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(This might be a quick easy question but sometimes the answers to these are unexpected.)

What is the subject in the following sentences? I've given my best efforts for the examples 1-4 below. (I am increasingly in favour of my alternative answer but still not sure.)

  1. 1か月を経ても音沙汰{おとさた}がない|A month has passed [elapsed] and we have had no news.
  2. なす事もなく日を経る|spend [pass] one's days in idleness
  3. 事故以来3年を経た|It has been three years since the accident.
  4. 2年を経て彼らは結婚した|They got married [two years later / after two years

For what they are worth, my initial answers were: 1. 時, 2. 彼/私/自分, 3. 時 (same as 1) , 4. 彼ら

But alternatively perhaps they are all 時 as in the sentence:

時は止まる ことなく 流れる。 Time passes with out stopping (equivalent to "Time waits for noone")

In sentence 2 there is a clause modifying 日 and in 4 we have two separate clauses.

This is because:

Although the clause is transitive in Japanese (or at least has a "spatial を" as in 鳥が湖を飛ぶ, the bird flies over the lake), the English equivalent has a specified period as the subject with an intransitive verb (as in "two years passed")

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I do not think that 経る in this meaning takes any subject. At least, 時が1か月を経る sounds wrong to me. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 28 '12 at 13:50
    
I must admit I have not seen 時が1か月を経る - possibly this is special case where the subject is redundant/"silent"? (I said these qs sometimes give unexpected responses....) –  Tim Dec 28 '12 at 14:53
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I am no longer sure. Although I am pretty sure that time cannot be a subject for 経る with this meaning, a person or an ongoing process might be able to be a subject. Searching "1年を経た" on Google lists many examples of Aから1年を経たB, which might be viewed as evidence that the B part can be a subject for 経る. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 28 '12 at 23:28
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I was just about to write provisional answer on the lines that your comment was sufficient for my purposes (further confirmation from linguists welcome). Your search expands my use of the expression but my doubts have returned: I wonder, if the noun in the phrase 「スタートから1年を経た協議」was "de-modified"(?) would it be 「協議は[時が]スタートから1年を経て..」(As for the discussion, a year has passed since it started and..) - the 時 being purely notional and never taken? I also note that altho the kanji is the same as 経つ and generally only time elapses, 経る can also mean experience which suggests the subject is a person. –  Tim Dec 29 '12 at 0:44
    
Either way, I am much better equipped to use this expression. Thanks. –  Tim Dec 29 '12 at 0:50

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Japanese is arguably a topic prominent language and is often said that the notion of "subject" is unnecessary to describe the language. So there's no point in identifying the "subject" of a sentence because there is no such thing as the subject of a sentence in Japanese. It's certainly useful to consider a hypothetical subject for educational purposes. But if something doesn't add up when dealing with the "subject" of a Japanese sentence, you might want to relax a bit and simply move on because you're asking for something that probably doesn't exist.

If you want to learn a little bit more on this, I think this Japanese Wikipedia article is good for general audiences (assuming your reading skill is good enough). According to this article, those who say there is a subject in Japanese are the minority in academia.

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「経る」or「経つ」can be used two ways.

  1. (時)が経つ・経る
  2. (時)を経つ・経る

In the first case, the time is obviously the subject. In the second case, the person who is passing the time is the subject. Some (complex) examples

  1. 彼は長い時間を経て、悟りを啓いた。
  2. 色も香も同じ昔に咲くらめど年[経]{ふ}る人ぞ改まりける。
  3. ビルが10年の歳月を経てぼろぼろになった。

(the last two refer more to aging than time passing)

So for your sentences, the subjects would be the people involved

  1. Implied we (e.g. 我らが)
  2. Implied "one" (e.g. 人)
  3. Implied person who had the accident (e.g. 私が or 彼が etc)
  4. 彼らは
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Thank you. Where did you get those sentences? (and are you sure 経る can be intransitive/経つ can be transitive? Neither are in my dictionary.) –  Tim Jan 19 '13 at 11:31

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