Part 2 on the non-existent 「たい」 form rule

In the previous post, not only did I to get away with being too lazy to finish what I was writing but I managed to make it an excuse for more comments. I’m a genius! The only downside is the increased pressure to actually come back and finish what I started. (As you can see, I easily managed to withstand the pressure for almost a full week.)

Rule? What Rule?

Getting down to business, I noticed that a couple people commented that they did not know there was a rule saying that you can’t use 「を」 with the 「たい」 form. You’re right, there is no rule! Forget I said anything! (Waves hand) These are not the rules you’re looking for… this is not a real post.

Gah! They’re all the bloody same!

There were some people that said they couldn’t tell the difference between 「を」, 「が」, and 「は」, so let’s take a look each example sentence from the last post.

1) 続き読みたい。
2) 続き読みたい。
3) 続き読みたい。
4) どうでもいい。

The way I see it, 2) and 3) are nothing special. They just go back to the original question of what the difference is between 「は」 and 「が」. In my very first post, I mentioned that the 「が」 particle is used to identify something unknown to the speaker or listener. So 2) is simply identifying what somebody wants to read. It’s like saying, “Oh you want to know what it is that I want to read? Well, it’s 「続き」”. A more literal translation would be, “「続き」 is what I want to read.” When people say that 「が」 places emphasis on 「続き」, that’s just another way of saying the same thing. The problem with the word “emphasis” is that you can emphasize anything by saying it with a heavy accent. With 「が」, it may seem like emphasis is being added to the thing you’re identifying but that is just a side-effect of the true meaning of 「が」.

As for 3), the 「は」 particle indicates that we are talking about 「続き」 as a topic. 「は」 works well for situations where you want to discuss, describe, or talk about a specific topic. For example, 「続きは読みたいけど、まだ読めない」 talks about 「続き」 as a topic; saying that you want to read it and that you can’t yet (because I’m writing it right now).

Finally, we get to real question, “When or why would we want to use 「を」?” The answer is so simple, you’ll want to ask for your money back. (I’ll do that as soon as I get some money to begin with.)

Use 「を」 when you don’t want to use 「が」 or 「は」.

「を」 is very neutral and simply says, “this is the object” without all the extra nuances of 「が」 or 「は」. If I say, 「りんごを食べたい」, all I’m saying is “I want to eat an apple.” There’s nothing else to infer. The apple is the object of my desire and that’s it. With 「は」, you are inferring, “Well, on the topic of apples, yeah, I want to eat it. Maybe not other stuff but apples, sure. As long as we’re talking about apples, I feel like it’s something I want to eat.” With 「が」, you are inferring, “You know what it is that I want to eat? Apples. Yeah. I thought about all the other stuff but no, an apple is what I want to eat.”

Thinking about these distinctions can make you feel confused and make Japanese seem complicated. Often times, one or more particles will make sense but can’t be used in other situations. Context will sometimes clear up which particles you should really be using. However, when the context is vague enough to allow multiple choices, it’s really important to get a sense of what each particle is really saying in order to decide how you want to come across to other people.

As for 4), c’mon, let’s be nice. You wouldn’t be reading this if you really thought that, right?


In reading the comments, it was obvious that some of you knew what each particle meant. Some of the answers are not exactly how I phrased things but describing these particles perfectly in English is impossible because the words don’t exist. So as long as you have a feel for how each particles work, that’s all that matters in the end.

And finally, yes Laura, I do have a girlfriend. What a strange question. Why do you ask?

11 thoughts on “Part 2 on the non-existent 「たい」 form rule

  1. Please tell me if this is correct. I think I understand the が/は difference, but I’m still not entirely sure about が. Anyway, if someone were to ask me, 「何が食べた?」, both 「りんごが食べた」 and 「りんごを食べた」 would be correct, right? Only, the former would be more like, “The thing I ate? It’s an apple,” while the latter would be “I ate an apple,” right? Also, would the difference between 「何が食べた」 and 「何を食べた?」be the same? Thank you very much, your grammar guide and 3yen posts have aided me tremendously.

  2. Unfortunately, 何が食べた? is not correct. 「が」 is identifying the person doing the eating. With 何 this becomes, “What ate [it]?” That would only make sense if something was capable of eating. りんごが食べた answers the question and means “The apple ate”.

    One the other hand, 誰が食べた? is perfectly fine because you are trying to identify who ate.

    So the difference is, 何が食べた? makes little sense while 何を食べた ? means “What did [you] eat”

  3. I’ve always wondered that. After reading your guide, i was always using the tai form with wo, but i kept hearing ga or wa instead…

  4. I have another perspective on the ‘が or を’ problem. Imagine that the root verb – 食べる – is dynamic, but the たい form is stative. Both aspects of the word are fighting it out, trying to dominate the nuance of the sentence. Only particles can determine the winner. Using が treats the たい verb in a stative manner – the apples are being described in terms of my wanting to eat them. Using を treats the たい verb in a dynamic transitive manner. The act of eating apples is desirous.

    For this reason there are times when you simply have to use the を form. For example, ‘敵を殺したい’

  5. so you do have a girlfriend.i always wondered, but thot it would be rude to ask.

  6. Hold on, I’m fairly sure that 「何が食べた?」makes perfect sense. The 「何」is not replacing a person, but the food.

    りんごが食べた。 – The thing that was eaten was ringo.
    何が食べた? – The thing that was eaten was what?

    I learnt this from some audio lessons, but more importantly, it makes sense to me after thinking about it. Are you still sure it’s wrong?

  7. What is this audio lesson? りんごが食べた means “The apple ate” so sure you can replace りんご with 何 but both sentences don’t make much sense. By your English translations, it looks like you might be thinking of the passive tense. In that case, りんごが食べられた makes perfect sense. “Ate” and “was eaten” are quite different.

  8. Oh yeah you’re right lol! I was just studying passive form yesterday so I got confused lol.

    Note to self “ga is only for passive” lol.

  9. We were only ever taught たい form with を in my Japanese classes in school. Although there never really was much emphasis on how exactly we were meant to use particles. (We had a different teacher for our exam year, and she rather exasperatedly tried to explain to us how, with the little time she had |D).

    I really need to look into particles more thoroughly, I suck at them, haha.

Comments are closed.