Edit: The link provided by @broken headphones has helped resolve my する/している problem (I think). I have one problem remaining though. Given @Sonny365TANAKA's answer that 彼女は長い髪の毛です is not grammatical, if 田中さんは神妙な顔だ is grammatical then what is the difference? Translating directly to English, why can I say "Tanaka is a meek face" but I cannot say "She is long hair". Both describe a person's features and both sound strange to me.

End edit

Tanaka has a meek face.

Describing facial expressions confuses me. Firstly because of the use of "is" rather than "has" i.e. literal translation of the first sentence is "Tanaka is a meek face". I can live with that.

Is there any difference in meaning/nuance between these two sentences. How do I interpret している? Is it "is making", "has made", or simply "is/has".

Does the way I phrase it change depending on whether I'm talking about the current state of the face or an enduring feature. e.g.

Tanaka has a meek face (and it is always like that. It's just his character)
Tanaka has a meek face (because he's just done something shameful)

Am I right that these issues occur with other aspects of describing a person? For example I saw these two sentences in some example translations:


My instinct tells me that the second one is incorrect even though that is how you would expect to translate it.

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    Your adjective choice of 神妙な makes this a difficult question to answer. Are you really of the opinion that some people INNATELY have a 神妙な顔? If so, I think the majority of Japanese-speakers would disagree.
    – user4032
    Jan 8, 2017 at 10:25
  • @l'électeur Please feel free to use any adjective of your choice. That's just the one that made me start thinking about the question. Perhaps 'meek' isn't the best translation, but I certainly know people that I could describe as permanently meek-looking. Jan 8, 2017 at 10:31
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1 Answer 1


田中さんの様子はどうだ? How are they? (focus on the shot)
田中さんは神妙な顔だ。 Mr.Tanaka is on his good behavior. (on his p's.)

田中さんはどうしている? Let me know how they are doing? (focus on the scene)
田中さんは神妙な顔をしている。I'm not sure the proper English, but it could be "Mr. Tanaka puts his poker face."

NG: 彼女は長い髪の毛です。
acceptable: "彼女は長い髪の毛の人です。", OK: "彼女は髪の毛の長い人です。" or OK: "彼女の髪の毛は長い。"

OK: 私の髪は長い。

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