4

So I say, apropos of nothing, 「電車{でんしゃ}を降{お}ります。」 With no other context, and no topic established, who do you assume is the person that gets off the train? Is it me? Is it whomever I'm speaking to? Would it be hasty or incorrect to translate this sentence as "I get off the train."? Or is it impossible to even make a default assumption, because you have to know the situation before understanding the sentence?

I ask because, I inevitably practise grammar and vocabulary a lot with sentences like these, without context or topic, and I'm curious how you would interpret them on their own.

Please use furigana for any kanji you introduce.

  • 1
    Interesting question, but it's really hard to talk about no context at all. You've established some context already when you wrote So I say - you are saying it and you are not mentioning anybody or anything else, so I'm going to assume it's about you. Communication serves some purpose (communication) and I'm going to assume you've included all the details necessary. Completely without context would be to take all spoken and written records of the sentence 電車を降ります and ask whether the subject would always be 私 (probably no). – blutorange Dec 28 '14 at 14:01
  • It's all based on context. For your example sentence though, with no context, the speaker is almost always the topic. Many times though, you can translate it in your head as one/oneself/anybody. For example, when someone is giving you directions. – kiss-o-matic Dec 28 '14 at 15:27
  • 1
    If I say, alright, gonna get off the train, who do you assume is the person that gets off the train? Most likely the subject is I, just like in 降ります. But while it is most certainly always I in English, it could be He/She/They/We in Japanese. It will be obvious from context. What about not writing the subject at all when you translate your Japanese sentences? – Jorge Bucaran Dec 28 '14 at 17:17
  • 2
    @JorgeBucaran It's not always I in English. English conversational deletion allows both "[I'm] gonna get off the train" and "[Are you] gonna get off the train?" – snailboat Dec 28 '14 at 20:51
  • 1
    Good question, but by using ます, you are involuntarily adding an amount of "context" if I may speak on a native level. The phrase with no context would be 電車を降りる, which is like "TO get off a train". – l'électeur Dec 29 '14 at 1:20
3

In this specific "(電車を)降ります" case, I know the phrase like this is actually frequently used in a crowded train, and it means "I get off!". If the subject is "I", explicitly adding a subject ("私は降ります!") in such a case is very unnatural in Japanese. If the subject is not "me" but someone else, I know that people would usually say "降りる人がいます!" (lit. "There is a person getting off!").

So, even if I have to translate this without any context, what I was doing is to imagine the most common background context and infer the natural subject. In this case, although it is easy to think of some exceptional examples, I think assuming the implicit subject "I" is usually safe. Likewise, I hear "買います" or "行きます" very often in daily conversations, and the implicit subject is almost always "I".

But that does not mean that "I" is always the default subject, grammatically, in Japanese language. For example, if I have to translate "2つに割れます" or "青色に光ります" without any context at all, I feel "I" is probably not the natural subject here.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.