I'm uncertain about the usage of 注意する in this sentence from Japanese the Manga Way, Chapter 25 page 198. The context is that a woman has noticed the following message written on the back of her husband the section chief, presumably by his subordinates. The translation is that given by the textbook.

When your husband gets drunk, he takes off his clothes, so please caution him.

The textbook goes on to define 注意する as "to warn/caution", and explains that から marks 奥さま as the source of the action. But isn't she the subject of 注意する, the one doing the warning? If it was the passive 注意させる I could understand, but it isn't. To me this sounds more grammatical:


Alternatively, I'm aware that 注意する can also mean "to pay attention/to be careful", so maybe the 奥さまから注意してください is actually a request to the section chief, i.e. please be alerted to your behaviour (from your wife). Then 課長 is the subject of 注意する, which now means "to be warned/aware". This seems rather like a passive construction in disguise.

What is the correct interpretation of 注意する in this context?

2 Answers 2


It is unambiguous that the wife is the one who would be doing the warning, and this sentence is being spoken to her, by the boss, who is directly asking her to caution her husband.

The function of から is really very similar to "from" in English, as in going from point A to point B, last from time A to time B, being made from something, and others, but especially in this case, hearing something from someone. Therefore the usage of から in this case basically mirrors the English meaning: the boss wants the husband to hear it from the wife. It might be slightly confusing because we don't use "from" as a command like that in English. Like you can't say "Please caution your husband from yourself."

The grammar of から in this case might be debatable, though. The following is my original interpretation, with amendments later:

I admit I am kind of speculating here, but my assumption is that から is not playing the exact role of が. When you make commands there is an implied subject, so even though you don't include the subject marker in (~が)~してください, it is understood. The 奥様から in this case is emphasizing that he wants the wife to caution the husband herself, but since there's no が and he's explicitly saying 奥さまから, it kind of sounds like から is replacing が.

Another way to say it might be (奥さまが)自分から注意してください。 I don't know about you, but to me it feels a little more obvious that way, and the separation of the subject version of 奥さま and the origin-of-action version of 奥さま is shown.


The discussion in the comments has led to the suggestion that から may in fact be able to mark the subject. If this is true then 奥さまが自分から注意してください is technically different. If we permit から to be a subject marker then the sentence can be interpreted as is: 奥さま(から・が)注意してください。

  • I agree that 奥様から is not filling the role of が. The subject is left off and understood from context. 奥様から is more like 奥様〔の立場〕から注意してください. Does ~ください ever have a subject other than the listener?
    – rintaun
    Oct 31, 2013 at 16:44
  • Hideki Kishimoto argues that in some cases, から can mark a subject. As evidence, he shows that 自分 can refer back to a から-marked subject: 「ジョンがメリーに自分の秘密を話した。ケンからもメリーに自分の秘密を話した。」 And he says that a から-marked subject can trigger subject honorification: 「伊藤先生<から・が>ジョンにそのことをお話になった」
    – user1478
    Oct 31, 2013 at 20:54
  • @snailboat, thanks for the link, I definitely want to read it when I have time, but I'm not sure what your examples prove. 自分の秘密を話した and そのことをお話しになった without overt subjects are also permissible, so they just show that から can come after something that also happens to be the subject. Actually, I would argue that a sentence like ケンが自分から秘密を話した shows that the から-marked constituent is different from the subject (unless you accept two subjects, one with が and one with から)
    – dainichi
    Oct 31, 2013 at 23:33
  • @dainichi Hiroyuki Tanaka makes an argument against that here (page 6 of the PDF): "Since Japanese allows null subjects, one might wonder if the から-subject construction actually has an empty pronoun, call it pro for explicitness, that Agrees with T instead of the から-phrase, and the pro is somehow coindexed with the から-phrase ... That this is not true, however, can be shown by the simple fact that no overt nominative argument can cooccur with a から-subject in any position in the sentence, as in (14) ..."
    – user1478
    Nov 1, 2013 at 0:47
  • (continued from previous comment) "(14) a. *{zibunᵢ/kareᵢ/Johnᵢ/Billᵢ}-ga Johnᵢ-kara Mary-ni tyuuisi-te oi-ta. (14) b. *Johnᵢ-kara {zibunᵢ/kareᵢ/Johnᵢ/Billᵢ}-ga Mary-ni tyuuisi-te oi-ta."
    – user1478
    Nov 1, 2013 at 0:47

I don't think that 注意する can mean "to be warned" because "to be warned" is a passive construction that would correspond to the 注意される inflection. 注意 means both caution and warning, so 注意する can mean heeding a warning and giving a warning.

Jim Breen's WWWJDIC provides not only a dictionary entry for 注意, but 371 example sentences containing 注意.

I must warn you that if you do this again you will be punished. 

You should pay attention to his story. 
  • 2
    またこれをしたら罰せられることを私は君に注意しなければならない is not Japanese but translationese! Nov 2, 2013 at 0:39
  • @TsuyoshiIto Those examples supposedly come from something called the "Tanaka Corpus" Quote: "The original collection contained large numbers of errors, both in the Japanese and English. Many of the errors were in spelling and transcription, although in a significant number of cases the Japanese and English contained grammatical, syntactic, etc. errors, or the translations did not match at all. " Hmm.
    – Kaz
    Nov 2, 2013 at 0:42
  • 1
    At least in this case, the meanings match. But it is better to keep in mind that some of the examples in WWWJDIC are quite unnatural. (This is one of the reasons I do not think highly of WWWJDIC.) Nov 2, 2013 at 0:51

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