1

Consider this:

watashi wa remon wo tabeta

This is translated as I ate a lemon.

How about this?

remon wo watashi wa tabeta

This can be translated 2 ways:

1) A lemon I ate

However, it also can be translated as:

2) I ate a lemon

which is the same translation as in the 1st case (watashi wa remon wo tabeta), just the order of the words is different.

How would you deal with it on practice?

5

remon wo watashi wa tabeta

This can be translated 2 ways:

1) A lemon I ate

No it cannot be translated as “a lemon I ate”.

Particle wo indicates a direct object of the verb tabeta, and word order does not change that.

The phrase “A lemon I ate” in Japanese is “watashi ga tabeta remon”.

However, it also can be translated as:

2) I ate a lemon

And this is the only way it can be translated although the word order is not natural.

  • watashi ga tabeta remon --> why don't you translate it as "I'm the one who ate a lemon" ? – Joichi Oct 11 '17 at 5:35
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    Because there is no particle wo, so the lemon is not an object of the verb. – macraf Oct 11 '17 at 5:39
  • but in casual speech how would you know if a particle has been omitted or merely there's no particle? – Joichi Oct 11 '17 at 5:48
  • Even in casual speech noone would be omitting a particle that's going to be essential to understanding the context. If you removed を then you'll just be referring to an eaten lemon; if it was there the listener would at least think that there was something eaten (ate what? a lemon). – keithmaxx Oct 11 '17 at 8:00
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    No, lemon is not a subject, because a subject is a part of a sentence and "lemon I ate" is not a sentence. – macraf Oct 11 '17 at 8:54
3

Both phrases you gave mean "I ate lemon". I will show you, roughly, how to parse the sentences so you can convince yourself of this.

The verb is in the end of the clause

Clauses in Japanese always end with the verb. This is very important, and (usually) won't change in casual speech, even if there are particles being omitted and all that. The verb is always in the end of the clause.

This means that, when you see:

watashi wa remon wo tabeta

You can conclude:

  • This is one complete clause. The verb is "tabeta".
  • What is marked with "wa"? Answer: "watashi". Therefore "watashi" is the topic of this clause.
  • What is marked with "wo"? Answer: "remon". Therefore "remon" is the object.

Therefore the translation can only be "I ate lemon". Now, if the sentence was, instead:

remon wo watashi wa tabeta

The analysis would be identical to the one I did above, and the only possible translation is still "I ate lemon".

What if particles are omitted?

In casual speech, it is not uncommon for particles to be omitted. But, you can be sure that the verb will still be in the end of the clause. Consider:

watashi, remon tabeta.

Particles were omitted, this is fine. But as you can see, the verb is still in the end. This won't change in acsual speech. You simply have to guess which particle was attached to "watashi" and which particle was attached to "remon", and you can quickly guess "wa" and "wo" respectively, and understand the sentence. This still means "I ate lemon".

How to say "Lemon I ate" then?

First of all, note that "Lemon I ate" is not a clause! "I ate" is a clause. But "Lemon I ate" is well, a lemon with a special property (you ate it), so it is a noun modified by a clause.

Clauses can modify nouns. I don't know if you're familiar with this, so I will explain a bit. Clearly, we can modify a noun with adjectives, such as "big lemon", "small lemon", and so on. In english, we do this by putting the adjective on the left of the noun. We can also modify a noun with a clause. For example, "A lemon that I ate", or "A lemon I ate" for short. In Japanese, we can also do this, and to do this, we put the clause in the left of the noun. Therefore.

  • We want to say "Lemon I ate".
  • Step 1: figure out how to say "I ate" (the clause). Well, it is "watashi wa tabeta" or "watashi ga tabeta" (in small sentences it is hard to see a difference between "wa" and "ga", so let's leave it like this for now...)
  • Step 2: figure out how to say "Lemon": that is "remon".
  • Put the clause to the left of the noun. Result: "watashi wa tabeta remon" or "watashi ga tabeta remon".
  • Note: It's unfortunate that we stumbled into this "wa" versus "ga" thing here, but since it's not the focus of your question, I will simply say that "wa" is wrong in this case. If you don't understand why, you'll have to look around or ask another question.

Conclusion: "Lemon that I ate" is "watashi ga tabeta remon". Since clauses in Japanese end with a verb, it is clear that "remon" is not a part of the clause here. Instead, it is being modified by a clause. And no particle omitting will change this.

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