I’ll be comparing two simple sentences today.
Sore wa ii desu.
Sore ga ii desu.
The obvious difference between them is just “wa” and “ga,” but is that really all there is to it? And do both mean “That’s good”?
The basic rule states that text following “wa” and text preceding “ga” is emphasized.
Please keep this rule in mind and consider the following examples.
A: fuyuyasumi ni Nikko ni ikimasu. (I’m going to Nikko during winter break.)
B: sore wa ii desu ne. (That’s nice.)
“Sore” refers to going to Nikko during winter break, and B is trying to say, “It’s nice to go to Nikko during winter break.” B wants primarily to communicate his/her opinion that “that’s not a bad idea at all, but is good,” based on the rule that text following “wa” is emphasized.
A: renkyu chu wa kuruma ga komu kara, densha de iku koto ni shimashita. ( I decided to go by train because traffic will be bad during the holiday week.)
B: sore ga ii desu ne. (That sounds like a good idea.)B is agreeing that “It’s a better idea to go by train rather than by car” because the part preceding “ga” (“sore”) is what is focused on.
It seems that A and B don’t have any plans other than A’s Nikko trip.
A: Tokyo no fuyu wa tenki mo ii shi, fuyuyasumi wa ii ne. (The winter weather in Tokyo is pleasant. Winter break is NICE.)
B: Itsu bonenkai ga shitai? Christmas no mae? Christmas no ato? (When would you like to have a year-end party? Before or after Christmas?)
A: Christmas no ato ga ii na. (AFTER CHRISTMAS is better.)
”Christmas no ato ga ii na” has the same connotation as “Coffee ga ii desu” (Coffee is better/I prefer coffee/I’ll have coffee) when answering the question “Nomimono wa kohi to ocha, dochira ga ii desu ka?” (Which would you like, coffee or tea?).
A: watashi no kaisha wa Christmas kara oshogatsu made zutto yasumi nan desu. (My company will be closed from Christmas till New Year.)
B: sore wa ii na. (That sounds nice. * I think “I’m jealous” is also implied.)
B: watashi wa 29 nichi kara wa yasumi dakara, 29 nichi ni bonenkai o shiyo ka? (I’ll be off on the 29th, so let’s have the year-end party on that day.)
A: sore ga ii! (Now that sounds great to me. * I’m trying to make the meaning of “ga” visible in English.)
“Sore wa ii” in example 4 shows the speaker’s opinion on whether the previous sentence, which “sore” refers to, is good or not. It’s just like examples 1 and 3 too.
A: kodomo o tsurete kite mo ii? (May I bring my children?)
B: sore (kodomo) wa ii yo. (Yes, you can bring them.)
A: inu mo tsurete kite mo ii? (May I bring my dog, too? )
B: sore (inu) wa dame. C san wa inu ga suki ja nai kara. (No, you can’t bring him. C doesn’t like dogs.)This “ii” indicates giving permission. Further, “wa” in “kodomo wa” and “inu wa” lines up the two topics in contrast. This means I allow you to bring children, but no dogs.
B: 29 nichi ni kaimono o tetsudatte moraeru? (Can you please help me with grocery shopping on the 29th?)
A: sore wa ii yo. demo, asa hayakattara, tetsudaenai kamo. (I don’t mind, but if you go in the early morning, I might not be able to.)In this case, A accepts B’s request in the previous sentence, which “sore” refers to, and says, “Okay, I’ll do it!” This has a different connotation from “ii ne!” (That’s nice!).
After going through those examples, I think you’ll see that it’s better not to consider “sore wa ii” and “sore ga ii” to simply be equivalent to “That’s good” and “That’s nice.” They often imply something else besides those simple translations. In either case, you can’t interpret these phrases correctly without understanding the previous sentences. Please be aware of the context where they are used.