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白い箱はカウチの上に緑のランプは机の上にあります。

This sentence looks like it has two topics in it. But when I try to translate it, it doesn't make sense (to me obviously). My direct translation is: A white box on top of the couch a green lamp is on top of the desk. Obviously, that's not gonna work. To me, it's like the first phrase is missing a verb. What am I missing?

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Is there a comma missing in there, like 白はkはカウチの上に、緑の~? I believe generally you'd need a verb after that 上に, like 上にあって or 上にあり, but it looks like it's just saying where each of those two things is with a single verb. –  ssb Dec 4 '12 at 5:19
    
@ssb It's a straight copy. I've made no alterations. –  dotnetN00b Dec 4 '12 at 5:22
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I think the two part are sharing a verb. –  fefe Dec 4 '12 at 5:36
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A straight copy from where? From something that might be a bit loose on punctuation? –  dainichi Dec 4 '12 at 5:43
    
@fefe Is that normal? –  dotnetN00b Dec 4 '12 at 5:53

1 Answer 1

up vote 10 down vote accepted

As ssb and fefe wrote, the sentence consists of two clauses which share the main verb あります. In this particular case, it would be easier to read if the author put a 読点 (“、”) in the sentence:

白い箱はカウチの上に、緑のランプは机の上にあります。

However, unlike commas in English, 読点 in Japanese is rarely (if ever) grammatically required. Authors are free to use 読点 wherever they feel that it makes sense to make a pause when pronounced. (But see this post by snailplane for an example where omitting 読点 would make a sentence ungrammatical.)

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The lack of strict rules for 読点 make it rather difficult for foreigners to understand at times. Thanks for clearing this up. –  Chris Harris Dec 4 '12 at 20:37

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