Another sentence from Kanji in Context:


Those who think highly of themselves and look down on others will eventually themselves be looked down upon (by others).

I've been puzzling over the choice to put は (instead of が) after 自分. It's the only は in the sentence and presumably marks the topic. Actually I find the topic itself unclear, if this was meant as a warning the topic could well be the listener, or this could just be a general observation of people.

What bothers me most is the usage of は in a subordinate clause (of 思う) and nowhere else. Is this a sort of shorthand for not stating the topic explicitly? i.e. could this be reworded as 人は自分が偉いと思って etc?

  • 1
    I've felt it easier to think of 「自分」 as being equivalent to English's "one", the indefinite third-person pronoun. Aug 22, 2013 at 4:08
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    In the provided Japanese sentence, it's easier to take it as 「自分は偉い」、と思って... thus it's a sentence. 「俺は偉い」「彼は偉い」 and then you can replace the pronouns with 「自分」. If you say 自分が偉いと思って... people will probably think that you are talking about 'the kind of person who thinks only himself is great'
    – hello all
    Aug 22, 2013 at 15:18

1 Answer 1


I agree with you that が sounds better in this case.

I think what is going on here is some direct/indirect quote confusion, i.e. a mix of 「私は偉い」と思って and 自分が偉いと思って.

Direct and indirect quotes are less syntactically distinguishable in Japanese than, say, English, so I'm guessing that this sort of thing is more likely to happen. As mentioned, I prefer the が too, but might not notice the は in passing.

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