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The dreaded "wa" vs "ga"

#1
Is there anyone here who is confident in their ability to tell when to use "wa" vs "ga"? If yes, HOW!!?

I think I've read all I could find on the topic. I've seen all the examples I could find. But when it comes to writing real text, I'm still clueless. I'm really at a loss. In all explanatory chapters/articles, the examples used are always simple and obvious. But real sentences are usually somewhat long and have multiple clauses. That's where in many cases I simply can't figure out which particle is appropriate.

If you got good at this, how did it happen? Was it simply years of experience? Do you just "feel" it? Or is there some theoretical explanation somewhere that makes it all clear, that I somehow overlooked?
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#2
This lesson on wa in Visualizing Japanese Grammar might help. https://www.gwu.edu/~eall/vjg/08particle...clewa.html

If not, I'll try to find something more concrete if or possibly someone else will.
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#3
From my understanding the difference is not simple and when every you think you understand, a new usage pops up. But tae kims explanation is as good as any explanation for the most common usage.
Edited: 2016-09-02, 7:13 pm
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JapanesePod101
#4
Focus on comprehension first unless you have some reason that you need to speak asap
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#5
Guys, thanks for the links. I think I understand the usage at the introductory level. "Wa" is basically used to denote information that is already known (either introduced previously or generally assumed to be a part of the shared context), and ga delineates the subject of a clause that is being introduced as new information. So far so good.

But whenever I try to write something myself and apply these rules (at least based on my understanding of the context), I keep getting corrected, and the Japanese who correct me aren't very good at describing why it has to be one and not the other in each particular case. For me, it all starts to unravel especially when long sentences with multiple clauses get involved (and any kind of real text contains lots of those, unlike examples used to teach this topic).

For illustrative purposes, let's look at some random 社説 off the web: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/editorial/20160...50006.html

中国や北朝鮮の軍事的挑発に備えるには、防衛力整備を着実に進めることが欠かせない。 What's with the first は? Did we already discuss 中国や北朝鮮の軍事的挑発に備える or what? Why are they dumping this info on me as if I'm already supposed to think about how to prepare to respond to the dastardly Chinese and NKoreans? I suppose the が in 防衛力整備を着実に進めることが欠かせない makes sense because it does appear as new information.

防衛省は2017年度予算概算要求で、今年度当初比2・3%増の5兆1685億円を計上した。 Why 防衛省は? Because the Ministry of Defense is part of shared context, i.e. everyone knows it exists?

中朝両国の軍備増強を踏まえれば、5年連続の増額要求は妥当である。 Once again, a は I don't understand. Why is 5年連続の増額要求 known context? Is it my problem, because I don't really follow Japanese politics? Or is there some other grammatical rule at play here?

尖閣諸島周辺の接続水域航行など、東シナ海での中国軍の動きが活発化する中、離島防衛の強化を重視するのは当然だろう。 Here I don't understand why it's 中国軍の動きが. Clearly, 中国軍の動き are part of the same shared context as all the other pieces of info in this editorial that were marked by は. I mean I'm sure it's on the news regularly. Yet in this case, it's が. Why? The は in this sentence (離島防衛の強化を重視するのは) makes sense in light of this theory. But が doesn't.

And so on...

Could someone please explain where I'm going wrong here?
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#6
(2016-09-02, 6:32 pm)cmertb Wrote: Is there anyone here who is confident in their ability to tell when to use "wa" vs "ga"? If yes, HOW!!?

There is absolutely no reason to worry about that. Eventually, you'll just figure it out by hearing it enough. In the meantime, you don't need to know, because it doesn't affect your ability to understand Japanese.
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#7
Right, it doesn't affect my ability to understand, but at some point I need to start writing, which is what I'm trying to do now. And as embarrassing as it is at my alleged level (N1), I can't grasp one of the most basic aspects of the language.
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#8
中国や北朝鮮の軍事的挑発に備えるには、防衛力整備を着実に進めることが欠かせない。 What's with the first は?

Conversely I have never ever heard anyone say verb+に+が... It's always blahるには for me I don't even know why you're questioning this. Like I said focus on input. Unless there's some extreme reason you gotta start speaking japanese asap go do input. The way going on about it with all this thinking is so draining... I never knew somebody could go on and on about wa and ga. I really recommend input. Sing lyrics anything. Also there are cases when it could either and the writer chose to use one over the other so you may not be wrong with a few of those accusations . Your time and energy can be put to better use with respect to learning the language or noticing things in the language besides wa and ga.

