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I am having a hard time understanding the grammar of the following sentence.

贅肉がはみ出して落っこちそうになるのを、体に巻きつけてあるみたいな感じだ。

In isolation, the two parts make sense.

贅肉がはみ出して落っこちそうになる
[Her] excess fat stuck out, as if it were about to fall off.

...を体に巻きつけてあるみたいな感じだ
It was as though ... was wound around [her] body

But when combined with this のを、I cannot understand. の appears to nominalize なる, but this is part of そうになる which I am stumped with.

How should i interpret this? Thank you :^)

Edit: I've added the whole text, to provide better context. This is a description of Matilda's mother. Perhaps my incessant questions about Matilda will help someone else reading this book in the future :)

大柄な女で、髪はプラチナブロンド(薄い銀白色)に染めている。ただ、生えぎわのあたりにだけ、ネズミ色がかった茶色の髪が見えかくれしている。こってりとお化粧をしているが、気の毒なくらいにぶくぶくだ。**贅肉がはみ出して落っこちそうになるのを、体に巻きつけてあるみたいな感じだ。

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  • Is it a のに thingy? A ものを This comment was not. Productive just tried to guess
    – Star Peep
    Nov 14, 2023 at 21:36
  • I'll update the title in a moment -- the 「そうになる」 threw me, because standalone そう when used with なる is just そうなる. AFAIK, you only get the に when the そう is the verb suffix ~そう. Nov 14, 2023 at 21:40
  • Could you explain the context? I mean, is this about a super-fat person whose fat and skin extends like a scarf, or is this about a person using something like a corset?
    – naruto
    Nov 15, 2023 at 1:49
  • @naruto Context added!
    – doliphin
    Nov 15, 2023 at 9:13

2 Answers 2

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For the form of the relative clause, see internally-headed relative clauses.

V~そう, as you probably know, means 'looks like [it will] V', 雨が降りそうだ, etc. This form is a な-adjective, and thus all the conversions that apply to those can be made:

問題になりそうなもの

and as in the example sentence, it can be turned into an adverbial phrase, with なる adding the sense of 'coming near to [looking like it will V]', e.g.,

焼け落ちそうになる, 'come near to burning down'.

Your translation 'as if about to fall off' quite captures the sense. なる seems not to offer much extra in terms of sense, so that there is only a subtle difference between

落っこちそうになるのを

and

落っこちそうなのを

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  • Thank you for your answer! I am satisfied... almost ;). How can I then disambiguate between IHRC and の meaning something similar to やつ? E.g. 昨日買ったコップを割った → コップが買ったのを割った. --- How can I know this IHRC version does not mean "I broke the one Koppu bought"?
    – doliphin
    Nov 15, 2023 at 9:54
  • Firstly, I assume you meant: 昨日買ったコップを割った → 昨日コップを買ったのを割った. And your translation is correct for this, 'I broke the cup I bought'. What I think you are asking about is the difference between 昨日りんごをもらったのを隣にお裾分けした, 'I received some apples yesterday, which I shared with my neighbour', and 昨日りんごをもらったのを覚えていた, 'I remembered that I received [some] apples yesterday'. This is a very good (research) question.
    – N. Hunt
    Nov 15, 2023 at 19:40
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    This paper points out that whether you treat the の clause as an IHRC, or a complement clause, depends on whether the main verb requires an 'entity', or an 'event'; the object of 覚えていた will be an event, 'remembered that [something happened]', while the object of お裾分けした is an entity, an object, 'shared [something]'. This looks convincing here, but this is a problem discussed by linguists, so I doubt if there are any text books that deal with it.
    – N. Hunt
    Nov 15, 2023 at 19:43
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贅肉がはみ出して

"[Her] excess fat stuck out and"

落っこちそうになる

more literally, "became like seeming to fall off"

Your translation seems fine to me, and putting those two ideas leads to the translation you offer for the first part in isolation.

〇〇になる is practically a set idiom (see for example the song title 風になる), but its individual parts still work normally. The basic sense of なる is "to become"; it's intransitive, and the に-marked part describes the state that the subject achieves.

の appears to nominalize なる, but this is part of そうになる which I am stumped with.

This そう on the other hand is a suffix for 落っこち, not part of the idiom. 落っこちそう (= 落っこちる + 〜そう) is the に-marked part of なる here.

Individual verbs are not nominalized; entire clauses (which, in the limiting case, contain just a verb) are. This part is fuzzy for me, but generally it seems safe to say that normally, what gets relativized is an implicit topic - which usually matches the subject.

The te-form み出して connects to the other verb なる, so they have the same subject, 贅肉, and implicitly the same topic, and that is what gets relativized by の. Thus:

贅肉がはみ出して落っこちそうになる

"[Her] excess fat stuck out, as if it were about to fall off"

【贅肉がはみ出して落っこちそうになる】の

"[Her] excess fat, which stuck out - as if it were about to fall off"

And that is exactly what fits in the ... of the second part.

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  • In the sentence 昨日買った本をもう読み終わった, '[I] have already finished reading the book [I] bought yesterday', the relative clause is 昨日買った本. This is derived from a base sentence 昨日本を買った the subject of which matches the subject of 読み終わった, the object of which is 本; this has underdone relativization. In what sense is 本 an 'implicit topic' and if so, implicit topic of what?
    – N. Hunt
    Nov 15, 2023 at 2:52
  • @N.Hunt I thought about it some more and I stand by my answer. My idea is that we (as speakers of English, a language that doesn't use verb clauses as if they were "adjectives") can understand what has been relativized by a verb clause the same way that we can understand the role of a topic (as speakers of English, a language that doesn't have explicitly marked topics): context. Nov 15, 2023 at 4:39
  • That is: When we understand 買った本 to mean "book which [I] bought" (rather than "book which bought [something]"), we're using the same mental process, following the same heuristics, as when we understand 本は買った to mean "as for the book, [I] bought it" rather than "as for the book, it bought [something]". Nov 15, 2023 at 4:40
  • Relative clauses in Japanese are extremely straightforward, refer to the first answer in relative clause formation, a very clear and detailed description. No 'heuristics' are needed to understand 買った本, since it is quite clear that 買う requires an animate subject so the only way to parse 買った本 is as a relativization of 本を買った, in other words the object of the original sentence is moved to the right of the verb, leaving a sentence with a null object and the original null subject.
    – N. Hunt
    Nov 15, 2023 at 19:58
  • "Relative clauses in Japanese are extremely straightforward" - I disagree, and cite as evidence the fact that the role of the relativized noun in the relativizing clause can vary. "it is quite clear that 買う requires an animate subject" - that's exactly an example of what I consider a "heuristic". "in other words the object of the original sentence is moved to the right of the verb, leaving a sentence with a null object and the original null subject." - and in other cases, the subject would be moved, leaving an identical construction. Nov 16, 2023 at 17:48

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