I ocasionally hear sentences such as

髪が長くなりたい I want long hair
心が美しくありたい I want to have a beautiful heart

Although I might use similar constructions myself, I do not consider them fully correct because they sound like "(My/the) hair wants to become long" and "(My/the) heart wants to become beautiful". I am aware of Japanese "double-subject" sentences (although I don't agree with this term) and understand that these can be considered ~たい forms of them:

(私は)髪が長くなる → 髪が長くなりたい
(私は)心が美しい → 心が美しくありたい

but would prefer to rewrite to other forms:


Now my question is:

Are the first sentences I posted considered fully correct forms, or do others consider them slightly marked as well? I tried to google for some grammatic prescription related to this, but found it hard to know what to google for.

Edit after seeing answers:

So if 私は鼻が高くなりたい is grammatical, what is the common way to analyze this sentence?

Obviously, translating 高くなりたい as "want(s) to become high" doesn't work, since "I" is not the one wanting to become tall, and "nose" doesn't have a will of its own.

Is it that ~くなりたい operates on a phrase level, i.e.

私は(鼻が高)い I am tall-nosed
私は(鼻が高)くなりたい I want to be tall-nosed,

or is there another way to analyze this?

  • It's almost like you guys are in the same class ;) This was discussed a little earlier today/yesterday: (japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/4848/…)
    – summea
    Feb 29, 2012 at 1:45
  • @summea I asked this question after reading the question you linked to. I don't think this was discussed. The difference between ありたい and 欲しい was discussed, but nobody questioned the correctness of the sentences I posted.
    – dainichi
    Feb 29, 2012 at 1:50
  • I know what you mean; I just thought it was funny that two people would bring up the same example sentence in one day... :p
    – summea
    Feb 29, 2012 at 1:53
  • dainichi: I edited my answer to add more about your latest edit. Hopefully it helps a little~
    – summea
    Mar 2, 2012 at 6:41

2 Answers 2


There is a difference among the first two examples you give. 髪が長くなりたい sounds more unnatural than 心が美しくありたい. The latter sounds perfectly okay.

I think what is relevant here are the notions that are technically known as stage level predicates vs. individual level predicates, or in other words, alienable property vs. inalienable property. To say it in less technical terms, the point is whether the predicate is expressing a temporary property of the subject or a permanent property. 髪が長い "the hair is long" is a temporary property. The length of the hair can easily change by growing or cutting. On the other hand, 心が美しい "have a clear/beautiful mind" is a permanent property. The clearness/beauty of someone's mind is a rather stable property, and is hard to change. I don't have a full analysis, but my hunch is that you can use this construction for individual level (permanent property) predicates whereas using this construction with stage level (temporary property) predicates makes it ungrammatical. Depending on the context and on the fact of the real world, one predicate can change among stage/individual, and so the grammaticality of the sentence can change accordingly. And different predicates have different degrees of how likely it can be interpreted as one or the other, so there can be a continuum of grammaticality. I list the following examples. The higher in the list, is more likely to be stage level, and the construction sounds ungrammatical.

目が点になりたい, 手の甲がひび割れになりたい               ↑ ungrammatical
髪が長くなりたい, 爪が長くなりたい
鼻が高くなりたい, 目が青くなりたい, 足が長くなりたい, 髪がちぢれ毛になりたい    ↓ grammatical

Regarding your sentences:


they are not completely ungrammatical nowadays, but are still somewhat unnatural. They are much too nominalized. Probably it is only after the modernism of Japan that Japanese started to allow these kind of sentences under the influence of Western languages, particularly English.

  • Would something like 髪を長くしたい or 髪を伸ばしたい be grammatical and/or acceptable?
    – istrasci
    Feb 29, 2012 at 5:58
  • @istrasci Yes. Those ordinary transitive sentence do not seem to follow the restriction that I mention here.
    – user458
    Feb 29, 2012 at 6:02
  • @sawa X They are too much nominalized.= O They are much too nominalized.
    – yadokari
    Feb 29, 2012 at 16:24
  • @sawa I am not clear on what you are arguing. Is it that although in dainichi's examples ~たい superficially appears to express a desire that one's hair/heart do something, what is actually happening is that the "self" is extended to include the hair/heart/etc. (so that more inalienable = more grammatical)? Or that (e.g.) 心が美しい should be considered functionally the same as 賢い, so that the 心 cannot be separated out as the "experiencer" of ~たい? What do you think about constructions like 家にありたき木 (from the Tsurezuregusa)?
    – Matt
    Mar 1, 2012 at 4:25
  • 1
    I don't disagree, like @Matt I'm just curious about how to analyze it grammatically, which is why I was hoping for sources. Please do not get me wrong, I value your input anyway, but it just doesn't quite make sense to me yet.
    – dainichi
    Mar 2, 2012 at 8:32

I've seen both of those (first two) sentences used, before. As long as you are implying the (私は・私も, etc.) they should be alright.

As far as your other forms go:

長い髪が欲しい -- is fine
美しい心の持ち主でありたい -- is fine

(though I often think of shop owners, for some reason, when I think of 持ち主. It might be related to how 持ち主 has some synonyms like: 店主、経営者、and オーナー.)

It almost seems like 持ち主 is used, sometimes, in a sarcastic type of way, as well. For example: "This person is the proud owner of a pretty pair of eyes."

You could always check out a thesaurus entry on 持ち主, if desired.

But still, you may also just want to leave the sentence as is (from the first, earlier usage...) unless you are working in the context of literature, or something... where you often want to break out of "regular" or "overused" phrases.

Edit (for your "Edit after seeing answers"):

「私は鼻が高くなりたい」is an interesting phrase... because it normally can mean more than just one wanting one's (physical) nose to be "tall". 鼻が高い actually can also mean something like "(to be) proud". So in general, it would seem the translation might (more likely,) be:

「私は鼻が高くなりたい」I want to be proud (of something/someone.)
「私は(鼻が高)い」 I am proud (of something/someone.)

Although, if it was clear that this was about one's physical nose, that meaning is still (however accurately,) possible.

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