Japanese Clauses

A clause is the smallest unit of a sentence that carries a meaning. Some sentences only have one clause (simple sentences), and some have many clauses next to or within each other (complex sentences). A few of things to keep in mind:

Types of Clauses

There are four primary types of clauses, but I've also included a mixed-class clause:

Simple sentences will only ever have an independent clause. Complex sentences will have any combination of these, but will still always have at least one independent clause. In this section, we will be covering independent clauses, relative clauses, and noun clauses.

Adverbial clauses, relative-adverbial clauses, and other complex sentence structures will be covered on the Sentences Page.

  • The colored stripes represent each type of clause. For now, part-of-speech is not noted in this section.
    • part of the independent clauserelative clausenoun clauseadverbial clauserelative adverbial clause
  • The translations are literal, and possibly unnatural in English. This is so that you can really grasp the grammatical value of each word.

Relative/Adjectival Clauses

Relative clauses describe a noun. In English, we use relative pronouns like "that" or "who" to introduce a relative clause after the noun. In Japanese, relative clauses come immediately before the noun that they describe. The noun being described can be related in any way to the clause: it might be the one who performed the action, the one whom the action was performed on, or even just a location where the action happened.

Since these clauses come before a noun, you cannot use polite forms and must use "na" instead of "da".

Where does the Relative Clause start?

Telling where a relative clause starts is a fuzzy area. There is no rule, but it should generally be obvious from the rest of the conversation. One thing that is helpful is that, since が is used to specify the actor of a verb, it usually indicates that it is the subject of a relative clause, not the independent clause (otherwise, we'd use は). When present, this often marks the beginning of a relative clause.

Below are a few of the most common generalized words to use with relative clauses.

Noun Clauses

Noun clauses are clauses that are used like a noun would be. Usually, this means it becomes the subject or the direct object of a verb.

There are multiple types of noun clauses in English, but only one of them is a true noun clause in Japanese. However, I will be covering the other types here too because all of them use phrasal particles.

Gerunds 「の」

Subordinate Noun Clauses 「と」

Like in English, you cannot use this form with just any verb: usually, they are verbs that involve some sort of thought or observation.

Subordinate Interrogatives 「か」

Relative Clauses vs Subordinate Interrogatives

You may have noticed that, in English, most of the keywords that introduce subordinate interrogatives can also be used to introduce relative clauses. So how can you tell which structure to use in Japanese? For example, "I remember when I was young." vs "I remember when the party is." Here are some suggestions:

  • Is the object concrete?