8

I've just stumbled upon a phrase:

「夕方【ゆうがた】 アパートの山田【やまだ】さん宅【たく】の玄関【げんかん】で」

If I understand it correctly, the meaning is:

In the evening, at the front door of Yamada's apartment.

What I don't understand is the way the phrase is constructed. It reads like:

In the evening, at apartment's Yamada's front door.

It feels like there's an ambiguity whether it's the "apartment's Yamada" or the "apartment's front door". Why not:

「夕方【ゆうがた】 山田【やまだ】さんのアパートの玄関【げんかん】で」

This might not be a good analogy, but if I decide to stick to the original phrase's structure and unwind the sentences from the end, then the following:

猫【ねこ】の山田【やまだ】さんの鼻【はな】

could be translated as:

Nose of Yamada's cat.

(cat's Yamada's nose ~= apartment's Yamada's front door)

But I feel that the correct translation would rather be:

Nose of cat's Yamada.

Which doesn't make sense... I'm confused.

8

Japanese アパート refers not only to an individual apartment, but also to a whole "apartment house/building" in English. In fact, the latter is the primary meaning of アパート. See jisho.org's definition.

Obviously, アパート in アパートの山田さん宅の玄関で refers to the whole apartment building. 山田さん宅 is the phrase that corresponds to "Yamada's apartment" in English here (宅 ≒ house). The word order should look pretty natural if you know that. (To be clear, the phrase means "at the front door of Yamada's apartment of the apartment house")

Of course, 山田さんのアパート can mean a whole apartment building owned by Yamada.


EDIT:

  • 「アパートの山田さん宅の玄関」 makes perfect sense only if the listener and the speaker already know which apartment building they are talking about. (I took it for granted in my original answer, but that might not be obvious.) Otherwise, the speaker needs to specify which building he is referring to, by saying "このアパートの" or "駅前のアパートの", etc.
  • 「山田さんのアパートの玄関」 would theoretically be ambiguous, because アパート can mean both "apartment (room)" and "apartment building". But I won't say this is a confusing phrase, because the listener usually knows whether 山田 is one of the residents of the building or the owner of the building. It's very unlikely that this causes a real misunderstanding. I have used 彼のアパート, ○○さんのアパート many times in my life without any problem. Likewise, if you heard someone say アパートを買った, you have to guess whether he bought a room or he bought a whole building. But that's not tough, is it?
  • The same can be said for マンション.
  • Which is why when someone refers to 「アパート」they usually are not talking about the building, but the person residence or living space if you will. Also is the reason why this statement 「山田さん宅の玄関」is superfluous and sounds strange in everyday life. And is precisely the reason why something like this is usually said instead, 「山田さんの住すんでいるアパートの入いり口ぐちで」 or 「山田さんのアパートビルのエントランス. – KyloRen Jun 1 '16 at 14:54
4

The time & location phrase:

「夕方、アパートの山田さん宅の玄関で」

makes perfect sense. There is simply nothing incorrect, unnatural or ambiguous about it - none.

In this phrase, 「アパート」 refers to the apartment building, and 「山田さん」 refers to Yamada's unit/room in the building.

「玄関」 refers to the entrance area (roughly both inside and outside of the front door) of Yamada's unit/room. It does not refer to the entrance to the apartment building.

Your phrase:

「夕方、山田さんのアパートの玄関で」

sounds a little bit ambiguous because it can mean two different things.

1) "in the evening, at the entrance to Yamada's apartment building"

2) "in the evening, at the front door to Yamada's room/unit"

The first phrase 「夕方、アパートの山田さんの玄関で」 can only mean #2 above. If a phrase can only mean one thing, you usually have a well-structured phrase, dontcha?

「猫の山田さんの鼻」

would only make sense if the cat's name were 山田さん.

="the nose of the cat Yamada-san"

In this case, the 「の」 is appositive.

If you, however, wanted to say "the nose of Yamada's cat" instead, that would be:

「山田さんの猫の鼻」

-2

I hope I won't step on anyone's toes here. But I am compelled to answer the question.
This statement below really is not said, it sounds strange:

  • 「夕方【ゆうがた】、アパートの山田【やまだ】さん宅【たく】の玄関【げんかん】で」

This is more along the lines of what would really be said in everyday life. 「宅 【たく】」 is used more so for someones house BTW.

  • 「夕方【ゆうがた】、山田【やまだ】さんの住{す}んでいるアパートの入{い}り口{ぐち}で」

The above is referring to Yamada's apartment buildings entrance.

This statement:

  • 山田【やまだ】さんのアパートの玄関【げんかん】

should really be written like this:

  • 「夕方【ゆうがた】、山田【やまだ】さんの住{す}んでいるアパートの玄関【げんかん】で」

You need to include 「住{す}んでいる」(where one lives) to make sense of the sentence. The way it was worded just makes it too hard to know what exactly you are referring to, Yamada's apartment building or the actual living space.

When talking of Yamada's actual living spaces entrance 「アパートの玄関【げんかん】」 what this is referring to is not the apartment door but, the space between the 「玄関【げんかん】の扉{とびら}」 or (front door) in English and the 「上{あ}がり框{かまち}」 or the rise in floor level connects to the apartments rooms. 「玄関【げんかん】の扉{とびら}」 is referring to the "front door" of the apartment.

Also when referring to Yamada's apartment buildings entrance, you could also say something like this. 「山田【やまだ】さんのアパートビルのエントランス」 or Yamada's apartment building's entrance.

  • Love to hear what the person down voted for? – KyloRen Jun 2 '16 at 5:40
  • I did not downvote, but I'm guessing whoever did did it because 1) it doesn't really answer the question; the OP asked about the structure of the sentence (mostly why アパート comes before 山田), which isn't really addressed in this answer, and 2) you stated that the original sentence did not sound natural, which some native speakers (i.e. the other two answerers & some of their upvoters) seem to disagree with. Just trying to give some friendly feedback. – Blavius Jun 7 '16 at 4:53

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