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Do stative (as opposed to eventive) predicates have an object which is marked by が?

I'm just curious to see what other people actually think, and to hear of any sources where this may be analysed differently.

その質問が分からない

for me is not to be thought as it'd be in English language, that is, to think as the subject being an actor (and therefore the verb "to understand" wouldn't be considered as stative). Isn't the point of stative predicates to describe a state and therefore "that problem IS not understood" (~I don't understand that problem)? This troubles me a lot. Why isn't the verb 分かる treated as "to be understood", a property of the SUBJECT (thus が) instead of an action (where を would mark the accusative case/ the object)?

Some more examples

いつも笑っている人があまり好きじゃない

家が見えるね!

Furthermore, is it possible to use the particle は in these cases? It seems too emphatic to use the が particle when further context is provided

彼女がいつも笑っている人だね。でもいつも笑っている人 あまり好きじゃないんだからパーティーに行きたくないんだよ

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2 Answers 2

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わかる takes this structure:

  • (agent) に/が (object) が わかる

好き does this way:

  • (agent) が (object) が 好き

So, it's not correct to think of わかる and 好き as "to be understood" and "to be liked" respectively because (agent) が 好き only translates to "the agent likes", not "the agent is liked", for example.

I personally find it easier to explain things when you think が as in (object) が is a kind of object marker but it depends on people.

As for using は, there are no grammatical cases that can't be topicalized, in short, you can add は to whatever if you need.

As for your sentences specifically, either が or は don't change things that much, but if I dare to dig it, changing いつも笑っている人があまり好きじゃない家が見えるね to …笑っている人は…, could imply that the latter limits the kind that they(家)hate, while the former is neutral (が in a clause can straightforwardly denote the subject unlike in a sentence).

As for the second sentence, If you focus on relationship between the predicate (being a negative form), you may feel は more natural. On the other hand, however, you may prefer the sub clause packed tight without topicalized. (Incidentally, it should be あまり好きじゃないから instead of …好きじゃないんだから.)

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  • Additional note: verbs of potential like 分【わ】かる or できる generally do not take objects in Japanese. These verbs describe a quality about something: 「A が [POTENTIAL VERB]」 is broadly equivalent to saying "A is [VERB]-able." The "A" in these sentences is most definitely a grammatical subject, not an object. So 「(私は・に)A が[わ]{●}[か]{●}[る]{●}」→ "A is understandable (by / to / as for me)." These only become active transitive verb expressions after translation into idiomatic English. Nov 23, 2021 at 0:39
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Some people analyse “nominative objects” [主格目的語」as subjects and say that the grammatical structure of “私にこれが分かる” is thus “to me, it is understood” or that “私にこれが許せない” thus means “To me, it is not concondeable”.

I believe this analysis to be quite problematic on multiple levels. At the very least we're stuck with the basic problem that it can't explain why these “subjects” simply grammatically do not behave as subjects normally do in Japanese and in fact behave more as objects do, in about every way, except that they take “〜が” instead of “〜を”. For instance:

  • Clauses ending in “〜ながら” must share the subject with their matrix clause, but not their object. We cannot say “ご飯を私が食べながらあの人が見ていた” to mean “He was looking at the dinner while I was eating it.” but we can say “私がご飯を食べながらテレビを見ていた” to mean “I was watching television while eating dinner.”, and yet, we can say “私は答えがわかりながら質問をする” to mean “I ask the question while knowing the answer.”
  • As far as how “自分” functions they seem to function like objects. “自分がわかる” is always understood as “to understand oneself”, not “I, myself, am understandable to someone else.” “自分” as an object refers back to the subject “自分” as a subject does not refer back to anything in a main clause.
  • Many verbs can be used in either pattern. One can say both “私にこれが許せない” and “私がこれを許せない” with no real change in meaning which would be odd if the verb truly meant “to be condonable” rather than simply “to be able to condone” while allowing for a dative subject and nominative object. The latter pattern isn't even that commonly used and mostly used in sentences such as “これは私に許せない” because using “が” there as a nominative subject would in fact be ambiguous again and could make it the object.
  • for the purpose of subject-honorification. They do not behave as the subject either. ”おわかりですか?” honors the part marked with “〜に” here, not with “〜が”
  • “〜たい” also refers back to the subject. “好きになりたい” means “I want to love.”, not “I want to be loved.” but “綺麗になりたい” means “I want to be pretty.”. Casting doubt on that it's the subject and that “好き” means “to be loved”.

So, essentially these “subjects” behave like objects in every way except they use “〜が”. One could still call them “subjects that behave like objects in every way except for using “〜が”, but personally I think the term “nominative object” captures that idea more accurately.

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