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日本語文法の初心者です :D

In general, を is not used with 好き because 好き is a na-adjective:

  • 彼は猫が好きです。 — correct
  • 彼は猫を好きです。 — incorrect

If this part is "embedded" as a clause, を is also acceptable, and this phenomenon is asked and answered in other questions in this site:

  • 私は彼が猫が好きだと思います。 — correct
  • 私は彼が猫好きだと思います。 — correct

Okay, this explains why 「彼が猫を好きな理由を教えて」「彼がどんな猫を好きか気になる」「彼が猫を好きって知ってた?」 and so on are valid.

But my question is why the following sentences are also OK:

  1. 誰が猫が好き? — correct
  2. 誰が猫好き? — correct (perhaps better than 1.), but why?
  3. 彼はなぜ猫が好きなのですか? — correct
  4. 彼はなぜ猫好きなのですか? — correct, but why?

The accepted answers in the linked questions say that the outer verb (i.e. 思う) plays the critical role as to why が is replaceable with を. But these sentences are not related with "embedding". And I believe none of the four sentences above are particularly slangy (but tell me if someone feels any of the four sentences are slangy).

And I've also come up with the phrase 「猫を好きになる」, which I know is perfectly fine on its own.

So I feel there must be another grammatical rule which I'm not aware of.

  • Ah this question is a duplicate...I should have searched more. But if anyone knows the extensive analysis on this, it would be greatly appreciated. Apparently the level of acceptance of ~を好き varies from person to person. – naruto Jul 29 '15 at 7:43
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    Most of the papers I've seen that talk about を/が don't go into as much detail about this as you might want. Have you read Higashiyama's 助詞「が」と「を」の置換性について? The only paper I've read about 〜を好きになる in is Transitive Adjectives in Japanese (Caluianu 2009), but I don't know if it will really tell you what you want to know . . .  Sometimes in linguistics it's easier to describe how things are used, and much harder to explain why :-) Caluianu does give a lot of pointers to other papers on the topic, though. – snailcar Jul 29 '15 at 8:31
  • @snailboat Thank you, Higashiyama's article is exactly what I wanted to read! It's interesting that younger people tend to accept を more often. – naruto Jul 29 '15 at 8:54
  • I think this is a really clearly written question that gets directly to the point and shouldn't be marked as a duplicate of the other one (which I feel neither properly asks or answers this question). – Darius Jahandarie Jul 29 '15 at 18:44
  • By the way, you excluded を好き/を嫌い being permissible in relative clauses from your question, but why that's the case actually isn't explained in those other questions (which only talk about when it's embedded under と[certain verbs]). – Darius Jahandarie Aug 13 '15 at 0:51
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I think exceptionally using 「を」 with normally 「が」-marked words is not something unique to 「好き」 and 「嫌い」.

Let me start by expanding the scope of your question: the other questions you linked to explain why 「が」 can turn into 「を」 under 「〜と[certain verbs]」; they did not explain why things like 「私は太郎が猫嫌いな理由は未だに分からない。」 are just fine.

So I think why 「が」 can sometimes turn into 「を」 in relative clauses is important to discuss as well.

Relative clause weirdness

Consider the following examples:

×太郎は英語をわかる。   ⇒ 太郎が英語をわかるはずがない。
×太郎は英語をよくできる。 ⇒ 太郎が英語をよくできるはずがない。
×太郎は猫を欲しい。    ⇒ 太郎が猫を欲しい理由は分からない。

While を is not permissible in the first sentences, it is in the latter. The difference in the latter of course being that the verb and its argument is in a relative clause.

It turns out that, of all of the cases where I can think of that this happens, the が that we would normally see (太郎は英語わかる) is the so called "nominative object marker".

Nominative objects

A nominative object is to be distinguished from a usual subject-subject construction:

太郎はシラミがいる。 (subject-subject)

vs

太郎は猫が好きだ。 (subject-object)

We can distinguish these cases by a few tricks.

