A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (ADoBJG) lists more than one を particle. In particular:

  • On page 347, it lists o1, a particle which marks a direct object.
  • On page 349, it lists o2, a particle which indicates a space in / on / across / through / along which s.o. or s.t. moves.

The second particle, which I'll call directional を, appears to be used quite differently from the direct object を. According to ADoBJG, the directional を is used only with verbs of motion, which I think are generally intransitive. For example, directional を appears in the phrase 空を飛ぶ, combining the intransitive verb of motion 飛ぶ with an を-marked noun.

Since it's listed as a separate particle in ADoBJG, and since it behaves so differently, and since it appears in different contexts from the other を, I've always thought of directional を as a separate particle which happens to be written and pronounced the same way. However, in 国語辞典s such as 大辞林 and 大辞泉, both usages are listed under the same entry. So I'm wondering how independent the two really are.

It seems to me that, because directional を appears with intransitive verbs, and because direct object を appears with transitive verbs, the two occupy separate syntactic slots. That makes me wonder if it's possible to take a construction such as 空を飛ぶ, which uses the directional を, and turn it into a transitive construction which also takes the direct object を, such as ◯◯を空を飛ばす.

My thought is this: if they don't really occupy different slots, then this is ungrammatical because of the double-o constraint, which says that a single verb phrase may have no more than one を-marked noun phrase. But if they do occupy different slots, and they're really different particles, then you should be able to create a single verb phrase containing both.

I'm not sure my ◯◯を空を飛ばす example is very good. (It's supposed to mean "send ◯◯ flying through the air".) But if it's possible to create a grammatical example combining both directional を and direct object を, I would like to know, regardless of whether my particular example is very good.

Is it possible to create such a construction?

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    I don't know the answer to your question, but keep in mind that even if that construction isn't possible, that isn't necessarily proof that the two をs are the same; it could very easily be the case that the semantic restriction on the direct object marker 'leaked' backwards into a syntactic one on を in general. – Darius Jahandarie Sep 13 '13 at 3:39
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    ボールを空を飛ばす does not make any sense... 飛ばす does not take the same を as 飛ぶ... – execjosh Sep 16 '13 at 8:16
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    I forgot to add that it should be ボールを空へ飛ばす. – execjosh Sep 16 '13 at 12:56
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    If you don't like that example that you can choose a different one that gets the same effect. Like 人を道を歩かせる, which also doesn't feel wrong to me, but I'm not a native so my intuition may not be worth much. – ssb Sep 19 '13 at 7:04
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    To be honest, downvotes on questions like this one are why I don't take downvotes too seriously anymore. I did my best to research the question and ask it clearly, and I think the question makes sense. And unfortunately, without a comment explaining the downvote I may never know what was perceived as being wrong with this question, so if there is something wrong I can't learn from it to write better questions in the future. – snailboat Sep 19 '13 at 11:02

I posed this question to a native Japanese speaker. Her response was that even though to an English speaker the in


and the in


may seem different, to a Japanese speaker they are exactly the same. In both cases, marks the direct object, not in some vague grammatical sense of the term, but in the very tangible sense that the object is directly acted upon by the subject.

For a Japanese speaker, the in


is not a piece of background scenery that the subject of the sentence simply floats past on their way from point A to point B; rather, it is tread on, pushed, even kicked, by the subject's feet.

For an English speaker, this is a rather alien concept, but for a Japanese speaker, to walk along a road is to act on the road. serves one function: marking the direct object.

Update: Searching the web, I find results that contradict my original answer. 「投げる」 is a transitive verb (他動詞) while 「歩く」 is intransitive (自動詞), even when used with 「を」 (as an aside, this is unlike the verb "walk" in English, which can be either transitive or intransitive). According to these sources, when 「を」 is used with a 自動詞, it does not mark the direct object, as a 自動詞 cannot take a direct object.

I found an entire 100-page paper on the subject of 「を+自動詞」 which looks fascinating, but I have yet to read. Today I also intend to ask the opinion of two more native speakers, both Japanese teachers.

Finally, the Japanese wiktionary page on directly answers your question:

*馬を門を通す。 (誤り)

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    I'm not sure I agree with the idea of a road walked on being treated like that, at least not when it comes to 歩く. If that were really the way that Japanese people interpreted it then I can't help but feel that 歩く would be treated as a transitive verb and there would be no ambiguity with regard to how を functions – ssb Sep 19 '13 at 7:06
  • There clearly is a difference, it's true. I appreciate this answer and may accept it, but I'm still going to wait a bit to see if anyone else has something to add. – snailboat Sep 19 '13 at 10:37
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    I condone this answer because it shows that syntax can feed back onto the interpretation. Also, even Englishmen can "walk the walk". – Jens Jensen Sep 19 '13 at 10:41
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    @ThisSuitIsBlackNot The person I just asked told me that they do feel different. Would make an interesting survey... – ssb Sep 19 '13 at 14:11
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    Another example in English where walk takes a d.o. would be "walk the plank"... – execjosh Sep 19 '13 at 14:21

First, I agree with the answer given by ThisSuitIsBlackNot in that people do not distinguish between the two uses of を.

Now back to the original question:

Is it possible to create such a construction?


道を走る is OK. 人を走らせる is OK. 人を道を走らせる is not OK, because it is not clear who is being compelled to run.

Both 人に道を走らせる and 道で人を走らせる make sense though.

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