I was reading

Japanese:Revised edition by Shoichi Iwasaki

And he talks about 4 types of relative clauses.

A)“Cased Head” Type (Relative Clause): the head noun bears some case relation to the predicate in the modifying clause


B)“Adverbial Head” Type: the head noun bears an adverbial relation to the information expressed in the modifier


C)“Relational Head” Type: the head noun and the modifier form some sort of interdependent relationship


D)“Content Label Head” Type (Appositive Clause): the head noun serves as a label for the content expressed in the modifier In other words, content nouns are those nouns which have the potential to be further commented on for their content.


This looks pretty straightforward, but when reading is not always so easy, at least for me.

For example I found this sentence today.


Is 闇 a type D(“Content Label Head” Type) noun in this sentence? Is it there a way to easily spot if it's a type A or Type D?
I don't have problems with B,C types but as for A,D I can't seem to grasp when it's A or D.

He also goes on saying this:

In English, noun phrases within a relative clause cannot be further relativized, but this is allowed in some cases in Japanese.

Is this referring to nesting?

Ex > 可愛がっていた犬が死んだ子供

  • 1
    I think it's type A. Type D is describing the "contents" of the noun, rather than actually "modify"ing it. It is similar to "the fact that ..." in English. 闇 is not something that has contents. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 16:52
  • Would it be 闇が対向線路にあたる?
    – Splikie
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 16:57
  • @Splikie Roughly true. 闇 is in the position of a subject in the relative clause. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 23:52
  • 1
    Iwasaki does not say that 財産をなくした賭け事 is an “adverbial head” type as you can see here. One of the examples he does provide for the“adverbial head” type is 頭の良くなる本.
    – jukbot
    Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 15:11

1 Answer 1


A good way to tell the type is to imagine the original sentence without a relative clause.

  • A: 木村さんは犬を飼っている。 (木村さん is the subject)
  • B: [私は]賭け事で財産をなくした。 (賭け事で is adverbial)
  • C: (no original sentence; 翌年に太郎が東京へ行った would mean something different)
  • D: (no original sentence; 事実 does not bite a baby)

And consider the phrase in question:


We can think of the original sentence, which is either:

  • 闇の向こうはこれまでとは対向線路にあたる。
  • 闇はこれまでとは対向線路にあたる。
    The darkness corresponds to the oncoming lane (from the viewpoint of where we came from)

So 闇 serves as the subject of the verb あたる in the original sentence, just like 木村さん is the subject of 犬を飼っている.

This sentence may have confused you because あたる is a verb that can denote an appositive relation. In type D, there is no such a verb.

  • 東京に行った話 (Type D; the relative clause is the direct content of 話)
  • 東京に行った気になる話 (Type B: You feel as if you went to Tokyo by the 話 (adverbial))
  • 東京に行ったことと関係する話 (Type A; 関係する is the subject of 話)

In English, noun phrases within a relative clause cannot be further relativized, but this is allowed in some cases in Japanese.

Is this referring to nesting?

I think so. 頭が赤い魚を食べた猫 can both mean:

  • a cat who ate a red-headed fish
  • a fish-eating cat whose head is red

But if I'm not mistaken, "a cat who ate a fish whose head is red" can only mean the former (...am I right?)

  • Maybe you are correct, あたる confused me here. Sometimes I also have troubles with causative verbs and relative clauses and I am not sure if it's type A or D. I will try your method. I have another question about nesting though: In a nested sentence like what comes before the noun stops having effect when it modifies that noun? Example: 鞄を押せた僕が行った場所で人々がケンカしていた話のせいで警察が来た。 So 鞄を押せた stops having effect at 僕 which stops having effect at 場所 which stops having effect at 話 after which there is a normal sentence. I don't know if what I want to say came across or not, if it didn't I'll rephrase it.
    – Splikie
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 9:18
  • This is a better sentence since I found it while reading. シルバークロースが乗っ取った臨視カメラのレンズへ正確に視線を投げる浜面(はまづら)の腕辺りから、ケーブルが伸びていた。 シルバークロースが乗っ取った stops having effect at 臨視. 臨視 stops having effect at 浜面 which stops having effect at the end. If you do not understand what I am saying, I'll rephrase it.
    – Splikie
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 10:20
  • 1
    @Splikie I'm not sure what you mean by "having effect", but all the relative clauses in those sentences modify nouns directly after them (押せた→僕 (A-subject)、行った→場所 (B)、ケンカしていた→話 (D)、乗っ取った→臨視カメラ (A-object)、投げる→浜面 (A-subject)), so they seem rather simple to me. I thought "nesting" here refers to a relative clause modifying a noun which is far away because the modified noun is modified by another relative clause (e.g. スーツを着た寿司を食べている男; of course it's not the sushi but the man who is wearing a suit), but I may be wrong.
    – naruto
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 1:44
  • Sorry my explanation was bad. I'll start by telling you about my confusion. When I see long sentences I usually get lost while reading when there are lots of relatives. What I meant to ask is: "Could I just simply see as if what comes before the modified noun is not there? Example シルバークロースが乗っ取った>臨視カメラ And then I just start a new sentence with 臨視カメラ as the beginning as if シルバークロースが乗っ取った were not there.
    – Splikie
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 7:02
  • I know that that it is there and modifies 臨視カメラ, but if I see relative clauses like this it somehow gets easier. I think it's a problem linked to not knowing enough words too and It gets hard for my brain to process it all.
    – Splikie
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 7:05

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