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I am trying to complete my understanding of adjectives, and I came across this example phrase from the wasabi-jpn guide:

髪がきれいな女性 - A woman with beautiful hair.

I would have thought this would mean something like "as for the hair, beautiful woman" since the きれいな女性 part acts as one unit connected by the な meaning 'beautiful woman', and then the 髪 acts as the focus of the clause since it's got the が marker.

I'm not sure what I should be searching for/reading up on to understand this better, and the related questions all seem to be constructed slightly differently, so any help would be appreciated.

  • ... and, for the interchangeablity of の and が in relative clauses: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/12825/9831 – Chocolate Jul 13 '17 at 23:10
  • @MJWall You're confusing 「が」 with 「は」. The は particle can not appear in relative clauses unless it functions as contrast. (Source: DOBJG pg. 375). 「が」 here is used to relate 「髪」 (hair) with 「きれい」 (beautiful), and this phrase, 「髪がきれい」 (lit. hair is beautiful), modifies 「女性」 (woman). – binom Jul 14 '17 at 9:46
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髪がきれいな女性 - A woman with beautiful hair.

I feel this translation is good.

"as for the hair, beautiful woman"

This might be 髪は、きれいな女性.

Both は and が indicate the topic/theme of the predicate/verb, but while は is more for the whole sentence, が is good for modifiers.

髪がきれいな女性

For us native speakers, it's the same as 髪きれいな女性.
It works with が because of the same reason that an adjective completes a predicate: あの人は髪が きれい; きれいな takes が to indicate the subject. So, it's parsed this way:

[髪がきれいな]女性 = [髪のきれいな]女性

So, grammatically, it's closer to A woman whose hair is beautiful.

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