  1. Subject honorification:

    ×山田先生はシラミがおいでになる。 (subject-subject)

    山田先生は猫がお好きだ。 (subject-object)

    In the first case, the subject honorification ends up connecting to シラミ, which doesn't make sense (cf., 山田先生は美しい奥さんがおいでになる).

    In the second case, 猫 is a (nominative) object, so subject honorification doesn't connect to it.

  2. 自分:

    太郎は恋人が自分の家で自殺した。 (subject-subject)

    太郎は花子が自分の妹より好きだ。 (subject-object)

    In the first case, 自分 binds to 恋人. Some native speakers find it ambiguous and think it can also bind to 太郎.

    In the latter case, 自分 must bind to 太郎, because 花子 is an object.

To learn more about nominative objects, read

Miyagawa, S., & Saito, M. (2008) Nominative Object. In The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Linguistics.

Kuno, S., & Johnson, Y. (2005) On the non-canonical double nominative construction in Japanese.

(The latter is an absolutely fantastic paper but I can't seem to find a un-paywalled copy of it online.)

Nominative objects in relative clauses

My claim is that when you have one of these verbs that mark their object with が in a relative clause, it sometimes becomes permissible to mark them with を. I can't seem to find any relevant papers.

I think this is not always the case -- for example...

君が羨ましい
君を羨ましい理由は分かる?

I think the latter sentence may not work. There are other cases where I'm not entirely sure, but I am unfortunately not a native speaker.

Here's a list from Kuno 1973 of predicates that accept nominative objects:

  • Competence: 上手、苦手、下手、得意、上手い、できる
  • Feeling: 好き、嫌い、欲しい、怖い
  • Nonintentional perception: 分かる、聞こえる、見える
  • Possession and need: ある (have)、要る

If any native speakers could try embedding these in relative clauses and seeing which ones do and don't allow for を, perhaps we could come up with an even more refined argument.

But at least, in all cases where を does work in a relative clause yet doesn't outside of a relative clause, as far as I can tell it's always a nominative object outside of the relative clause.

In other words, while this is not true:

is nominative object → can be marked by 「を」 when in relative clause

I think this is true:

can be marked by 「を」 when in relative clause → is nominative object

Question sentences

With question sentences, it seems that verbs that can use 「を」 are the same as the ones that can in relative clauses.

Taking できる, for example,

この部屋では誰が英語をよくできる?

seems fine.

  • Unfortunately not a perfect answer, but I think it gets close... hope you find it interesting. – Darius Jahandarie Aug 13 '15 at 4:41
  • Thank you, I need time to fully understand this, but basically I understand that 猫が好き can be turned into 猫を好き in questions and relative clauses in many cases. Simple "声を聞こえますか?/猫を好きですか?" is still awkward, but I do feel 声を聞こえる becomes acceptable as the sentence gets complicated, or when it's followed by ようになる/ようにする. BTW, "君を羨ましい理由は分かる?" sounds fine to me. – naruto Aug 13 '15 at 5:28
  • I suspect a が-marked argument is required in the question for the を-marked objects to sound natural -- I think the general motivation for picking を in any of these cases is to reduce ambiguity or avoid multiple things being marked with が. – Darius Jahandarie Aug 13 '15 at 5:35
  • 「太郎は犬がなくなった。」ってどういう意味ですか? – Chocolate Aug 13 '15 at 5:45
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    じゃ「太郎は(飼っていた・可愛がっていた)犬を亡くした。」とか「太郎は愛犬を亡くした。」とか・・。(あ、でもそうするとsubject-subjectじゃなくなるのか・・・) – Chocolate Aug 13 '15 at 5:54
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This is my own subjective sense and I have no source to refer to, but I feel that oddness of structure like ◯◯を好き is stronger in this order.

  1. present indicative (very unnatural)

    ◯◯を好きだ!

  2. past indicative

    ◯◯を好きだった

  3. sentences with some modality (question / command / conjecture / indirect quote etc.)

    (conjecture) ◯◯を好きなのだ

    (indirect quote) ◯◯を好きだ…と?

  4. modifying clause (fine)

    ◯◯を好きな理由

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