
  2. 今は、ちょっと忙しい。
    (As for) now, (I’m) a little busy.
  1. 映画は、好きですか?
    (As for) movie(s), (do you) like? (lit: is likable?)
  2. 好きです。
    (I) like (them). (lit: Is likable.)


The topic particle is also used in the greetings for daytime and evening. The expressions were originally full sentences with a topic meaning, “As for today/tonight, how is your mood?” but they were eventually shortened to just “As for today” and “As for tonight”.

  1. こんにちは – Good day (pronounced 「こんにち」)
  2. こんばんは – Good evening (pronounced 「こんばん」)

How are things lately?

  1. 最近 【さい・きん】 – recent; lately
  2. どう – how
  3. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 – busy

Toggle Translations

先生: こんにち
スミス: こんにち
先生: 最近、どうですか?
スミス: 忙しいです。

Teacher: Good day.
Smith: Good day.
Teacher: (As for) lately, how (is it)?
Smith: Busy.

「も」 Inclusive Topic Particle

The 「も」 particle used the same way as 「は」 topic particle but adds the meaning of “as well” or “also”.

Suspiciously busy

  1. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  2. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  3. あさって – day after tomorrow
  4. うん – yes (casual)
  5. 本当 【ほんとう】 – truth; reality

Toggle Translations

リー: 今日は忙しい?
スミス: うん、忙しい。
リー: 明日は?
スミス: 明日忙しい。
リー: あさっては?
スミス: あさって
リー: 本当?

Lee: As for today, (are you) busy?
Smith : Yeah, (I’m) busy.
Lee: What about tomorrow?
Smith: Tomorrow is also busy.
Lee: What about the day after tomorrow?
Smith: The day after tomorrow too.
Lee: Really? (lit: Is it true?)

Addressing People

Addressing other people directly

In Japanese, the word “you” is seldom used to refer to a person except in the case of very close relationships. Most of the time, you will refer to people using their name (last name is more polite than first) usually followed by a name-suffix. You have probably already heard 「さん」 somewhere at some point. It is the polite name-suffix used to refer to your social superiors, elders, or people you are unfamiliar with. The most common name-suffixes are listed below.

  • ~さん – Polite name-suffix (gender-neutral)
  • ~君 【くん】 – Casual name-suffix (generally for males)
  • ~ちゃん – Casual name-suffix (generally for females)

If you’re not sure which to use to address someone, 「さん」 with the person’s last name is generally the safest option. You can also always ask the person what they prefer to be called by.

Always sleepy

  1. はい – yes (polite)
  2. でも – but
  3. 眠い 【ねむ・い】 – sleepy
  4. それ – that
  5. 大変 【たい・へん】 – hardship; rough time; tough
  6. 大丈夫 【だい・じょう・ぶ】 – ok
  7. いつも – always

Toggle Translations

先生: スミスさんは、元気ですか。
スミス: はい、元気です。
先生: リーさんは、元気ですか?
リー: はい、元気です。でも、眠いです。
先生: それは、大変です。
スミス: 大丈夫です。リーさんはいつも眠いです。

Teacher: Smith-san, (are you) well?
Smith: Yes, (I’m) fine.
Teacher: Lee-san, (are you) well?
Lee: Yes, (I’m) fine. But (I’m) sleepy.
Teacher: That’s tough.
Smith: (It’s) ok. Lee-san is always sleepy.

Talking about yourself

We already saw that it’s usually understood implicitly by context when you’re talking about yourself. However, there are times you may still want to refer to yourself as a topic to say, “As for me…” or “me too”.

There are several options for referring to yourself depending on level of politeness and gender.

List of different words meaning me, myself, and I

  1. 私 【わたし】 – polite, gender-neutral
  2. 私 【わたくし】 – same Kanji as 「わたし」 but this reading is only used in very formal situations
  3. 僕 【ぼく】 – polite, masculine
  4. あたし – casual, very feminine
  5. 俺 【おれ】 – very casual and masculine

How’s the pizza?