I personally am learning japanese and Korean and Korean also have particles that are equivalent to wa and ga BUT they are not used in the exact same way. I notice when I do output in japanese I tend to output ga when it should have been wa because of my intuition for the usage with the equivalent particles in Korean ( for my Lang-8 entries) . So whenever I'm not sure if it's wa or ga I lean towards wa since I overuse ga. But honestly it doesn't bother me and I focus on input and I know my probability of using these particles correctly for Korean and japanese Have increased since the very beginning.

--
embarrassing as it is at my alleged level (N1), I can't grasp one of the most basic aspects of the langua

N1 doesn't mean anything. It's a multiple choice test that anyone can cram for. Your Japanese ability directly corresponds with the amount of time you spend doing stuff in it and frequency also plays a role. It's not shocking or embarrassing. It makes complete sense your japnese is at the level it is based on the actual time you put into it. I got straight a's in spanish for 5 years and I cannot read a spansih book. Spanish grammar and vocab own me ( even though it's written in an alphabet and share whatever percent of vocab with english. I think that's just my thinkng that is spurred from entitlement lol like I had when I started learning japanese and expected understand more than I did just because I watched x hours of anime with english subs ) but reading japanese Novels is effortless and fun. I'm on my 100th japanese book now and it's so easy to read
Edited: 2016-09-02, 11:31 pm
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#9
I'm not saying it should be にが, but it could be に without the は.

Anyway, I've been reading manga and some ranobe for years now. When I read, I don't even notice where wa or ga are used. So it doesn't seem like all that input has been helping me with this particular issue (otherwise, I agree that it's the best way to go).
Edited: 2016-09-02, 11:56 pm
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#10
Best I can explain:


-general information and truths (ライオンは肉食だ this is a general truth about lions, not a specific lion)
-introduce topics ('yesterday' and 'today' are topics, not subjects, for instance)


-specific information
-introduce subjects (basically the same as the other point; そのほうがいい it is that particular way that is good, not just any way)

I can't remember the site (I think I bookmarked it on my desktop, but I'd rather not turn it on during a hurricane (probably just a storm now, but I haven't bothered to look at the news), so...), but I read an article that argued that the main problem people have with は and が is that the first has to do with topics, and the other deals with subjects; English doesn't use topics in its grammar, or something (I'm not a linguist and only studied English grammar in school).

So が is almost one to one with a subject marker ("you asked a question."), and は is something that you just have to practice at, but can be understood to introduce topics ("Yesterday, I went to class.").
Edited: 2016-09-03, 12:50 am
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#11
The book Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don't Tell You has a chapter on the difference between wa/ga that imo has a great explanaton. Don't let the romaji fool you though. Here a bit of info from the book:

Rubin Wrote:The next time you are tempted to say Watashi wa ikimashita, stop and think about whether you really want to proclaim to the world. “I know not what course others may have taken, but as for me, I went!”  Your wa differentiates you as a topic of discussion from other possible topics ("I don’t know about those other guys, but as far as I am concerned . . .") and then, after building up this rhetorical head of steam, it blows it all into the rest of the sentence (“Yes, I did it, I went! ”). Notice that wa builds suspense, arousing curiosity in the reader or listener about what is to come. If the speaker were to pause at the wa, the listener’s brain would whisper subliminally, “Yes, yes, and then what?” After having differentiated the named topic from implied other potential topics, wa dumps its emphatic load on what comes after it. This makes it very different from ga, which emphasizes what comes before it.

This gives a great introduction as to how wa works and how it shouldn't be used. Try and find the book at the local library and read the rest Smile Hope this helps!

[EDIT]
My dry reasoning for telling the difference are from simple sentences my 先生 used:

私は田中です。

I am Tanaka.

vs

私が田中です。

I am Tanaka (Tanaka *points at self*, that's me!)

The wa example is more seen in a direct scenario with Person A and B (Tanaka is B) while the ga scenario could be Person A talking to Person C and B/Tanaka just happened to listen in on the conversation. Maybe my logic is limited but it has been alright so far  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

[Image: 9148130.jpg]
Edited: 2016-09-03, 1:22 am
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#12
(2016-09-02, 11:56 pm)cmertb Wrote: I'm not saying it should be にが, but it could be に without the は.

Anyway, I've been reading manga and some ranobe for years now. When I read, I don't even notice where wa or ga are used. So it doesn't seem like all that input has been helping me with this particular issue (otherwise, I agree that it's the best way to go).

Maybe audio input is better for this kind of thing. I still stick by my advice which is more input
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#13
(2016-09-03, 12:49 am)RawrPk Wrote:
Rubin Wrote:wa dumps its emphatic load on what comes after it. This makes it very different from ga, which emphasizes what comes before it.

