From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_(grammar):

In certain languages, the agent is declined or otherwise marked to indicate its grammatical role. In Japanese, for instance, the agentive case is marked with the case particle ga (が), while the nominative case, also called "bare case" or hadaka-kaku (ハダカ格), is marked with no case particle.

Please teach me more about ハダカ格 and how it contrasts with the agentive case marked with が。 Thank you!

  • 2
    Interesting! I've never run into this description before in any description of Japanese. (Of course, I'm not an expert.) I'm not sure how common it is, but they do give a citation (日本語の文法 by 高橋太郎) so you could pick up a copy if you wanted to read more about the author's theory of case.
    – user1478
    Nov 9 '14 at 23:14
  • 1
    Yeah, the standard analysis is just that zero-marked core nouns are marked with a が or を that's subsequently been deleted. I really doubt that a zero-marked subject contrasts very much with one marked with が or は - certainly not enough to call it a whole separate case.
    – Sjiveru
    Nov 10 '14 at 5:01

Use of the unmarked case is categorized into three.

  1. When particle は・が・を (and に when the verb is 行く or 来る) are simply omitted.
  2. When the unmarked case is the most natural (the least nuanced) choice. e.g. ビール飲みますか? いちご好きですか?
  3. When it's grammatically required. e.g. あっ、納豆が腐ってる! → あっ、この納豆くさってる!
  • 1
    Why is it grammatically required in 3?
    – Val
    Nov 11 '14 at 2:54
  • 1
    It's because either が or は mean a different thing while the example above is a sentence of neutral description. 1.この納豆は…: not sure about others but as for this one 2.この納豆が…: this one is the rotten one (instead of that one).
    – user4092
    Nov 11 '14 at 10:19
  • 1
    I should have written #2 is because it's a question of a Sentence of Neutral Description, in which the subject or the object are unmarked, and #3 is because modifiers like その or この are added to the subject in a SOND.
    – user4092
    May 5 '17 at 9:59

I put that citation into the Wikipedia link. It came from a grammar book in Japanese published by Hitsuji Shobou. It lists Japanese cases, giving the particle that marks the case (or showing a zero crossed through for the nominative case), gives some Japanese names for the cases, and gives the English name for the cases.

I think some confusion regarding the so-called bare case may result from the frequent use of は "wa." To eliminate that confusion, one should remember that "wa" does NOT mark case:


The agentive case is similar to the nominative case, but as I understand it marks the "agent" of the sentence, that is, the actual noun that performs the action of the verb or has the attribute of the predicate (or in the case of a passive verb, receives the action of the passive verb). This construction makes sense in a topic prominent language like Japanese.

For completion, here is a particle-English name (formal Japanese name) table of cases taken from that source (using the pronunciation, not the spelling of the particle, when romanized):

(ø), nominative(名格);
が/ga, agentive(主格);
を/o, accusative(対格);
に/ni, dative(与格);
へ/e, allative(方向格);
で/de, locative-instrumental(所‐具格);
と/to, commitative*(共格);
から/kara, ablative(奪格);
まで/made, terminative(とどき格);
までに/made ni, limitative(かぎり格);
の/no, genitive(属格)

*Normally, this is called "comitative," but in my source is written with 2 m's as "commitative."

It then lists cases that involve the genitive being combined with another case (such as への), but I won't list that here. Those who have studied Latin may be confused by the designation of the ablative, but should keep in mind that the "proper" ablative simply specifies the origin of an action or something from which something separates; Latin expands the ablative by also including the locative (where something occurs) and instrumental (the means by which something occurs) aspects, speakers relying on prepositions to tell the difference. Note also that "wa" is not listed here; on the following pages (pp. 28-29), the book lists the different ways that cases are marked when accompanied by "wa": For the nominative, は "wa" is simply added; for the agentive and the accusative, the case particle is replaced by は; for all the others (excluding the genitive), は is tacked on after the case particle.

The book is written in Japanese, but English translations were given for the cases. Source: Takahashi, Tarou et al. (2010). A Japanese Grammar (in Japanese) (4 ed.). Japan: Hitsuji Shobou. p. 27. ISBN 978-4-89476-244-2.

