In the previous section, we talked about the particle は and went in depth about the concept of “grammatical topic”. However, は is not the only particle that can be used to indicate the topic of a sentence. Whereas は is used to indicate contrastive topics, the particle も can instead be used to indicate inclusive topics. In this article, we’ll be going over in depth the difference between inclusion and contrast in the context of Japanese grammar and how it relates to the proper usage of the particles は and も.

Useful Vocabulary

  • 缶詰(かんづめ)・Canned food
  • 足がはやい(あしがはやい)・ Expression meaning “Fast runner” (Lit: Legs are fast).
  • 猫(ねこ)・ Cat
  • スプーン・ Spoon
  • あげる・To give

Pattern 1 – XもYです

Earlier we went over the pattern「XはYです」, which literally means “As for X, (is) Y”, using the contrastive topic particle は to indicate X as the topic, which stands in contrast to everything else that exists. When you mark a topic with 「 Xは」 you are saying, “We are talking about X specifically, as opposed to everything else”. But what if instead you wanted to say “As for X, too” to indicate that X along with some other topic Y both share some property? In that case, all you have to do is replace は with も. So the sentence 「XもYです」means “As for X too, Y” or more idiomiatically “X is also Y”.

Let’s look at a few example sentences:

  • 学生です – I am also a student.
  • これペンです – This is also a pen
  • 田中さん日本人です – Tanaka-san is also a Japanese person
  • 下痢です – I also have diarrhea

Multiple topics can be chained together with a sequence of も particles. Take a look at the following sentences:

  • トムさん学生です – Tom and I are both students
  • これそれペンです – This and that are both pens
  • 田中さん日本人です – Tanaka-san and I are both Japanese people

Combining も With Case Marking Particles

As we saw before with は, the inclusive marker も can either override or combine with the case marking particles (が、を、に、へ、の、etc) to topicalize them. The patterns of overriding and combining are the same:

  • が → も  (私今日スプーンで猫に缶詰をあげる) 
    • I also give my cat canned food with a spoon today.
  • を → も  (私は今日スプーンで猫に缶詰あげる)**
    • Today I give canned food too with a spoon to my cat.
  • で → でも (私は今日スプーンでも猫に缶詰をあげる)
    • Today I give canned food to my cat with a spoon, too
  • に → にも (私は今日スプーンで猫にも缶詰をあげる)
    • I give canned food today with a spoon to my cat, too.
  • Unmarked → も (今日も私はスプーンで猫に缶詰をあげる)
    • I give my cat canned food with a spoon today, too.

Please also don’t forget to keep in mind that these example sentences are rather contrived in the sense that they include way too much information. In general, as mentioned before, Japanese speakers will omit any bit of information that is obvious from context, so the above sentences would be heavily abbreviated in real reading/writing, and are only laid out in full here to illustrate the grammar.

As you can see, what is being included depends on what particle も is being used with. This is actually quite similar to English, in that the placement of the usage of words like “too” and “also” determine what is being included, although in English it can be a bit more ambiguous. For example, “I eat sushi, too” can either mean “I (in addition to an other person) eat sushi” or it can mean “I eat sushi (in addition to another food). In Japanese, each meaning is clearly deliniated:

  • 寿司を食べる
  • 私は寿司食べる

** In some very old-fashioned or extremely conservative or formal written Japanese, you may occasionally see 「をも」 with the particle を combining with も:

  • 私は今日スプーんで猫に缶詰をもあげる

There’s no need worry much about this though. It’s not something you’ll ever need to make use of yourself, but I’ve included it here for completeness because it does pop up occasionally.

The patterns 「XもYが」「XはYも」

As we saw in the previous section, the pattern「XはYが」can be used to describe situations where Xは marks the topic, and Yが marks the subject, where the subject is something that relates back to to topic X. This pattern can be extended to describe inclusive states by replacing either は or がwith も

For example:

  • 寿司好きです (As for me, sushi is likable / I like sushi)
    • 寿司が好きです (As for me also, sushi is likeable / I like sushi, too, in addition to other people )
    • 私は寿司好きです (As for me, sushi is also likeable / I like sushi, too, in addition to other food)
  • はやい (As for me, legs are fast / I’m a fast runner)
    • はやい (As for me also, legs are fast / I’m a fast runner, too, in addition to other people)
    • はやい (As for me, legs are also fast / I’m a fast runner, too, in addition to other skills)

Avoiding Awkward Misunderstandings

Last time we looked at the example sentence 「今日はきれいですね」and how it can be unintentionally insulting. By using the contrastive topic marker は with 今日, even though you’re saying “(You’re) pretty today” the implication is that the person is pretty today in particular, as opposed to every other day. Although we didn’t go over how to rectify this situation, now that we know how to use the particle も, the solution is obvious:

  • 今日きれいですね

With も, the topic 今日 becomes inclusive instead of contrastive, and so the meaning changes from “You’re pretty today (compared to other days)” to “You’re pretty today (as always)”. With one simple particle change, your compliment goes from backhanded to genuine.

Conclusion

As you can see, も is a pretty versatile particle that can really expand the expressiveness of your Japanese. Although there are even more uses of the particles は and も that we haven’t yet covered, what we’ve covered here thus far should be enough to get you on your way communicating effectively with other Japanese speakers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s