The Particle Wa
The particle wa is the most common particle in Japanese. One note about its pronunciation—it is pronounced wa, but it is written with the hiragana character for —, so be sure to keep that in mind. This particle indicates the topic of the sentence. We don't have a topic in most of our English sentences, but when we do, it is typically at the beginning. Here are examples of topics being used in English:
- Canada? No, I've never been there. (Canada is the topic of the sentence)
- Well, as far as motorcycles are concerned, I prefer Harleys. (motorcycles are the topic)
The topic is used much more often in Japanese, and for one main reason: quite often (although not always), the topic is the same as the subject of the sentence. The example from our previous sentence, where we said "watashi wa", shows an example of this. You can translate "watashi wa" as "I", such as "watashi wa ringo wo tabemasu" to "I'm eating an apple." More literally, however, this sentence would translate as "As for me, [I am] eating an apple." It is the topic as well as the subject because the sentence is about "me," making me the topic. And, because I am the one doing the eating, I am also the subject.
You often hear that the subject of the sentence is left out in Japanese. This is true, without a doubt, but there is a deeper explanation at hand. The subject, when it is also the topic, is often left out. In reality, the fact is that the topic of the sentence is often left out, and that is due to the contextual nature of Japanese. If there is a separate subject and topic, the subject is almost never left out.