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私は先生がネコを好きだと思います

Why を and not が twice?

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5  
Just curious: where did you find this sentence? –  fefe Jan 6 '12 at 16:10
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Related: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/3474/542 –  Flaw Jan 9 '12 at 10:54
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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

This is an interesting phenomenon. In a simpler sentence:

先生が猫が好きだ,

the predicate 好き is a na-adjective, so it does not have the ability to assign accusative case to its arguments. Therefore,

×先生が猫を好きだ

is ungrammatical. However, when it is embedded under a verb that can assign accusative case and there is no other noun phrase that needs to be assigned accusative case, then the object of 好き can receive accusative case (remotely) from that verb. Either the nominative () or the accusative () becomes available.

私は[先生が猫{が/を}好きだ]と思います

In the example above, receives accusative case not from its predicate 好き but from the verb 思う. This is called Exceptional Case Marking construction.

Similarly in English, the subject in a simple sentence needs to be in nominative case:

He is smart.

so having accusative case on the subject is ungrammatical:

×Him (is/to be) smart

However, when it is embedded under a verb that can assign accusative case and there is no other noun phrase that needs accusative case, then the embedded subject can receive the accusative case (remotely) from the verb in the main clause:

I consider [him (to be) smart].

Here, him is accusative case marked not by its predicate smart but by the verb consider.

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There's nothing I can say to comment on sawa's grammatical explanation (I got lost after 'accusative case'), but I think the original sentence is a good example of why 'textbook Japanese' seems so unnatural. Although this does not answer SLC's question at all, I feel a better solution would be to simply drop the 「私は」 completely and change the sentence to 「先生は猫が好きたと思います」. One of the best steps a beginner/intermediate student of Japanese can to to sound more fluent is to stop using 「私は」 at the beginning of every sentence. –  dbassett Jan 6 '12 at 18:31
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@dbassett If you have nothing to say about my answer, please do not comment on it, but rather do it to the question or make your own answer. –  sawa Jan 6 '12 at 18:46
    
Perhaps if your answer's English examples used the same words as the Japanese sentence ("teacher", "cat" and "like") it would be easier to make the association between the languages. (But then again "like" is a verb in English, while 好き isn't a verb in Japanese.) –  Flaw Jan 9 '12 at 10:58
    
@Flaw You are right. It is usually better to try to show the parallel with the corresponding sentences from the different languages. But in this case, the parallel is not a strict one. Whereas in Japanese, the nominative/accusative alternation in question happens with the embedded object, the alternation in the English counterpart happens with the embedded subject. So I couldn't make a strict parallel anyway. And also due to the category difference of the predicate, as you correctly pointed out. –  sawa Jan 9 '12 at 11:30
    
@Flaw Furthermore, I needed to use the pronoun he, him because English nouns do not show case differences. –  sawa Jan 9 '12 at 11:37
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私は先生が猫を好きだと思います sounds all right to me, while 私は先生は猫が好きだと思います would sound more natural.

Actually the first sentence (in the OP) is more like answering to the question asking 'Who likes cats?' while the other one (which I showed here) is answering to 'What do you think your teacher likes?'

I wouldn't say 私は先生が猫が好きだと思います... Why not? It just sounds unnatural... Well I might say that but wouldn't write that at least.

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