  1. ピザ – pizza
  2. おいしい – tasty
  3. ううん – no (casual)

Toggle Translations

ジョン: ピザは、おいしい?
リー: ううん。
アリス: は、おいしい。

John: As for pizza, tasty?
Lee: No.
Alice: As for me, tasty.

This short conversation highlights a very important point. The topic only brings up the general topic of the conversation and does not necessarily indicate the subject of any one particular sentence. The last sentence 「私は、おいしい」 would be very strange if it meant “I am tasty”. However, because “I” is only a general topic, from the context of the entire conversation, we know that Alice is saying that as for her, the pizza is tasty.

Addressing family members

We’ve already encountered the honorific prefix 「お」 in 「お元気」. This prefix is used in all sorts of words and comes from a Kanji which can be read as either 「ご」 or 「お」. However, determining which reading to use is usually not an issue as this Kanji is usually written in Hiragana.

Definition: honorable
Stroke Order
Kun-yomi: お
On-yomi: ゴ
  1. 金 【お・かね】 – money
  2. 飯 【ご・はん】 – rice; meal
  3. 茶 【お・ちゃ】 – tea

The reason we’re looking at it here is because of how the honorific prefix is used to refer to family members. The basic idea is to use the honorific prefix when referring to somebody else’s family. You would not use honorifics to refer to your own family unless you are speaking to someone within your family. We will learn more about the concept of inner and outer circle for honorifics in a much later chapter.

The list below is by no means complete and only covers the more common words for the primary family members.

Family member chart
One’s own family Someone else’s family
Family 家族【か・ぞく】 ご家族【ご・か・ぞく】
Parents 両親【りょう・しん】 ご両親【ご・りょう・しん】
Mother 母【はは】 お母さん【お・かあ・さん】
Father 父【ちち】 お父さん【お・とう・さん】
Wife 妻【つま】 奥さん【おく・さん】
Husband 夫【おっと】 ご主人【ご・しゅ・じん】
Older Sister 姉【あね】 お姉さん【お・ねえ・さん】
Older Brother 兄【あに】 お兄さん【お・にい・さん】
Younger Sister 妹【いもうと】 妹さん【いもうと・さん】
Younger Brother 弟【おとうと】 弟さん【おとうと・さん】
Son 息子【むすこ】 息子さん【むすこ・さん】
Daughter 娘【むすめ】 娘さん【むすめ・さん】

Smith’s parents

  1. 山田 【やま・だ】 – Yamada (surname)
  2. アジア人 【あじあ・じん】 – Asian (person)
  3. いいえ – no
  4. でも – but
  5. 母 【はは】 – (one’s own) mother
  6. 日本人 【に・ほん・じん】 – Japanese (person)
  7. そう – so
  8. お父さん 【お・とう・さん】 – father
  9. 父 【ちち】 – (one’s own) father
  10. アメリカ人 【アメリカ・じん】 – American (person)
  11. なるほど (exp) – I see

Toggle Translations

山田: スミスさんは、アジア人ですか?
スミス: いいえ。でも、母は、日本人です。
山田: そうですか。お父さんは?
スミス: 父はアメリカ人です。
山田: なるほど。

Yamada: Smith-san, are (you) Asian (person)?
Smith: No. But, (my) mother is Japanese.
Yamada: Is that so? As for (your) father?
Smith: (My) father is American.
Yamada: I see.

Sentence-Ending Particles

Let’s add some life to our sentences by using sentence-ending particles. These particles are attached at the very end of the sentence to add an emotion or tone.

「よ」 and 「ね」 sentence endings

「よ」 and 「ね」 are two of the most frequently used sentence ending particles.

  1. 「ね」 is used when the speaker is seeking agreement and confirmation. It adds a tone similar to saying, “right?” or “isn’t it?”.
  2. 「よ」 is used when the speaker wants to point something out or make something aware to the listener. It adds a tone similar to saying, “you know?”.
  3. The two can be used together as 「よね」.


