I came across this sentence:

"Coward! And that was, in fact, exactly what I was."

(From 苦の世界, my translation.)

I found in pretty weird that 私は dropped in the middle of である like that, when you would normally only see , , or another 係助詞.

My feeling is that this is just a "freer" writing style that kind of breaks the rule there to make the sentence more dramatic -- is this understanding correct?

  • I found a reference to this in Martin 1975 on page 317, which is conveniently available online at Google Books. He gives three examples and some fairly brief discussion, citing Mikami 1963 and Yoshida 1971. One example uses が rather than は.
    – user1478
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 18:30
  • 1
    (1) 「九条兼実の弟で 慈円は あった。」 (2) 「一番の嫌われもので、 私は あったのだ。」 (3) 「吃りで、無口な暴君で 私が あれば、家来どもは私の顔色をうかがって、ひねもすおびえて暮らすことになるであろう。」
    – user1478
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 18:30

1 Answer 1


Your understanding is correct except for the part where you said "kind of breaks the rule". I know what you mean by that, though. There is no written rule as to what word order is "correct". There only are the most or more common and the less and least common word orders.

「そして全くその通りで私はあったのだ。」 is indeed NOT written in the most common word order, which would be 「そして私は全くその通りであったのだ。」. As many of you would know, however, Japanese word order can be incredibly flexible on one condition --- that the correct particles are attached at the right places.

Grammatically, である can be treated as one word, which is probably why you feel it weird being spliced, but native speakers know instinctively that it consists of two parts で and ある and that the subject for ある could be squeezed in between --- "in (= で) a certain state + subject + ある(exists)"

By placing the 全くその通り part up front, it was emphasized for an aesthetic purpose. As you said, the author could have used は or も instead of 私は or even said just その通りであった(のだ). However, by placing a 私は in a sentence in a language in which "I" or "me" is not used often, it was also successfully emphasized in a natural way.

  • Thanks. It's definitely interesting to learn that native speakers still consider である to really be what it was historically. (I thought that would have been lost given contractions like だ, and such.) Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 4:00

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