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I've recently been having trouble with constructions that seem to mark two subjects in the same clause. I've only encountered them in ~の方が... constructions, but I can't seem to make sense of them grammatically. Here are some examples:

  1. 当然、都心より郊外のほう家賃安い。 (from a vocabulary book)
  2. (人)よりも自分の方知識あると思う (from アルク)

My questions are: why are two subjects allowed here, and are there other constructions in which this happens? So far my thoughts on this are:

(a) 方 seems to be a subject, but not have a verb. So maybe this is simply be some kind of relative-clause-like construction with the noun elided away, e.g. 家賃が安い[ところだ] and 知識がある[人だ]. But this seems a little odd - I don't know of anywhere else where this is possible.

(b) The second sentence might bracket as (人)よりも自分の方が([blah]と思う), rather than ((人)よりも自分の方が[blah])と思う. This makes perfect sense, but I suspect that the と思う could be removed to leave a valid sentence, so this explanation seems a little spurious. In any case this doesn't explain the first sentence.

So I'm a little confused. Any light anyone can shed on this would be great. Thanks!

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Ack, my formatting messed up. I don't really know how to fix that, because it looks fine on the edit screen... –  Billy Dec 18 '12 at 16:19
    
I edited it. You have to use HTML tags to format kana. It shows fine while you're editing, but it doesn't work correctly for some reason. –  istrasci Dec 18 '12 at 16:38
    
@istrasci Oh, I didn't know HTML was allowed here. Thanks. –  Billy Dec 18 '12 at 18:31
    
It's limited. There should be a help button when editing that shows what you can use. –  istrasci Dec 18 '12 at 19:20

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

As @Flaw flawlessly explains, Japanese sentences can have clausal predicates. This is what causes what is commonly known as double-subject constructions, although I believe "clausal predicates" really illustrates the structure better.

I assume you have heard constructions like

彼は髪が長い He has long hair

Some teachers/textbooks might explain this away by saying that 彼 is a topic, not a subject, but that creates problems when you run into sentences like

彼が髪が長いんだ! He is the one with long hair!

Here the first が is an exhaustive-listing が. When multiple がs occur in a main clause, the first is usually exhaustive-listing. Note that 髪が長いのは彼だ might be more common, but I don't consider the above ungrammatical. Also, dependent/relative clauses cannot have topics, so you might see

彼が髪が長い理由は ... だ The reason for his long hair is ...

although I think in this case 彼の髪が長い理由は...だ might also be as/more common.

In your example sentence, のほう needs to have a が (This would also fall under the exhaustive-listing category) to have the comparative meaning

郊外のほうが家賃が安い Rent is cheaper in the suburbs

Changing the が to a は would lose the comparative meaning

郊外のほうは家賃が安い Rent is cheap in the suburbs

As a side note, I'm not exactly sure what the function of のほう would be in this case, I think you can see it either as a filler, or as something that directs your attention to 郊外. 郊外は家賃が安い would mean almost the same.

To address Billy's question in his comment

郊外が家賃が安い It is in the suburbs that rent is cheap

is grammatical, but quite narrow in meaning. And again, 家賃が安いのは郊外だ is probably more common to convey this meaning.

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Can you explain exactly what you mean by "exclusive-listing", please? (I could perhaps reverse-engineer a definition from your XのはY sentences, but I'm wondering what it means in general, without reference to this double-が nonsense.) –  Billy Dec 19 '12 at 1:24
    
Oh - perhaps the name is more transparent than it seemed at first glance. The "exclusive-listing" meaning of が is the one that renders "YがX" as meaning "the (only) thing with property X (in the world / in consideration / in the scope of this discussion) is Y", is that right? –  Billy Dec 19 '12 at 1:27
    
@Billy I think (but don't know) dainichi might have meant "exhaustive-listing", as described here: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/22/… –  snailboat Dec 19 '12 at 5:26
    
@snailplane, whoops, you're right. I'll update my answer. Thanks –  dainichi Dec 19 '12 at 8:44
    
Thanks very much, @snailplane (and dainichi). I'll accept this answer simply because it's a bit more detailed than Flaw's. :) –  Billy Dec 19 '12 at 14:44

I think this is how:

Consider first Clause1: 家賃が安い.
The structure is Subject1+が+Predicate1.
Subject1: 家賃
Predicate1: 安い

Now consider Clause2: (都心より)郊外のほうが家賃が安い.
The structure is Subject2+が+Predicate2, where Predicate2 is Clause1.
Subject2: 郊外のほう
Predicate2: 家賃が安い


Predicate: The part of a sentence or clause saying something about the subject

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1  
So can I say 郊外が家賃が安い? (That is, can I change the subject?) –  Billy Dec 18 '12 at 17:44
    
Thanks - appreciated. :) –  Billy Dec 19 '12 at 2:56

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