I was reading this

How to unambiguously express sentences with lots of relative propositions?

And I started having doubts.


translated as

On Monday, the dog that ate the pudding that I cooked and whose owner's sister I met yesterday will be castrated.

shouldn't it be translated as

On monday, the sister who yesterday met the owner which is me who made a cake which the dog ate,is getting castrated

Where am i translating this wrong?

My analysis is

I tought that everytime there is a verb a relative ends and modifies the noun that follows it.

月曜日には, [[[[昨日妹さんにあった]>飼い主がいる]>私が作っていた]>ケーキを食った]>犬が去勢手術を受ける。



the relative of

飼い主が妹さんに会った ?

Has it something to do with the invertion they spoke of?

相手の日本人 or 日本人の相手?

I am getting all kinds of confused here.

Can something like this work as a relative?

僕が手で林檎を食べた I ate an apple with my hands

A. 手で林檎を食べた僕 I who ate an apple with my hands

B. 僕が林檎を食べた手 The hands with which I ate an apple

C. 僕が手で食べた林檎 The apple which I ate with my hands

I have doubts regarding B since it does seem unnatural to me but reading

Relative clauses distinguishing whom/with which/that

I wrote with the pen 私はペンで書いた

The pen with which I wrote 私が書いたペン

It's supposed to be correct.

Sorry if it is really long

2 Answers 2


Similarly to the answer which I posted recently to another question about a sentence with a complicated modification structure, it is useful to break the sentence like this into bunsetsu. Then the original intention is represented as the following diagram.

The bunsetsu tree of the sentence 月曜日には昨日妹さんにあった飼い主がいる私が作っていたケーキを食った犬が去勢手術を受ける

But this sentence is complicated not just because of this diagram has a complicated shape.

As you probably know, a relative clause is constructed by taking out one part of a sentence as its head. For example, if we have a simple sentence

飼い主が妹さんに会った。 An owner met a sister.

and make a noun phrase by taking out its subject 飼い主 as a head, we obtain

妹さんに会った飼い主 the owner who met a sister.

However, we can take out some of the other parts of a sentence as a head. If we start with

飼い主の妹さんに会った。 I met the owner’s sister.

and take out 飼い主, it becomes

妹さんに会った飼い主 the owner whose sister I met.

The resulting form in Japanese is the same as before, but it means a different thing! In English, “which/who,” “whose,” “whom,” “to whom” and so on distinguish the grammatical role of the head in a relative clause. In Japanese, this distinction is not made explicitly. To recover the omitted particle for the head of a relative clause, we have to consider the meaning.

In the sentence above, the original form from which each relative clause was constructed is:

  • 昨日妹さんに会った飼い主: 昨日飼い主妹さんに会った。
  • ……飼い主がいる犬: 犬……飼い主がいる。
  • 私が作っていたケーキ: 私がケーキ作っていた。
  • ……ケーキを食った犬: 犬……ケーキを食った。

I think that this sentence is fairly unambiguous, but other interpretations are probably possible if we assume less likely contexts. For example, if 私 is a personified animal, then 飼い主がいる私 might be interpreted differently.

  • Thanks for this explanation. I only have 1 question. From 飼い主の妹さんに会った。 to 妹さんに会った飼い主。 I did not know that you could make as the head noun one of the 2 component of a の relationship. Is it possible in every situation? Could I say: 彼のペンを捨てた-->ペンを捨てられた彼 or 彼の友人に上げた-->彼に上げた友人 or is is there a rule?
    – Splikie
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 20:11
  • 1
    @Splikie: First, extracting the part after の as a head without also extracting the part before it is certainly problematic, so your last example does not work. As for extracting just the part before の, I think that it is possible in most cases. However, there is a catch. Because extracting the part before の is rarer than extracting the subject or the object before を, it might be more easily misinterpreted. If the resulting sentence is unlikely to be correctly interpreted, the sentence is not very useful even if there is no strict rule that prohibits the extraction of the part before の. Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 0:25

月曜日には 「昨日妹さんにあった」、「飼い主がいる」、「私が作っていたケーキを食った」犬が去勢手術を受ける。

Alternatively, the first two clauses can be combined, since both meeting a dog and meeting its owner are semantically valid.

This sentence 僕が手で林檎を食べた is a little unnatural, and without context can sound like it is your hand who ate and apple, which may be the reason why the relative phrases especially the second one is somewhat weird sounding. 手で林檎を食べた僕 and 僕が手で食べた林檎 are both correct. In addition to 僕が林檎を食べた手, you might also say 僕の林檎を食べた手.

  • Still i do not see how 昨日妹さんにあった」、「飼い主がいる」 can be translated as I met the owne'rs sister yesterday. I see it as: [Yesterday i met the sister], [has a owner]. As for comining them who should I say it? 月曜日には 、 昨日飼い主の姉さんに会った私が作っていたケーキを食べた犬が去勢手術を受ける。 Is't this more natural? 月曜日には 、 [[[昨日飼い主の姉さんに会った]>私が作っていた]>ケーキを食べた]>犬が去勢手術を受ける。
    – Splikie
    Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 8:43
  • Considering how the OP in the link has said "quite linear one", he doesn't seem to have understand how 飼い主がいる私 is wrong. (Though you can barely interpret it that way by inserting comma after 飼い主がいる and by interpret 妹さんに会った飼い主 as the owner whose sister I met.)
    – user4092
    Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 20:52
  • @user4092 So the way he parsed his sentence is wrong? I tought that in japanese 僕が買った林檎に名前を書いた彼が林檎を食べた。this would be parsed as[[ [僕が買った]>林檎に名前を書いた]]>彼が林檎を食べた。]]] this way every particle refers to the verb which is closest to it. Am i wrong?
    – Splikie
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 23:45
  • What's 飼い主がいる私?
    – user4092
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 9:08

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