Take the 2-minute tour ×
Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm still playing Game Boy Wars Advance 2, and it contains this dialogue:

聞いたことあるような無いような・・・
どこの軍でしたっけ?

The first sentence has me confused. My intuition tells me the meaning of the sentence is "I might have heard of that, or I might not..." but I can't figure out how to get to that meaning from the words. The grammar doesn't make sense to me.

When I try to analyze it, I come up with three parts:

  1. 聞いたこと (a subject with the particle が omitted)
  2. あるような (動詞「ある」+ 助動詞「ようだ」の連体形)
  3. 無いような (形容詞「無い」+ 助動詞「ようだ」の連体形)

But that doesn't make sense to me--what do 2 and 3 modify? There's no noun at the end. Besides that, it seems like 2 and 3 contradict, so I don't understand how they can both modify something at the same time. I must have got it wrong.

Besides, if I add ようだ to a sentence, doesn't it parse like this?

  • [ 聞いたことがある ] ようだ
  • [ 聞いたことがない ] ようだ

That is, if I understand correctly, ようだ doesn't just attach to the verb at the end. It attaches to the whole sentence. So what I wrote above doesn't make any sense.

So how can I make sense of あるような無いような? Can 〜ような〜ような be used to list alternatives? I looked up ようだ, but I didn't see anything like that.

share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Your intuition is right. Don't try to break this one apart too formulaically. This character is just saying he/she has a feeling that he/she might have heard about this army somewhere before. The two keys two understanding this are in realizing that あるようなないような aren't connected to each other and are instead listing two contradictory simultaneous states and realizing that a word is being left off at the end.

With the first of those points I mean that the speaker is taking two sentences and saying them at once by alternating the あるようなないような. Saying it this way makes the sentence match the kind of vague uncertainty that is being conveyed in the sentence itself. "I sort of kind of have a feeling I might have possibly heard this somewhere or other!" kind of feeling.

The second part is knowing what's missing. I would insert 気がする at the end, so the person feels like he/she might have heard of this somewhere before.

The point here is that it's a vague description of uncertain or contradictory feelings. If you wanted to parse it more directly you could break it up into 聞いたことがある気がする。聞いたことない気もする。 But this doesn't really flow the same way. So you can say 聞いたことあるような気がする. So it's something more like "I have a feeling like I have heard it before," and then double that with the negative ないような気がする. Then just remove the 気がする to make it even more wistfully ambivalent: 聞いたことあるようなないような・・・

It's a pattern of ambivalent uncertainty.

You can use it in other situations, too. お腹が空いてるような空いてないような気がする, or "I feel both hungry and not hungry at the same time," or "I'm not sure if I'm hungry," or whatever equivalent expression you want to go for.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.