  • Saying が is an “agentive case” is ridiculous. It does not mark the agent in passives or for unaccusative verbs. Sep 29 '19 at 13:39

The citation from Wikipedia supplied by the OP strikes me as nonsense. If the presence of が should mark agentive case, why does it appear in case distributions that we never associate with agency?

 1. 庭に木がある。         
    'There is a tree in the garden.'
 2. 僕にはお金がない。       
    'I don't have money.'
 3. ボールが壁にあたったとき...  
    'when the ball hit the wall'  

Example (1) is a locative construction. The tree (木) can't be viewed as the agent.
Example (2) is a possessive construction. The money (お金) cannot be the agent.
Example (3) is a directional construction. The ball (ボール) fails to be the agent.
The nouns in (1-3) qualify, however, as subjects, i.e. one may assume they are marked by the nominative.

Bare case is possible in Japanese in two unrelated circumstances. 1. In colloquial Japanese, the case markers が and を can be dropped. (See Sjiveru's comment) 2. Quantitative expressions are not overtly case marked. Here are examples for the latter phenomenon:

 4. 消費税は3%上がった。
    'The consumption tax rise by 3%.'
 5. 新幹線では京都駅から東京駅まで2時間半かかる。
    'By Shinkansen it takes 2 and a half hours from Kyoto station to Tokyo station.'
 6. 昨日、本を2冊読んだ。
    'Yesterday (I) read two books.'

In the examples (4-6), the quantitative expressions 3%, 2時間半, and 2冊 are not marked by a case particle. According to Wikipedia, we would have to assume that they are marked by the nominative. If being marked with the nominative should have any consequences we would like to assume that the quantitative expressions are subjects, which is nonsensical.
The citation from Wikipedia doesn't hold any water. The case marker が specifies nominative case, but the nominative doesn't always mark the subject, although in many cases it does. Bare case, i.e. the absence of case markers, occurs with drops of nominative が and accusative を, but not with other case markers.
Finally, please note that Takahashi's argument may be more refined than the citation acknowledges. My comment addresses the Wikipedia citation.

  • "The citation from Wikipedia supplied by the OP strikes me as nonsense. If the presence of が should mark agentive case, why does it appear in case distributions that we never associate with agency?" ⇒⇒ Depends on what your definition of 'is' is. (A is B implies B is A?) Compare: 'the agentive case is marked with the case particle ga' with 'the agentive case is always marked with the case particle ga' with 'marked with the case particle ga is always the agentive case'
    – Val
    Nov 11 '14 at 0:16
  • @Val Linguistics is about data, not formal logic. Nov 11 '14 at 6:19

@Thomas Gross

  1. 庭に木がある。(niwa ni ki ga aru.) 庭に (niwa ni) alone is the locative construction. If we remove 庭に (niwa ni) we are still left with 木がある (ki ga aru) or "The tree exists (i.e. performs the action of existing)."

  2. 僕にはお金がない。(boku ni wa okane ga nai.) This may be possessive semantically, but the construction is similar to the "mihi est" construction in Latin. Literally, money is not existing to the speaker. We can delete 僕には (boku ni wa) and still have お金がない (okane ga nai) or "Money does not exist (i.e. perform the action of existing)."

  3. ボールが壁に当たった時... (booru ga kabe ni atatta toki...) Once again, only 壁に (kabe ni) is the directional construction. If one deletes 壁に (kabe ni) the sentence still says something like "When the ball hit..." which clearly shows an agentive relationship.

  4. Though forms of がる (garu) are typically analyzed as a separate verb, がった (gatta) as I understand it is an abbreviated form of があった (ga atta). Perhaps this might change your analysis somewhat.

  5. Indeed, this numerical expression appears to be used in the nominative. The specified time period 2時間半 (ni jikan han) isn't really acting as an agent to anything, but the expression itself is still functioning in a subject-like manner to the verb かかる (kakaru).

  6. This numerical expression here using a counter word is probably being treated as an adverb and thus does not require a particle.

  • You seem to be confusing subjects and agents. “The ball” in “The ball hit the wall” is not an agent. It did not initiate the event. “hit” here is an unaccusative verb. Same with 当たる and hundreds of other unaccusative verbs in Japanese which happily mark subjects that are not agents. Sep 29 '19 at 13:48

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