A sentence in my book:

これは、漢字{かんじ}持{も}つ体系的{たいけいてき}なつながりを明{あき}らかにして文化勲章{ぶんかくんしょう}を受{う}けた漢字学{かんじがく}の第一人者{だいいちにんしゃ}、 白川{しらかわ}静{しずか}さんに、漢字の成{な}り立{た}ちを一つ{ひとつ}一つ{ひとつ}教{おし}えてもらった本{ほん}です。

The very start of the sentence reads: "これは、漢字 持つ...."

Why is the 助詞 "が" instead of " "?
Isn't "漢字" the direct object of "持つ"?

  • No. 漢字が体系的なつながりを持つ -> 漢字が持つ体系的なつながり
    – Yang Muye
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 18:44
  • @YangMuye I'm not getting it. You're saying that the object of "持つ" is "つながり". So, just to be clear, in textbooks, it is sometimes ok to place a verb before its object? wow. I did not know that. please confirm.
    – Wrythe
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 18:51
  • It can easily be argued that the answer to 'Can が ever mark a direct object?' is 'yes' (see The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Linguistics, pages 141-155), but I don't think that's really relevant to your example sentence. I think the problem you're having here is parsing the sentence properly.
    – user1478
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 18:54
  • @snailboat That first が coupled with no other option (I had thought) for 持つ's object definitely stops me from tokenizing. I can infer much of the meaning, but all those 助詞 are not adding up. As a start, I just want to understand the very start. I'll do the rest of the work. Just, what;s going on with "漢字が持つ"...
    – Wrythe
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 19:09
  • Do you know why this sentence uses 教えてもらった at the end instead of just 教えた?
    – George
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 0:30

1 Answer 1


漢字が持つ is a relative clause. It has a gap in object position:

漢字-が __- 持つ

The gap is filled semantically by the following noun phrase 体系的なつながり:

① ​  漢字-が 体系的なつながり-を 持つ  
② [ 漢字-が ________- 持つ ] 体系的なつながり

These can be translated into English:

① Kanji have a systematic relationship.
② the systematic relationship [ which kanji have __ ]

The details are different in English because of articles and relative pronouns, but hopefully you can see the parallel:

In example ① we have an independent clause (a complete sentence).

In example ② we come up with a noun phrase by relativizing the clause; we pull out one of the arguments and turn it into the head noun that the clause modifies.

  • I'm ignoring whether が would be replaced with は if example ① were really used as a complete sentence. It's simpler theoretically to start with が, and we'd have to use が anyway in the relative clause, so I thought talking about は would be a distraction.
    – user1478
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 19:30
  • a "gap" in the sentence structure.... I find that so interesting and representative of the language. Even in formal writing, context based inference trumps sentence structure. I can only imagine how unnatural a legally binding document written in Japanese must sound. Anyway, thank you very much!
    – Wrythe
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 19:55
  • @natlang As demonstrated in snailboat's answer (in the third yellow box), essentially the same exact analysis works with English... Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 7:03

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