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:
- The only required part of a clause is the verb, which comes at the very end.
- Information that is "obvious" is usually left out, especially if it's mentioned or going to be mentioned in another clause
- Every other part of speech, other the verb, can come anywhere in the sentence, but there are standards to follow:
- Any n-time adverbs should come first (i.e. 明日 (tomorrow), 今 (now)).
- Any binding topics should come next (i.e. parts of speech followed by は or も).
- Any actors should come next (i.e. the noun followed by が).
- Everything else should be based on their significance, from least to greatest (the more significant, the closer to the verb).
Types of Clauses
There are four primary types of clauses, but I've also included a mixed-class clause:
- Independent/Main Clauses: These are the main clause of a sentence. They describe the action that we are focusing on, and always come last in the sentence.
- Dependent/Subordinate Clauses: These are clauses that support the main clause. They provide additional information to the action. They never use polite tense.
- Relative/Adjectival Clauses: These describe a noun. They always come right before the noun being described.
- Noun Clauses: These act like a noun. They are marked with a phrasal particle.
- Adverbial Clauses: These describe an action or condition, such as why, when, and how. They are marked with a conjunctive particle.
- Relative-Adverbial Clauses: These are relative clauses used to describe an action or condition. They are marked with the particle に ("ni").
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 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.
Kare ga mottekitaringo wa oishii.
The apples that he brought were delicious.
"He" is not the topic of conversation, but he did bring the apples, so we should use が.
Senshuukyuukou dattajugyou ni itta.
I went to the class that was canceled last week.
Boku wakare ni tegami o kaitakodomo o sagashite iru.
I am looking for the child who wrote him a letter.
Below are a few of the most common generalized words to use with relative clauses.
Kare ga ringo o tabetakoto o shitte iru.
I know the thing that he ate the apple.
You can also say this using the と particle, covered in the subordinate noun clause section. However, Japanese has a tendency to prefer real nouns when possible
Kare wamotometamono o eta.
He got the thing that he asked for.
Using は, we can assume here that he is both the actor of the verb 求めた and 得た.
Sono hon o kaitahito o aitai.
I want to meet the person who wrote this book.
Kinou tabetabasho ga suki desu.
I like the place where I ate yesterday.
Toukyou ni ittatoki o kangaeta.
I thought about the time that I went to Tokyo.
Erandaryuu wa akiraika desu.
The reason why I chose it is obvious.
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 in English are marked by "-ing", like "running," "eating pancakes" or "going to the beach at night."
In Japanese, they use the particle の.
- Subordinate noun clauses in English are marked by the word "that." For example, "I think that..." or "I realized that..."
In Japanese, they use the particle と.
- Subordinate interrogatives in English are marked by interrogatives. For example, "I know when..." or "I knew if..."
In Japanese, they use the particle か.
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.
"kanjiru" (to feel)
Nihongo o hanasu koto wa,tanoshii tokanjiru.
About speaking Japanese, I feel that it is fun.
"shinjiru" (to believe)
Jijitsu de aru toshinjimasu.
I believe that it is the truth.
"shiru" (to know)
Watashi wajibun ga muchi toshitte iru.
I know that I am ignorant.
"wakaru" (to realize)
Mita totan nisugukare da towakatta.
The moment I saw him, I knew that it was him.
Subordinate Interrogatives 「か」
Itsu iku beki kashiranai.
I don't know when I should go.
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: