This will probably be my last question regarding my prior questions. This will particularly focus on adjective + 物/こと. I was finally able to minimize the mess in my head, narrowing it down into something simple but I lacked of. I only learned about relative clause by verbs which sudden appearances of relative clause by adjective seems confusing.

I know that 見た犬 can either mean "the dog that saw" or "the dog (I/he/you) saw" depending on the context. Does that mean relative clause of adjective also have 2 possible meanings?

In this example:


It can mean "the cat I like" or "the cat that likes me". I don't know how it can be like that (especially that like is an adjective), how can it be? 白い物 means the thing that is white, can it have another meaning? 白いこと means being white, can it have another meaning?

For verbs the relative clause can be the subject or object (except if it is non living things and if the context is clear). Please explain it to me regarding this as detail as possible. Thank you for helping! 教えてください。すみません!ありがとうね。

3 Answers 3


I think the comparison of 好きな to 白い is not a fair comparison, which results in strange interpretations of the sentence if you enforce the situation that is true for one word, onto the other word. Let me try to explain.

好き is not a normal な-adjective, it does not behave in the same way as other typical な-adjectives. Kuno calls it a Verbal Nominal Adjective. Verbs take を for object marking while a Verbal Nominal Adjective such as 好き takes が for object marking.1 Now let's try to label the different が.

I will label them such that が1 is our usual subject marker, while が2 is the が that is used when 好き is around to assign the が2 argument marker.

Now let's first look at the structure. We begin with a usual verb like 読む and then swap it out with 好き:

  1. 私が 本を読んだ  = "I read a book" 

    We can choose 本 or 私 as our noun of interest and proceed to make relative clauses:

    • [A] Choosing 本:  (私が読んだ)P本  = "The book that I read" 
      Notice that the object marker を is not present in the relative clause P.
    • [B] Choosing 私:  (本を読んだ)Q 私  = "I (that read the book)"
      Notice that the subject marker が1 is no longer present.
  2. 私が 猫が2好きだ  = "I like cats"

    We can choose 猫 or 私 as our noun of interest and proceed to make relative clauses:

    • [C] Choosing 猫:  (私が好きな)R猫  = "The cat that I like"
      Similarly notice that the object marker が2 is not present in the relative clause R.
    • [D] Choosing 私:  (猫が2好きな)S私 = "I (that like cats)"
      Notice that the subject marker が1 is no longer present.

Now a slightly different case where we interchange 私 and 猫. We do the same thing of using a usual verb 読む and then swapping it out with 好き:

  1. 猫が(本を読んだ) = "The cat read a book"

    • [E] (本を読んだ)X猫 = "The cat that read a book"
      This is analogous to [B].
  2. 猫が (私が2 好きだ) = "The cat likes me"

    • [F] (私が2 好きな)Y猫 = "The cat that likes me"
      This is analogous to [D]

Now we put [C] and [F] side by side and remove all the labels. Both of them are on the surface:

  1. 私が好きな猫 with two possible ways to label them:

    • [C] (私が好きな)R猫 = "The cat that I like"

    • [F] (私が2 好きな)Y猫  = "The cat that likes me"

Next let's go back to what I was trying to explain in the first sentence in this answer, why it is not fair to compare 好き to 白い:

  • 白い does not assign an argument for an object.

  • Now we shall try against all rules to form an analog of Sentence 1. or 2. above such that 物 replaces 私

    • 物が1+[?を]+白い
    • 物が1+[?が2]+白い

We soon realise that it cannot be done because 白い has no argument for an object and the sentence 物が1白い is already complete.

Consequently there is no choice as in sentences 1. or 2. for you to choose your noun of interest and you are left with (in analog to the above examples):

  • [G] Choosing 物:  (白い)物 = "Thing that is white" = "white thing"

So to answer your question if there are additional meanings to 白い物 since 私が好きな猫 gave you reason to suspect that there might be other interpretations, there are no other interpretations for 白い物 in the way that 私が好きな猫 has.


[1] The Structure of the Japanese Language, p.90-91, Susumu Kuno


This phrase "見た犬" is ambiguous. 私が見た犬 means "the dog I saw" and 私を見た犬 means "the dog that saw me".

In the case of 好きな猫 is same. 私が好きな猫 means "the cat I like" and 私を好きな猫 means "the cat that like me".

白い物(こと) means only "the thing that is white".

  • 私が好きな猫 is still ambiguous. (Ok, Flaw explains it.) ______ 「食べた魚が赤い頭の猫」 ← これだと7通りの意味に読めるんだが、 ... japanese.stackexchange.com/q/39592/16344
    – HizHa
    Oct 3, 2016 at 18:44

You understand right that relative clause of adjective can also have 2 possible meanings. For example, 「好きな人」 may not only mean "the man/woman" who (I) love", but also "the man/woman who likes something" whenever it's implied by the context (compare 「私の好きな人」 and 「寿司が好きな人」).

Grammatically you can also say 「寿司が白い人」 (a such man that sushi are white for him), but this phrase lacks a common sense for me. You can try with other ~い adjective, though.

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