This gives a great introduction as to how wa works and how it shouldn't be used. Try and find the book at the local library and read the rest Smile Hope this helps!

[EDIT]
My dry reasoning for telling the difference is from simple sentences my 先生 used:

私は田中です。

I am Tanaka.

vs

私が田中です。

I am Tanaka (Tanaka *points at self*, that's me!)

Yes, this.
It's not 'new information' vs. 'old information', it's emphasized and unemphasized information. As a general rule, you're not going to emphasize the old information which is why that 'rule' sort of works sometimes. It's also why the 'topic' vs. 'subject' kind of works sometimes... the topic you're addressing sets the ground but isn't the point you're making, the stuff after the topic marker is where the point is.

The emphasis with が is not quite as certain - が is, after all, the grammatical particle for marking the subject of a verb so it may emphasize what comes before it, or it may be a fairly neutral statement (both the part before and the part after the が are simply part of a subject+verb clause, indispensable to each other and neither really 'emphasized'; this is especially likely for independent clauses embedded in a larger sentence.) It is certain, however, that the clause after the が is not emphasized over the clause before the が.


The only other case, really, is that of contrasts. (リンゴは果実ですが、ニンジンは野菜です。)
This is arguably just a special use of placing emphasis and not a different case at all; many people make that claim, certainly.

However, the 'I am Tanaka' example is the one that I usually reflect on when trying to interpret a sentence, or trying to write one although I don't do much of that.

One thing about the Tanaka example too, is that the sentences occur naturally in certain cases,

(To a person) Who are you?
私は田中です。 (emphasizes the name as conveying it is the point of the sentence)
(To a room of people) Which of you is Tanaka?
私が田中です。 (emphasizes the self, as identifying oneself out of the crowd is the point of the sentence.)

It may also be worth reflecting that in AはBです sentences, you have the following equivalence,
AはBです <-> BがAです
AがBです <-> BはAです

This kind of equivalence doesn't exist in verb-ending sentences, but copula-ending sentences are quite common so it's useful to keep in mind. Also question words can't be topics, so some sentences cannot be transformed. And of course using this transformation on 私は田中です results in a grammatical but unnatural sentence, because there are only a handful of patterns that are expected when a person introduces themselves. The other question can, however, be reasonably answered with 田中は私です.
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#14
(2016-09-03, 1:44 am)SomeCallMeChris Wrote: One thing about the Tanaka example too, is that the sentences occur naturally in certain cases,

(To a person) Who are you?
私は田中です。 (emphasizes the name as conveying it is the point of the sentence)
(To a room of people) Which of you is Tanaka?
私が田中です。 (emphasizes the self, as identifying oneself out of the crowd is the point of the sentence.)
This is the exact scenario my 先生 gave us. Especially about the ga example of how the sentence is taking place within a room full of people vs 1-on-1. I never learned wa/ga as new/old information but just stressing what is connected to them (depending on the particle chosen).

Here is a ga example sentence from "Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don't Tell You" using the definition of the term "crucifixion" (I edited the sentence so it's not romaji for everyone's sake lol ) :

Rubin Wrote:"...おもにキリスト教の迫害に用いられ、イエス・キリストの磔有名である...The ga indicates, however, that the point is not that Christ’s crucifixion was famous; rather that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was famous among crucifixions. Hence, “Primarily used in the persecution of Christianity. the crucifixion of Jesus Christ being the best known example.”

