I need some help with understanding the meaning of the のが part in the last sentence (shown in bold), which this answer has told me means that the sentence is a cleft sentence and this one told me how to mostly parse the cleft sentence, but not what のが means.


鼻先を彼女のナイフが かすめ飛ぶ。

The tip of my nose flies as it skims over her knife. OR
The tip of my nose leaps as it grazes her knife.


According to the second link, which has great examples that I am using here to try and understand my own sentence:

"The non-focused element introduces a variable 𝑥, and the focused element tells us the value of 𝑥... The most basic type of cleft looks like AのはBだ in Japanese, where A introduces a variable 𝑥, and B tells us the value of that variable."

When applied to my own sentence, I understand this to mean the following:

In [あと少し避{よ}けるのが遅{おく}れていたら……]

A) あと少し避{よ}けるのが遅{おく}れていたら……

non-focused element: (x)      あと少し避{よ}ける
    focused element:       遅{おく}れていたら = (x)
(translated non-focused element is shown in bold at the bottom of this post)

From what I can tell, the focused element is a verb that can be translated to variants of either 'late' or 'delayed' in the provided context while indicating continuing action or state (i.e. to be ..ing, to have been ..ing).

  1. Does the のが in my sentence mean that the sentence is a cleft sentence?

  2. Is my understanding of cleft-sentences sufficient to have correctly translated and parsed あと少し避{よ}けるのが遅{おく}れていたら…… into the following possible translations?

'After a short distance [ I ] was almost late in avoiding [her knife]......' OR 'After a little while [ I ] could barely fend off [her knife]......'

  • 1
    This is not a cleft sentence. の in this sentence is a simple nominalizer. – naruto Dec 28 '17 at 23:23
  • @naruto How can you tell that the のが is a normalizer in this sentence, thereby meaning that my sentence is not a cleft-sentence? – Toyu_Frey Dec 28 '17 at 23:57

As pointed out by @naruto, the の is a nominalizer. It turns the verb 避ける into a noun phrase, so that it can be the subject of the clause.


To break it down:

あと少し -- "a little more"
避けるの -- subject "(the/my) dodging"
が -- subject marker
遅れ(ていたら) -- verb "be delayed; be late"
~ていたら -- indicates a hypothetical condition, "If... had done/been..."

あと少し is an adverbial phrase modifying the verb phrase 遅れ(る), "be delayed a little more". So the sentence literally means:

"If (my) dodging had been delayed a little more..." i.e. "If I had dodged a little slower..."

As you can see, the line is a conditional subordinate clause, rather than a full sentence. The latter half of the sentence (i.e. the main clause, or the apodosis) is left unsaid as implied: "... I would have gotten hurt." or something along those lines.

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  • Do you know of a online source that I can study or at least learn to recognize adverbal phrases, verb phrases, noun phrases, and "hypothetical conditions" phrases that occur in the Japanese language? As I did not know that ていたら was a hypothetical condition in the above sentence, and that の when used as a normalizer affects the verb that comes directly before it in the sentence until you mentioned it. – Toyu_Frey Dec 30 '17 at 1:01
  • @Toyu_Frey I hear Tae Kim's Guide guidetojapanese.org/learn is popular... To recognize adverbial phrases, looking up the word at the end of each phrase in a dictionary (eg 少し in あと少し) might help sometimes... For verb phrases, I think you need to learn quite a few conjugations, auxiliaries, conjunctive particles and subsidiary verbs. For the hypothetical phrase, look up たら (which derived from the auxiliary た). ~ていたら consist of て-form + subsidiary verb いる + たら. For saying "if~" we also have: ~れば、~(る)と、~なら etc... For the nominalizer の, there're a lot of sources on the Internet... – Chocolate Dec 30 '17 at 9:39
  • (cont.) ... and this thread might be of help, too: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1395/… Good luck ^^ – Chocolate Dec 30 '17 at 9:41

I think "あと少し避(よ)けるのが遅(おく)れていたら……" is a hypothetical situation rather than the result "I was barely able to dodge it". So, I think it's hard to make so-called cleft sentence(It should be 強調構文 "It is ... that ~ "in Japanese 英文法).

You might use "were to ~" for emphasizing the hypothetical condition to translate; "If I were to dodge it a little bit later...".

I think it's easier to make cleft sentence with "鼻先を彼女のナイフが かすめ飛ぶ。" like " It was her knife that skimming over tip of my nose".

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(A) あと少{すこ}し避{よ}けるのが遅{おく}れていたら...

In this context, the above phrase implies like:

(B) あと少{すこ}し避{よ}けるのが遅{おく}れていたらそのナイフが私{わたし}の顔{かお}に刺{さ}さっていただろう。

"のが" could be replaced with "ことが" or "動作が" in the given pharase without changing the meaning.

  1. Does the のが in my sentence mean that the sentence is a cleft sentence?

No. The の in のが is a normalizer as is written in Naruto's comment, which makes the verb with 避ける a noun, so it could be replaced with こと or 動作 action (of avoiding) here.

  1. Is my understanding of cleft-sentences sufficient to have correctly translated and parsed ...

Since the sentence is not a cleft one, the answer is No.
My attempt for (B) is:
A knife might have stuck in my face if I had been a little late for avoiding it.

On the theme that が could be sometimes replaced with こと as a normalizer, there are usuful explanations here and here, I'm sorry to say, but they are written only in Japanese.

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