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大英雄が無職で何が悪い

(What's wrong with a great hero being unemployed) (?)

I think understand the meaning of the sentence but I equate the "で" with the English "with", rather than think about why で is specifically used here. How different would it be if は was used instead of で? What's the nuance of this で?

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大英雄が無職で何が悪い。
A great hero is unemployed, and what's wrong (with that)?
A great hero being unemployed, is there anything wrong?

This で is not the particle で which usually means "with (a tool)", "by (a method)", "at (a place)", etc.

This で is the te-form of the Japanese plain copula だ. It's the same で found in "私は学生、あなたは会社員です" and "今日は日曜日学校は休みだ". The te-form is used to denote a reason/cause of the following clause in the original sentence, so it's not possible to split it into two sentences.

大英雄が無職は何が悪い would not be grammatical because "大英雄が無職" does not form a noun phrase. Well, it's possible to use こと to turn it to a noun phrase and say:

大英雄が無職であることは何が悪い。
What's wrong with a great hero being unemployed?

...although this still looks a bit awkward. You can say 大英雄が無職であること何が悪い, where の is used to link two nouns (大英雄が無職であること and 何).

  • You could also think of this で as short for「であって」, the te-form of「である」 – sazarando Nov 14 '16 at 6:52
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The は would not be an appropriate substitute for the で. This で is comparable to the use of で in a sentence like 明日でいいよ。in contrast to saying 明日がいいよ。

Here the nuance between で and が is relatively subtle. They both imply that tomorrow is OK. The で here gives the nuance that tomorrow is one among many days that are also OK, or that some other day may be preferred but tomorrow is also OK. The が has a nuance that says tomorrow is specifically being singled out as OK or preferable.

So to apply this nuance to the sentence

"What's wrong with a great hero being unemployed"

the で would add the nuance that, being unemployed is one among many options. What it adds to the logic of the sentence is the disclaimer that the speaker already recognizes the many other possibilities other than being unemployed and that these other options may even be considered preferable and clarifies that the speaker is not trying to say it is the only or the best option.

Don't get confused because you can also say 車でいいよ。and 車がいいよ and it is the same で as the earlier examples but it is not the same when you are using the で as a 'with' where you can say 車で行くよ but 車が行くよ or 車は行くよ has a very different meaning.

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