How are sentences like 日本がピンチだ (Japan is in a pinch) and 明日は雨だ (tomorrow it will rain) analyzed?

Translating them trivially, as

日本がピンチだ Japan is a pinch
明日は雨だ Tomorrow is rain

doesn't make sense. So something must be going on. Is it

  1. 日本 and 明日 are topics, not subjects

    This would only make sense if が is interpreted as a topic marker, which would be an expansion from its usual interpretation: a subject marker. "This wouldn't be a problem for the second example" you might say, but e.g. subordinate clause 明日が雨だったら is valid, and has the same problem.

  2. ピンチ and 雨 are の-adjectives

    ピンチの国 → 日本がピンチだ
    雨の日 → 明日は雨だ

  3. Loose/alternate interpretation of copula

    You might argue that the Japanese copula doesn't equate things to the same degree as the English one, but merely associates them. This might seem the most straightforward explanation, but looking at the Wikipedia article on copula, such interpretations are not mentioned.

  4. Something else?

  • And this is why 「で」 is one of the hardest particles to formalize; it requires a few leaps that may not be entirely obvious in order to "unify" it, so to speak. Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 2:45
  • Sidenote: I can imagine something like "tomorrow is rain" being used in English, actually.
    – summea
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 4:06
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    @summea: it seams to me that "tomorrow is rain" only makes sense if "the forecast for" comes before it @.@ Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 4:17
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    I'm beginning to wonder myself whether this question should be migrated to linguistics.stackexchange.com. I'm not really confused about the usage of these constructions, merely about the grammatical/linguistic analysis of them. Not sure what the policy is for questions about Japanese linguistics. On one hand they're not really about usage, on the other hand I'm worried that they would be too Japanese-centric for linguistics.stackexchange.com.
    – dainichi
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 5:13
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    Ah, answer to my own comment... According to meta.japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/312/…, linguistics are OK as long as it's Japanese linguistics
    – dainichi
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 5:19

4 Answers 4


Perhaps part of the solution is the dropping of words assumed from context?

明日は雨だ → 明日(の天気)は雨だ

You could consider this as a type of sentence known as "ウナギ文".

http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/language/unagi.html - has a nice explanation (in Japanese), exemplified by the exchange (ordering in a restaurant):

甲: 僕は天丼にするよ。

乙: 僕はうなぎだ。

Here the second speaker means that they are going to order the eel, not that they are an eel. Where appropriate が can be used instead of は in this type of sentence as well (example given at link).

For the other, I'd have a look at http://www.geocities.jp/niwasaburoo/02meisibunhosetu.html .This link has some description of (starting within section 2.3 from 「~が~だ」の形の記述文 and going onwards) the type of thing you're looking for.

This is basically the website author's summary of things from some linguistic texts, the one of interest is:

砂川有里子『文法と談話の接点』くろしお出版 2005

It describes sentences like (clipped) 家が火事だ as expressing the status (状態) at the time of speaking, and goes on to split "コピュラ文" (copula sentences) into various subtypes. The author of the book calls these particular sentences 現象描写文タイプ.

I think by comparison with 家が火事だ (the house is on fire rather than the house is a fire) we could fit 日本がピンチだ quite neatly into that category.

Note: I couldn't even begin to guess at how widely accepted the work of this particular person is, and there are clearly various different ways of categorising コピュラ文 depending on which linguist you ask.

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    Great writeup and links, thank you! I would probably put both of the sentences under the 現象描写文タイプ category.
    – dainichi
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 0:46

No. 3 is the correct interpretation, to the best of my linguistic knowledge. As indicated in the Wikipedia article, だ and its related forms (e.g. です) are derived from で+ある (or some other existential verb) and similar things. Here ある means to exist, and で is a general adverbial case marker, serving simply to make a noun into an adverb. As this is a very vague case (in general Japanese grammar is extremely vague in comparison to English), there are a wide array of possible interpretations. The literal meaning of 日本がピンチだ would be "Japan exists as/by/with/in [a] pinch", where "in" is the correct meaning, here (note that with other verbs で can also mean "at", but with verbs of existence that's expressed via the dative of possession).

For a cliche similar example, take あなたが好きです. Here, "with" is the closest literal translation of で.

  • Makes sense. Not sure I understand how "with" is the closest literal translation of で in あなたが好きです, though.
    – dainichi
    Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 17:00
  • In あなたが好きです, です stands for で+あります or some such. As a whole, it would most literally mean "You exist with love/liking/fondness". "with" is the closest literal translation of で in this particular case. Note that in all cases I'm ignoring the nuances of が, as that's a completely different topic. Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 19:53

Your translations are wrong.

  • The Japanese word ピンチ in this usage is not the same as the English word pinch. You may consider it as meaning "in a crisis".

日本が ピンチ
'Japan is in a crisis.'

  • The nominal used with weather is the topic when used with , and the focus when used with . is not always the nominative case marker. It is sometimes the focus particle. Probably, it is making it difficult to you because English needs the expletive it when there is no meaningful subject, whereas Japanese does not need such thing.

明日 雨だ
'As for tomorrow, it will be raining.'

明日 雨だ
'It is tomorrow that it is going to rain.'

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    I realize that this isn't English.SE, but "pinch" is an appropriate translation, for a specific definition of "pinch". Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 4:42
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    @sawa "Your translations are wrong”. Which translations? If ピンチだ means "be in a crisis", so would e.g. 危機だ. I am asking for the mechanism or pattern that takes nounだ and gives it e.g. the meaning be in a noun. Also, I am well aware of the use of が as a focus marker, but common analysis restricts the focus given by が to subjects. For example you cannot say × りんごが食べた if you intend it to mean "It is the apple that I ate". Besides, が in 明日が雨だったら does not necessarily mark focus, so focus marking does not really seem relevant.
    – dainichi
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 4:51
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    @dainichi It was my minor typo. I meant that ピンチ means "in a crisis", not "be in a crisis". A word in some part of speech in some language does not always translates to the same part of speech in another language.
    – user458
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 4:55
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    You're wrong in that "pinch" is indeed a good translation for ピンチ. We say "I'm in a pinch" all the time in English meaning we're in a troubling situation. Also, that was clearly not the OP's question. Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 5:01
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    @sawa I know what you mean about ピンチ, good point about the clarification. But in general, I see the word "wrong" used quite a bit on this site. I don't hear it all that much in Japanese (other than in jest.) I'm just suggesting that we consider the idea of keeping the Japanese language within the context of general Japanese culture.
    – summea
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 5:51

Both 日本がピンチだ and 明日は雨だ are just usual subject-noun-copula sentences in Japanese. The fact that they are not translated to subject-copula-noun sentences in English has nothing to do with the structure of the Japanese sentences per se.

Some people call nouns that are typically translated to adjectives “no-adjectives.” While this notion may be convenient for learning purposes, you should be aware that this notion is only defined in relation to other languages to translate into. As far as the Japanese language itself is concerned, so-called “no-adjectives” are just nouns. (More on no-adjectives.)

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