After reading this example of ga, it was pretty clear to me. Maybe a longer example sentence was what you needed to see. But I really do still suggest reading the book as I literally just showed 1/4 of a page in that entire chapter.
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#15
I agree with a lot of what everybody so far has said (and in particular second the recommendation for Jay Rubin's book). There are also some cases where you can "logic" it out by looking at grammar rules, and your specific examples from the editorial have a mix of "think about emphasis" and "grammar rule" I think:
(2016-09-02, 8:19 pm)cmertb Wrote: 中国や北朝鮮の軍事的挑発に備えるには、防衛力整備を着実に進めることが欠かせない。 What's with the first は? Did we already discuss 中国や北朝鮮の軍事的挑発に備える or what? Why are they dumping this info on me as if I'm already supposed to think about how to prepare to respond to the dastardly Chinese and NKoreans? I suppose the が in 防衛力整備を着実に進めることが欠かせない makes sense because it does appear as new information.
This one is には "in order to; for the purpose of", I think. The が in the second part of the sentence makes sense if you're thinking about emphasis because the question is "what is indispensable?" and the emphasis is on the が-marked clause.
Quote:防衛省は2017年度予算概算要求で、今年度当初比2・3%増の5兆1685億円を計上した。 Why 防衛省は? Because the Ministry of Defense is part of shared context, i.e. everyone knows it exists?
Emphasis (as per various other peoples' comments) -- the thing the speaker is trying to convey, the "meat" of the statement, is the proposed budget increase, and that gets the emphasis. That the MOD is the one doing the proposing is kind of obvious and faded into the background.
Quote:中朝両国の軍備増強を踏まえれば、5年連続の増額要求は妥当である。 Once again, a は I don't understand. Why is 5年連続の増額要求 known context? Is it my problem, because I don't really follow Japanese politics? Or is there some other grammatical rule at play here?
Emphasis again. One way to think about this is "what is the implied question that the sentence would be an answer to?", as SomeCallMeChris says (an idea described well in the Jay Rubin book, which is great). In this case for は (as written) the implied question would be "What are the 5-year budget increases?" -> "The 5 year budget increases are reasonable." For が it would be "What is reasonable?" -> "The 5 year budget increases are reasonable", and that's clearly not in context the point the writer is trying to make. (Similarly in the previous sentence the idea is "what did the MOD do?", not "who increased the budget?".)
Quote:尖閣諸島周辺の接続水域航行など、東シナ海での中国軍の動きが活発化する中、離島防衛の強化を重視するのは当然だろう。 Here I don't understand why it's 中国軍の動きが. Clearly,  中国軍の動き are part of the same shared context as all the other pieces of info in this editorial that were marked by は. I mean I'm sure it's on the news regularly. Yet in this case, it's が. Why? The は in this sentence (離島防衛の強化を重視するのは) makes sense in light of this theory. But が doesn't.
This one is because of the "no は in a subordinate clause" rule -- the subordinate clause is 東シナ海での中国軍の動きが活発化する which is all modifying 中.
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#16
Thanks for the all the tips, guys.

I have actually read Rubin's book. It simply ended up together with everything else I read on the topic -- I understand all the examples while I read, but when I try to apply that somewhere else, I still fail. Maybe I have some kind of a mental block here, I don't know.

Anyway, I think I know what my next steps are going to be.

pm215: Thanks for explaining all that to me. Let me chew on it for a while.
Edited: 2016-09-03, 10:25 am
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#17
(2016-09-03, 10:22 am)cmertb Wrote: Thanks for the all the tips, guys.

I have actually read Rubin's book. It simply ended up together with everything else I read on the topic -- I understand all the examples while I read, but when I try to apply that somewhere else, I still fail. Maybe I have some kind of a mental block here, I don't know.

Anyway, I think I know what my next steps are going to be.

pm215: Thanks for explaining all that to me. Let me chew on it for a while.

Do you need to be writing Japanese for a class or your job or are you just writing for output practice via Lang-8 for example? If not, delaying it and focusing on input might be a better option. I had started learning Japanese via classes so output was mandatory but now that I am self-learning, I am delaying it to get a better grasp on the language.

TD;LR: if you don't need to use Japanese to communicate (via speech or writing) in your daily life, delay output. More input.
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#18
(2016-09-02, 9:22 pm)cmertb Wrote: Right, it doesn't affect my ability to understand, but at some point I need to start writing, which is what I'm trying to do now. And as embarrassing as it is at my alleged level (N1), I can't grasp one of the most basic aspects of the language.

So start writing. Is wa vs. ga really stopping you? Are you planning to only start writing once people can't tell the difference between your writing and that of a native speaker? Because then you'll never start writing.

In fact, you should probably be asking this kind of stuff on a Japanese forum. There's no reason to be embarrassed about not being perfect. You should've seen what my English looked like, when I decided to start "contributing" on English language boards. If anyone runs their mouth, ask them how many languages they can carry out a conversation in. Odds are, it's at least one less than you.
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#19
RawrPk: I am familiar with that theory (input before output), but at some point you have to take human psychology into account. I want to communicate and I can't wait anymore. So that's why I'm writing, even though I suck at it. But at least for now I will write on Lang-8, so all my crap gets pointed out to me, and I don't get lulled into any kind of false sense of security about my output ability.

Stansfield123: It's not so much stopping me as frustrating me. I will still write, but I just wanted to get this issue out of the way. And it isn't imperfection that's embarrassing me, it's more like the level of it -- after all, it's typically Japanese 101 level stuff. Although, now that I think about how English learners keep messing up English articles, I realize that it's the 101 level stuff that might be the most difficult part of a language, and mastering some of it can drag on for years.

But I have to disagree with you about asking about this topic on a Japanese forum. Native speakers don't see the language the same way. IMO, the best person to explain why things are a certain way is a non-native speaker who has mastered it -- basically, they can show you the path that you need to travel.

