(This question is a follow-up to this comment thread.)

I came across the sentence 家が火事だよ,† and although the meaning is clear from context, I'm struggling to understand what's going on grammatically. Specifically, the use of が makes me inclined to translate it as e.g. "Your house is a conflagration!", which sounds awkward (and also very dire) compared to the correct translation of "The house is on fire!".

Is this the same construction as how one might say 私がウナギです to a waiter to mean "I ordered the eel."? To wit, should I interpret the sentence à la 家(の何々)が火事だよ (for an appropriate choice of 何々)?

If that's not correct, however, is there a general way I can understand sentences like this (assuming that there are indeed others like it)?

†I specifically saw it on Duolingo, so I took it with a grain of salt at first. But, Weblio also shows it in a few of its corpuses, so it seems to be natural after all.

1 Answer 1


The sentence sounds completely natural as it is. It's not a "sloppy" version of a more complete sentence.

Semantically speaking, 火事 in this sentence is a verb-like noun that basically means 燃えている. Since the new information to be conveyed is the house "burning" (being on fire), rather than what the house is like or what category the house belongs to, が sounds completely neutral as in a sentence with a verbal predicate conveying "who does what."

家は火事だよ would single out 家 in contrast to something that is not on fire. You probably don't get to say this in any normal circumstances.

  • Thank you! None of the (bilingual) dictionaries I checked said anything other than "火事 = fire"... perhaps I need a better dictionary :-P Commented May 1 at 20:35
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    @JoshuaGrosso - This is more about usage than meaning per se. Even monolingual dictionaries aren't much of a help here. Mine says 建物・船・山林などが焼けること。火災。 But 家が火災だ doesn't sound as natural.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented May 1 at 20:49
  • I see. Out of curiosity, is there a technical term for "verb-like nouns", and/or has anyone made a list of other ones that behave like this? Or is it just a matter of seeing them in the wild and learning by example? Commented May 1 at 20:57
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    @JoshuaGrosso - I'm not aware what they are called or whether there is any name for them. You would need to get used to actual usages through exposure, and that's true with any language.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented May 1 at 21:01

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