  1. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  2. 暑い 【あつ・い】 – hot (for climate/weather only)
  3. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  4. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 – busy
  5. ラーメン – ramen
  6. おいしい – tasty, delicous

Toggle Translations

  1. 今日は、暑いです
    As for today, (it’s) hot, isn’t it?
  2. 明日は、忙しいです
    As for tomorrow, (I’m) busy, you know.
  3. ラーメンは、おいしいですよね
    As for ramen, (it’s) tasty you know, isn’t it?!

You look young for a teacher

  1. 田中 【たなか】 – Tanaka (surname)
  2. いいえ – no
  3. とても – very
  4. 若い 【わか・い】 – young
  5. (お)いくつ – how old
  6. それ – that
  7. 秘密 【ひ・みつ】 – secret

Toggle Translations

スミス: はじめまして。スミスです。
田中: はじめまして。田中です。
スミス: 田中さんは、学生ですか?
田中: いいえ、先生です。
スミス: 本当ですか?
田中: 本当です
スミス: とても若いです。おいくつですか?
田中: それは、秘密です。

Smith: Nice to meet you. (I’m) Smith.
Tanaka: Nice to meet you. (I’m) Tanaka.
Smith: Tanaka-san, (are you) a student?
Tanaka: No, (I’m) a teacher.
Smith: Really?
Tanaka: It’s true, you know.
Smith: (You) are very young, right? How old (are you)?
Tanaka: That’s a secret.


We’ve already used some adjectives as the state-of-being but we have yet to describe a noun directly with adjectives. In order to do this, we first have to learn the two different types of adjectives in Japanese.

There are two types of adjectives called i-adjectives and na-adjectives.

Examples of i-adjectives

All i-adjectives end in 「い」.

  1. いい – good
  2. かっこいい – cool; handsome
  3. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 – busy
  4. 楽しい 【たの・しい】- fun
  5. 暑い 【あつ・い】 – hot
  6. 寒い 【さむ・い】 – cold

Examples of na-adjectives

All adjectives that do not end in 「い」 are na-adjectives.

  1. 好き 【す・き】 – likable
  2. 元気 【げん・き】 – healthy; lively
  3. 静か 【しず・か】 – quiet

Examples of na-adjectives that end in 「い」

Though most adjectives that end in 「い」 are i-adjectives, there are a small number of na-adjectives that end in 「い」. The examples below are some of the most common na-adjectives that end in 「い」.

  1. きれい – clean; pretty
  2. 嫌い 【きら・い】 – distasteful
  3. 幸い 【さいわ・い】 – luckily, fortunately

Describing nouns directly

You can easily describe a noun by placing the adjective directly in front of the noun. For na-adjectives, you first need to add 「な」 before you can attach the adjective to the noun (hence the name).


  1. 人 【ひと】 – person
  2. 時 【とき】 – when
  3. ゲーム – game
  4. 物 【もの】 – object; thing

Toggle Translations

  1. いい人
    good person
  2. 元気
    lively; healthy person
  3. きれい
    pretty person
  4. 忙しい時
    when busy
  5. 楽しいゲーム
    fun game
  6. 好き
    likable thing

You’re so-so handsome

  1. 山本 【やまもと】 – Yamamoto (surname)
  2. 新しい 【あたら・しい】 (i-adj) – new
  3. とても (adv) – very
  4. まあまあ (adv) – so-so
  5. ありがとうございます – thank you (polite)

Toggle Translations

スミス: 田中先生は、新しい先生ですか?
山本: そうですよ。
スミス: とてもきれいな人ですね。
山本: そうですか?
スミス: あっ、山本先生も、まあまあかっこいいですよ!
山本: ・・・ありがとうございます。

Smith: Is Tanaka-sensei a new teacher?
Yamamoto: That’s right.
Smith: (She’s) a very pretty person, isn’t she?
Yamamoto: Is that so?
Smith: Ah, Yamamoto-sensei is so-so handsome too!
Yamamoto: …Thank you.

Male/Female Speech

As opposed to polite speech, which is mostly gender-neutral, casual speech has many constructions that make it sound masculine or feminine to varying degrees. Of course, you do not have to be a specific gender to use either masculine or feminine manners of speech but you do need to be aware of the differences and the impression it gives to the listener. The first example of this is how 「ね」 and 「よ」 are used in casual speech.