Anyway, I think this thread at least made me feel better about it.
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#20
Mastery of wa/ga is definitely not 101 level stuff -- it's notoriously hard to get a handle on, because it doesn't correspond to an equivalent English construct and it isn't a single straightforwardly explainable rule that you can remember either.
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#21
(2016-09-03, 5:20 pm)pm215 Wrote: Mastery of wa/ga is definitely not 101 level stuff -- it's notoriously hard to get a handle on, because it doesn't correspond to an equivalent English construct and it isn't a single straightforwardly explainable rule that you can remember either.

I agree. It's clearly not 101 just from reading people's long-ass explanations and theories about certain wa/ga usage in this very thread. Your Japanese ability correlates with the amount of time you spent doing stuff in Japanese so clearly it makes logical sense that you haven't mastered wa/ga on the output spectrum.
Edited: 2016-09-03, 6:28 pm
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#22
(2016-09-03, 4:49 pm)cmertb Wrote: RawrPk: I am familiar with that theory (input before output), but at some point you have to take human psychology into account. I want to communicate and I can't wait anymore. So that's why I'm writing, even though I suck at it. But at least for now I will write on Lang-8, so all my crap gets pointed out to me, and I don't get lulled into any kind of false sense of security about my output ability.
It's understandable to want to do output asap. Do you just do Lang-8 or do you have a language partner? If you really want to hit the ground running with output, meeting with a language partner is your best bet! Here is an article called, Two Hours with a Language Helper which might help. Though the person isn't learning Japanese, the activities can still be applied. You will also benefit from meetups so try to find a regular Japanese language exchange group. Here are some more activities that can be done (though some are repeats from the other article too).

If you feel that you're ready, by all means go for it! I merely gave you advice to delay it to build stronger foundation skills based on what you told us here with your struggles. Finally, don't worry. You're not the only person who writes crap Lang-8 entries. Just look at this entry I wrote for my Japanese class (it was a speech I needed to do later) about my trip to Hawaii. Confused
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#23
Well, one thing about Lang-8 is that you will -always- get corrections, no matter how well you formulate your posts. Conscientious people will mention if they are correcting an actual error or just for 'naturalness' (もっと自然), but some people just correct indiscriminately to what they would normally say (even if they speak a pretty non-standard dialect!)

Lang-8 is great, but you need to take all corrections with a grain of salt.

Anyway, if you want more resources for studying grammar, I highly recommend 庭三郎さん’s outline of Japanese Grammar.
http://www.geocities.jp/niwasaburoo/shuyoumokuji.html
(encoding is EUC-JP if your browser doesn't auto-detect it). It's a bit of an older page, but the information is still 100% valid. It's basically a textbook by a (well-informed) native speaker for native speakers, but if you're advanced enough to read a textbook in Japanese then it's a really powerful resource for you.

In this case, of course, I'm thinking of 「は」について http://www.geocities.jp/niwasaburoo/09wa.html , but every section is worth reading.
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#24
(2016-09-03, 4:49 pm)cmertb Wrote: But I have to disagree with you about asking about this topic on a Japanese forum. Native speakers don't see the language the same way.

Well yes, that's true...but there's a reason why natives don't see the language that way. A really good reason: it ISN'T that way. There ISN'T a set of rules that dictates how a natural language works. At best, there are explanations that might help with some aspects of a language. Case and point, the basic wa/ga explanation beginners are greeted with when they start learning Japanese. That's actually helpful (in most situations), as long as it's kept simple, and it's understood that it's not a rule, just a heuristic that works most of the time, not all the time.

So it's not "to each his own", two equally valid, subjective approaches to the issue. It is an objective fact that languages were created by the natives who've been speaking them for hundreds of years, and that the people who created them didn't formulate or follow many rules. Looking at the language the way the natives do is (mostly) correct, and looking at it as a system of rules is not correct.

Making an attempt to formulate a comprehensive "rule" isn't helpful. I haven't read the longer posts in this thread, but, from the looks of it, you guys are figuring that out. You're pages worth of text into it and the elusive "rule" is yet to be worked out. Because that's not how natural languages work. So you're wasting your time trying. Instead, you should learn it the same way natives have: through exposure to large volumes of the language. The heuristics people mistakenly refer to as "grammar rules" work for a while, but, eventually, they stop being helpful. I'd say N1 is well past the point where they're helpful.
Edited: 2016-09-04, 5:30 am
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#25
That's partly true, but it's also true that learning a second language as an adult is definitely in some ways not like learning your first language as a child. And when you have difficulties with that process sometimes fellow learners are a more useful resource for understanding your difficulties than native speakers.
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