I am learning Japanese and I was wondering how to say something like this:

The [noun] that I can't [verb] is [verb].

For example,

The cat that I can't understand is talking.

  • 9
    Hello and welcome to Japanese.SE! Please tell us how you would attempt to say it yourself, so we can get a feel for how much Japanese you already know. Even something like "I know how to say [this other thing], but it doesn't quite fit" would help. Thank you.
    – Earthliŋ
    Jul 1, 2015 at 20:56
  • I am not sure what this example sentence means. The sentence can be parsed in two ways: (a) [The cat that I can't understand] is talking, or (b) The cat [that I can't understand is talking] (a noun clause without a main verb). The two existing answers assume the interpretation (a), but in this case I am not sure what understanding a particular cat means. Dec 20, 2015 at 1:43

2 Answers 2


Like in English, Japanese nouns can be modified by phrases. The sentence you gave could be broken into:

  • A cat is talking. ねこはしゃべっている。

  • I don't understand the cat. わたしはねこがわからない。

Combined, they yield:

The cat I don't understand is talking.

わたしがわからないねこは しゃべっている。

As you can see, one can simply prefix the noun with a descriptive phrase. It simply takes the place of an adjective.

Another example (from Tae Kim's Guide):

先週【せんしゅう】映画【えいが】を見【み】た人【ひと】は 誰【だれ】?

Who is person who watched movie last week?

The noun being modified is also not required to be the subject of the relative clause:

これは わたしのたべる おにぎり です。

This is the rice ball that I will eat.

Note that, as in this example, が is converted to の in relative clauses. That is a separate topic though.


Always keep in mind that Japanese is a head-final language and will put modifying clauses after the head.

For example, your sentence can be broken down as: the cat (that I can't understand) is talking. In Japanese this would be (私がわからない)猫は喋っている as seafood258 already stated. Japanese does not use words such as that or which, and will place the modifying clause immediately before what is being modified. Another example is (走っている人)が会社員でしょうか ->Is the man (that is running) is a businessman?

  • Isn't 会社員 an office clerk? I'm convinced "a businessman" is 実業家.
    – eltonjohn
    Jul 2, 2015 at 7:36
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    My teacher and Genki book both mentioned 会社員 as someone who works in a company, ie 会社 company 員 member "businessman". I looked up 実業家 in my dictionary and it defines it as "industrialist; businessman" and industrialist refers to someone who is in an ownership position within the company, which is different that 会社員 which refers to an employed position
    – user10215
    Jul 2, 2015 at 17:37
  • Well, Merriam-Webster says: <businessman> : a man who works in business especially in a high position : a man who is good at dealing with business and financial matters.
    – eltonjohn
    Jul 3, 2015 at 6:50
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    There is no need to be pedantic and argue semantics, I'm sure one can deduce where the "businessman" translation comes from when they look at the word and its english definition
    – user10215
    Jul 4, 2015 at 6:35
  • No, it's not a matter of pedantry. It's simply a matter of mistranslation. Similar mistranslations that come into my mind include 下町 for downtown.
    – eltonjohn
    Jul 4, 2015 at 7:05

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