Declarative 「だ」

The declarative 「だ」 is attached to nouns and na-adjectives to give it a more declarative tone and make the state-of-being explicit. This is important in some grammatical forms we will cover later. For now, we can use it in casual Japanese to give a more definitive, confident, and somewhat masculine tone (though females often use it as well). For males, in particular, it is important to use it before 「ね」 or 「よ」 to avoid sounding too feminine.

Note: Only attach 「だ」 to nouns and na-adjectives. Never to i-adjectives.


  1. 日本語 【に・ほん・ご】 – Japanese language
  2. 上手 【じょう・ず】(na-adj) – skillful, good at
  3. 楽しい 【たの・しい】(i-adj) – fun

Toggle Translations

  1. 日本語は、上手ね。
    As for Japanese, (you’re) good at it, aren’t you?(feminine)
  2. 日本語は、上手ね。
    As for Japanese, (you’re) good at it, aren’t you?(masculine)
  3. 日本語は、楽しいよ。
    As for Japanese, (it’s) fun, you know.(gender-neutral as 「だ」 cannot be used for i-adjectives)

Comic 3

  1. おはよう – Good Morning (casual)
  2. 元気 【げん・き】(na-adj) – healthy; lively
  3. 眠い 【ねむ・い】(i-adj) – sleepy
  4. でも – but
  5. もう – already
  6. 昼 【ひる】 – afternoon
  7. じゃ – then (abbr. of それでは)
  8. こんにちは – Good day
  9. お休み 【お・やす・み】 – Good night (expression for going to sleep)


Toggle Translations

John: Alice-chan, good morning.
Alice: Morning, how are (you)?
John: Sleepy.
Alice: But (it’s) already afternoon, you know.
John: Is that so? Then, good afternoon.
Alice: Good afternoon.
John: Good night.

The homework is easy!

  1. 宿題 【しゅく・だい】 (n) – homework
  2. 難しい 【むずか・しい】 (i-adj) – difficult
  3. 簡単 【かん・たん】 (na-adj) – easy
  4. うーん – umm
  5. 多分 【た・ぶん】 – probably; maybe
  6. どっち – which one; which way

アリス: 宿題は、難しい?
ジョン: 簡単よ!
アリス: 本当?
ジョン: うーん、多分難しいよ。
アリス: どっちよ。

Toggle Translations

Alice: As for homework, (is it) difficult?
John: It’s easy!
Alice: Really?
John: Umm, (it’s) probably difficult.
Alice: Which is it?

Because John is male, he decides to use 「だ」 with 「よ」 with the na-adjective 「簡単」. However, regardless of gender, you cannot use 「だ」 with i-adjectives so he says 「難しいよ」. 「難しいよ」 is grammatically incorrect.

Noun properties

The 「の」 particle has many different uses but one of the most basic usages is for describing nouns with other nouns similar to how we described nouns with adjectives. This is usually used to describe ownership, membership, property or any other description that involves another noun.

It is important to remember the order the modification takes place. You don’t want to inadvertently say “name’s me” when you meant to say “my name”. If you’re unsure of the order, I recommend translating 「の」 as “of” and reading it in reverse.


  1. 私 【わたし】 – me; myself; I
  2. 名前 【な・まえ】 – name
  3. この – this
  4. 車 【くるま】 – car
  5. 日本 【に・ほん】 – Japan
  6. ペン – pen
  7. 机 【つくえ】 – desk
  8. 上 【うえ】 – up; above
  9. かばん – bag
  10. 下 【した】 – down; below
  11. 先生 【せん・せい】 – teacher
  12. 日本語 【に・ほん・ご】 – Japanese language

Toggle Translations

  1. 私の名前は、キムです。
    Name of me (my name) is Kim.
  2. この車は、日本の車です。
    This car is car of Japan (Japanese car).
  3. ペンは、机の上です。
    Pen is above of desk.
  4. かばんは、机の下です。
    Bag is below of desk.
  5. 田中先生は、日本語の先生です。
    Tanaka-sensei is teacher of Japanese (Japanese teacher).

