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I saw this sentence recently and I'm particularly confused on the use of から in the sentence.

まず君から殺す。

What does から mean here? What's the difference between that and まず君を殺す? How does から replace the particle を and what are some other examples/situations where it can do this?

Thanks

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It sounds like there's a group of people about to be killed and they're starting with "君", or whoever the speaker's talking to. "First, we're gonna kill you (and then the rest of you)". I can't be sure so I'm commenting... –  silvermaple Feb 1 '12 at 16:54
    
@silvermaple Yeah, that was basically the situation! Thanks. –  qerat Feb 2 '12 at 16:54
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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

から here takes a predicate and changes it so that it will mean a series of events, with one of its arguments ranging over an ordered set of things.

君を殺す
'I will kill you.'

君から殺す
'For x = x_1, x_2, ..., x_n, I will kill x in this order, where x_1 is you'

The difference between using まず is that まず takes a focus (which is the variable part of the implied events to follow) that is not necessarily the noun phrase adjacent to it. It can be the -phrase, the verb, the whole predicate, the -phrase, or whatever:

まず を殴る [Focus: 君]
'First, I will hit you, then I will hit your brother, ...'

まず君を 殴る [Focus: 殴る]
'First, I will hit you, then I will kick you, ...'

まず 君を殴る [Focus: 君を殴る]
'First, I will hit you, then I will go for shopping, ...'
'First, I will hit you, then my friend will hit you, ...'

Depending on the focus, まず-construction has several interpretation, and is ambiguous. One of the interpretations will be the same one using から, so using both will not cause conflict.

A restriction on this usage of から is that the predicate has to be telic (has an end point) in the relevant usage. With predicates that are telic, the construction is grammatical:

おかずから食べる
あの建物から着工される
あの建物から建設され始める

When the predicate is atelic, you cannot use this construction. The following are all ungrammatical:

× おかずから食べ続ける
× 太郎から存在する
× あの建物からそびえる  

Furthermore, it might be the case that for some speakers, the predicate also has to have duration. In the grammatical examples above, the predicates had duration, but the following predicates do not have duration, and it seems they are not completely natural:

太郎から現れる
その隕石から消滅する

They become more natural when duration is added to the predicates:

太郎から現れはじめる
その隕石から消滅し始める

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Wow. This is a much more detailed answer than what I expected from the question. I cannot understand everything written in this answer, but it is simply fun to see that there is something deeper than it looks at first sight. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 2 '12 at 2:29
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@TsuyoshiIto What is relevant here is called the aspectuality of predicates. According to 金田一 (1950) 「国語動詞の一分類」 in 『言語研究』, and Vendler (1967) "Verbs and times" in *The Philosophical Review", predicates (in any language) can be classified into four types depending on whether they have an end point and whether they have duration; although, the relation of this classification to から-construction is beyond their study. –  sawa Feb 2 '12 at 4:43
    
This is an excellent answer. Might I suggest that you clarify the part about まず? As your answer stands, it is not explicitly clear how to resolve the potential conflict between から (specifying an initial member and implying that the same treatment will to be applied to the entire set) and まず (specifying an initial member + treatment, but leaving open the possibility of different treatment for non-initial members of the set) when まず and から are combined as in the example. –  Matt Feb 2 '12 at 11:19
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DesolateOne's answer reminded me that から could be replacing が and not を here, so 君から殺す could mean 'For x = x_1, x_2, ..., x_n, x will kill [(unstated object)] in this order, where x_1 is you'. Is this worth adding? –  Hyperworm Feb 2 '12 at 11:41
    
(Addendum: obviously the object would have to be something like "one of the people in some group", and not a single individual, thanks to our choice of verb...) –  Hyperworm Feb 2 '12 at 11:59
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To me, から in まず君から殺す is like a declaration that you have to kill someone but with a specific order (in this case, you must kill starting with the first, in a presumably larger group of people).

まず君を殺す is simply saying 'you have to kill first'. Somewhat like a time-constraint. It does not designate an order in which you have to kill someone.

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まず君を殺す can't mean "you have to kill first", because 君 is marked by を, making it the object (recipient) of "kill", and not が, which would make it the subject (doer) of "kill". Also, I have seen no evidence that から can behave in that manner (keeping what it marks the same, and ranging over something entirely different). –  Hyperworm Feb 2 '12 at 11:53
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