I understand how relative clauses are formed in Japanese; but, are there any differences with regards to where, what, when, and why, a relative clause is used?

The two languages' relative clauses look very different, and Japanese sentences like using really long ones; so would I be right in thinking Japanese people apply them differently, too?

Please give examples if possible, thanks!

  • 6
    This is a pretty broad question. It might help if you provided some examples of relative clauses that you feel look very different; examples which have prompted you to ask this question. Then we'll have a window into the matter which raises the issue for you. – A.Ellett Jun 28 '17 at 23:54

Japanese relative clauses can be very long, but it can be very short, too. Here are examples of Japanese relative clauses.

  • 飛ぶ鳥  flying bird
  • 青い鳥  blue bird
  • 変な本  strange book
  • 見るの  (the action of) seeing
  • 見ること  (the action of) seeing

If you think the second and the third ones are not using a relative clause, please read this answer. The last two are better known as nominalization, but functionally they're relative clauses, too. So Japanese relative clauses are syntactically much simpler, and in a sense, typical Japanese sentences use many micro relative clauses like these.

But at the same time, Japanese relative clauses can be very long and nested. English sentences often make use of "it" as a dummy (or empty, formal) subject/object in order to change the word order and say an important predicate first (examples of dummy subjects and dummy objects). The Japanese language doesn't have this structure and rather prefers very long relative clauses.

It is my pleasure to have an opportunity to make a speech at this distinguished gathering and share my view on the various problems in Asian countries with you.

Other examples are this and this. I don't know which is "simpler", but I kind of feel the Japanese way is consistent :)

  • That last detail is awesome m8! Thx lad! – Tirous Jun 29 '17 at 4:54

Yes, the construction is rather different, and it causes many of us to stumble at times. No pronouns are used to hook things up.

Wikipedia has some useful information.

You should probably put that into context after reading the entry on Japanese by backing up and reading at least the explanatory part at the top of the page and the examples in your mother tongue.

Also, the Japanese Wikipedia page on the subject is informative.

An example I can think of:

A book that I read <==> ボクが読んだ本

seems fairly straightforward. But there are some ambiguities, in that we sometimes can't tell for sure about certain details of the relationship, except by context. For example,

the boy for whom I read this book

is not easy to transliterate.


would usually be interpreted as the boy who read this book". Nevertheless, I am told that, given the context, it could be read as "the boy for whom I read this book".

To explain that, what I generally hear in conversation is something like the following:







Except that you should understand the first sentence as a summary of part of the conversation to that point. You don't usually hear it said quite that directly. 「のため」 is optional, and, if you were to hear this exact sentence, it would likely be without the 「のため」.

Given that sort of context, you could use


But you'd probably prefer to use


which is basically "the boy who listened to (or heard) me read the book".

In writing, if you needed to be exact, it would be something like


from which you can maybe see how the above ambiguous construction works.

  • Thx m8! Gonna wait a bit before accepting, but thx! – Tirous Jun 29 '17 at 3:15

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