What’s your first name again?

  1. 下の名前 – first name (lit: bottom name)
  2. 何 【なに】 – what
  3. なんで – why
  4. え – huh, eh

リー: スミスさんの下の名前は、何?
スミス: アリスよ。
リー: アリスちゃんね。
スミス: リーさんの下の名前は?
リー: ジェユン
スミス: ・・・リー君ね。
リー: え、なんで?

Toggle Translations

Lee: What is Smith-san’s first name?
Smith: (It’s) Alice.
Lee: Alice-chan, huh?
Smith: What is Lee-san’s first name?
Lee: JaeYoon.
Smith: …Lee-kun, huh?
Lee: Huh, why?

Noun replacement

The 「の」 particle can also replace the noun entirely when it’s understood by the context.


  1. 赤い 【あか・い】 – red
  2. どれ – which

Toggle Translations

  1. 赤いは、好き。
    (I) like the red one.
  2. スミスさんは、どれですか?
    Which one is Smith-san’s?

Negative State-of-Being

Because the state-of-being is implied within nouns and adjectives, expressing the negative is a bit different from English. The noun or adjective is conjugated directly to say that [X is not Y]. Conjugating nouns and adjectives into the negative is done through two simple rules.

There are only two exceptions to the rule for i-adjectives both involving the adjective meaning “good”. The words 「いい」 and 「かっこいい」 (which is a combination of another word 「格好」(かっこう) with 「いい」) originally come from the adjective 「良い」(よい). Though it is usually pronounced 「いい」 in modern Japanese, all conjugations still derive from the original 「よい」 reading. You will see similar examples later as we learn different types of conjugations.

Negative for nouns and adjectives

  • For nouns and na-adjectives: Attach 「じゃない」 to the end

    1. 元気+じゃない=元気じゃない
    2. きれい+じゃない=きれいじゃない
  • For i-adjectives: Drop the 「い」 at the end and replace with 「くない」

    1. 忙し+くない=忙しくない
    2. かわい+くない=かわいくない
  • Exceptions: 「いい」 conjugates from 「よい」
    1. いい → よ+くない=よくない
    2. かっこいい → かっこよ+くない=かっこよくない

Note: The negative form is very similar grammatically to i-adjectives. Similar to i-adjectives, you must never use the declarative 「だ」 with the negative.


  1. サラダ – salad
  2. ステーキ – steak
  3. あまり – not very (when used with negative)
  4. この – this
  5. 本 【ほん】 – book
  6. 面白い 【おも・しろ・い】(i-adj) – interesting
  7. 今年 【ことし】 – this year
  8. 冬 【ふゆ】 – winter
  9. 寒い 【さむ・い】(i-adj) – cold

Toggle Translations

  1. サラダは、あまり好きじゃない
    As for salad, don’t like very much.
  2. ステーキ・サラダは、サラダじゃないよ。
    As for steak salad, (it’s) not salad, you know.
  3. この本は、面白くないよ。
    As for this book, (it’s) not interesting, you know.
  4. 今年の冬は、寒くないね。
    As for this year’s winter, (it’s) not cold, is it?

That’s not a good thing!

  1. 授業 【じゅ・ぎょう】 (n) – class; lecture
  2. あまり – not very (when used with negative)
  3. 面白い 【おも・しろ・い】 (i-adj) – interesting; funny
  4. でも – but
  5. 難しい 【むずか・しい】 (i-adj) – difficult
  6. それ – that
  7. いい (i-adj) – good
  8. こと (n) – matter; event
  9. 全然 【ぜん・ぜん】 (adv) – not at all (when used with negative)

ジョン: 山本先生の授業は、あまり面白くない
アリス: 私は、面白いよ。
ジョン: でも、難しくない
アリス: それは、いいことよ。
ジョン: 全然よくない

Toggle Translations

John: Yamamoto-sensei’s class is not very interesting.
Alice: As for me, (it’s) interesting.
John: But isn’t it very difficult?
Alice: That’s a good thing.
John: It’s not good at all!

