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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.

marked as duplicate by Chocolate, macraf, broccoli forest, user3856370, Aeon Akechi Jul 24 '17 at 12:47

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  • ... 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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