I've been plugging away on novel translations for years now and figure I should ask more questions about it around here, since the freelance life does not make it easy to network with people.

My question today regards when the subject of the sentence is moved to the end of a phrase. Take the following sentence (taken from the novel I'm currently working through):


Obviously, the subject of this sentence is シェリー (Sherry), as it is her doing the action in the first phrase, and the second phrase is regarding her. However, instead of writing it in a more standard way:


the author opts to place シェリー at the end of the phrase. My question is, what sort of nuance does this have? For example, I'm familiar with this type of inversion of action and subject:


In that case, the emphasis is on who exactly was the one who did the action, as though it was a question the author is answering. This works much the same as the equivalent grammatical structure in English.

However, I'm not sure if what the author wrote is different from that, and if it is, how it's different. My gut instinct is to translate this in the same way as the のは construction:

Sherry had been the one to...

It was Sherry who had...

But I'm not honestly sure this would properly communicate the nuance involved. Obviously it would depend on context. What I'm getting from the sentence is that she knew that logically she had performed this action, but she wasn't conscious for the whole thing.

This author tends to use this construction very frequently, much more frequently than other authors I've read. (In fact, I counted about 10 instances of it for just the protagonist's name in this one book.) I also frequently see it simply to end a sentence, such as in:


I believe this is the same construction. What's the nuance here?

  1. シェリーはゴーレムを放ったが、…
  2. ゴーレムを放ったのはシェリーだが、…
  3. ゴーレムを放ったシェリーだが、…

Sentence 2 is a plain old cleft sentence, I think you understand it well.

Sentence 3 is a "体言止め-like" expression which is basically more vivid and dramatic than 1. Grammatically speaking, it's just a long relative clause that modifies シェリー. By definition, 体言止め refers only to ending a whole sentence with a noun, but a similar construction happens before だが/が/けど/etc. This is a very common rhetorical device in Japanese. Lyrics of some songs are written almost exclusively with 体言止め (for example, this).

The difference between 2 and 3 is small, but some "contrasted" clause about シェリー tends to follow after Sentence 2 because it has は. (e.g., "ゴーレムを放ったのはシェリーだが、そのシェリーがゴーレムに殺されたのだ。")

To translate 体言止め, I think you can treat it as an ordinary sentence in many cases, especially when an author/lyricist tends to use it everywhere. You can use "Sherry, the one who unleashed..." or "It was Sherry who have unleashed..." when appropriate, but IMHO that can often result in awkward English sentences. For example, the first part of 残酷な天使のテーゼ is often translated like this:

蒼い風がいま 胸のドアを叩いても
A blue wind is now knocking at the door to your heart, yet
You are merely gazing and smiling at me

(The literal translation is "You, the one who is gazing and smiling at me even if a blue wind is...")

  • Thank you for the explanations! And the links to information on cleft sentences (I knew what they were, just not that they were called that) and 体言止め. – Andrew Prowse Aug 30 '18 at 13:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.