Negative Nouns/Adjectives in Polite Form

As before, all that’s required for the polite form is to add 「です」 to the end of the sentence.

I’m not an otaku!

  1. 趣味 【しゅ・み】 (n) – hobby; interest
  2. 何 【なに/なん】 – what (read as なん when used with です)
  3. パソコン – computer (abbreviation of パーソナル・コンピューター or PC)
  4. ゲーム – game
  5. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable
  6. スポーツ – sports
  7. いいえ – no (polite)
  8. オタク – otaku; geek; enthusiast

山本: リーさんの趣味は何ですか?
リー: パソコンです。ゲームも好きです。
山本: スポーツは、好きですか?
リー: いいえ、あまり好きじゃないです
スミス: リーさんは、オタクです。
リー: オタクじゃないですよ!

Toggle Translations

Yamamoto: What is your hobby, Lee-san?
Lee: Computers. (I) also like games.
Yamamoto: Do (you) like sports?
Lee: No, I don’t like (it) that much.
Smith: Lee-san is an otaku.
Lee: I’m not an otaku!

Identifying the unknown

「が」 identifier particle

With the 「は」 topic particle, you have to know what you want to talk about ahead of time. Obviously this will not always be the case. For example, if you wanted to know what kind of food somebody liked, it would be impossible to ask if each kind was his/her favorite using the topic particle saying “as for this” and “as for that”. That is what the 「が」 particle is for: to identify or seek to identify an unknown.

  1. ピザ – pizza
  2. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable
  3. どんな – what kind of
  • ピザは、好きですか?
    As for pizza, do (you) like it?
  • どんなピザ好きですか?
    What kind of pizza do (like)? (Among all possibilities)

You can sometimes restructure your sentence to mean the same thing with and without the 「が」 particle.

  1. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable
  2. 食べ物 【た・べ・もの】 – food
  3. 何 【なに/なん】 – what
  • 好きな食べ物は、何ですか?
    As for food that (you) like, what is it?
  • 食べ物は、何好きですか?
    As for food, what is it that you like? (Among all possibilities)

However, while the topic particle can only bring up a general topic of conversation, the identifier particle plays a specific role in that it’s identifying a particular thing among other possibilities.

  1. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 (i-adj) – busy
  • スミスさん、忙しい。
    As for Smith-san, busy.
  • スミスさん忙しい。
    Smith-san is the one that is busy.

Which teacher do you like the most?

  1. どの – which
  2. 一番 【いち・ばん】 – number 1; the best; the most
  3. かわいい (i-adj) – cute
  4. 二年生 【に・ねん・せい】 – second year; sophomore
  5. 来年 【らい・ねん】 – next year
  6. 楽しみ 【たの・しみ】 – something to look forward to
  7. なんで – why
  8. 授業 【じゅ・ぎょう】 – class
  9. 面白い 【おも・しろ・い】 – interesting
  10. 難しい 【むずか・しい】 – difficult

リー: ジョンさんは、どの先生一番好き?
ジョン: 田中先生好きだね。
リー: そうだね。かわいいよね。でも、二年生の先生だよね。
ジョン: 来年楽しみだ!
アリス: 私は、山本先生好きよ。
ジョン: え?なんで?
アリス: 授業面白くない?
ジョン: 面白くないよ!難しいよ!
アリス: そう?

Toggle Translations

Lee: As for John-san, which teacher do (you) like the most?
John: (I) like Tanaka-sensei.
Lee: That’s so, isn’t it? She is cute. But (she’s) second-year teacher.
John: Looking forward to next year!
Alice: As for me, I like Yamamoto-sensei, you know?
John: Huh? Why?
Alice: Isn’t (his) class interesting?
John: It’s not interesting! It’s difficult!
Alice: Is that so?

The one or thing that…

Though it doesn’t work all the time, a simple trick to easily distinguish 「が」 is to translate it as “the one or thing that…”. This way, it clearly illustrates the 「が」 particle as identifying a particular thing or person.

  1. 田中先生好き。
    Tanaka-sensei is the one that (I) like.
  2. 授業面白くない?
    Isn’t (his) class the thing that is interesting?