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I was reading through the following blog and came across a particularly interesting example on the use of は and が.

The author explains that in the context of a young man pointing at a number of pictures of girls he could use the following sentence to say "I like her".

私は彼女だね。

I am reading this as the following:

私は - As for me 彼女だね - she it is right?

I know that the adjective for "like" is 好き however the author also describes だ as the Verb for "being" I can't find this Verb anywhere online, and as far as I know だ is just the informal equivalent of the polite です.

Can someone help explain this to me? I'm guessing the answer is very much related to the context so relies heavily on the question, probably something like "which one do you like?"

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    A better English translation of that might be 'for me, it's her'. Does that help answer your question?
    – Sjiveru
    Sep 21, 2018 at 21:18
  • Thank you. Yes it's helpful. But when we say her, don't we have to use the no particle attached to 彼女? Like 彼女の? I think this one of the main reasons I'm confused Sep 21, 2018 at 21:49
  • No, since の indicates possession, which isn't what we want here. 'her' in English is more than one thing, and 彼女の only corresponds to one of several uses of English 'her'.
    – Sjiveru
    Sep 21, 2018 at 22:18
  • @Sjiveru That makes sense. You mean 彼女の would correspond to something that "she" possesses? 彼女の父は静かな人だ。 Sep 21, 2018 at 22:22
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    Exactly that. As a word of advice, don't try and set up equivalencies in your head between Japanese words and English words - connect the Japanese words to concepts directly, and forget about how English works.
    – Sjiveru
    Sep 21, 2018 at 22:26

5 Answers 5

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This is a typical example of うなぎ文 ("eel sentences"). As you have correctly guessed, the interpretation of this sentence is highly context-dependent. In different contexts, 私は彼女だね can mean "I hate her", "I will work with her" or virtually anything. For details, please see the following.

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Japanese allows the omission of almost any part of the sentence as long as it can be understood from the context.

So
私は彼女だ。
is short for
私は彼女が好きだ。(I like her)

好き was omitted because it probably can be understood from the context.
As you say, it is probably an answer to the question "which one do you like".

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Many books and websites explain だ/です as verbs meaning "to be". However in my experience thinking of these as verbs only confuses people. です is added to the ends of sentences to make the sentences more polite. It will be too confusing to think of it as anything more than that. Adding だ or だね to the end of a sentence adds a certain feeling that is hard to explain. Rather than trying to explain it, it is better to just read thousands of sentences using these particles until you start to intuitively understand the kinds of feelings they can convey. They don't add any extra meaning, they add feelings. Here are some others:

だよ

ね  

だよね  

よね

だな

だよな

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  • Thank you for the answer and your examples. It was useful Sep 21, 2018 at 21:50
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This is a difficult question, that has some nuances to it. It's best resolved with practice, but just be cautious that there are some 'general guidelines' to be wary of checking before proceeding.

It is worth considering that だ functions more like a "declarative particle", according to a few sources; you are asserting the quality of something as such-and-such. The particle だ is used in contexts where you are asserting something is the way it is, whereas です is an actual copula, like "to be" in English. Because of this distinction, there are cases where you cannot or should not use だ, but could and should use です. This is because whereas だ is a plain form-only particle, its function is related to making something a statement, which does not work when asking a question in Japanese, for example.

Also, consider that だ can be used within a sentence, whereas です can only be used at the very end of a sentence; so as to indicate politeness and to function as a copula. These are the two main reasons why one could not use です where you would use だ.

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  • Thanks for your explanation of だ. It was useful. It's good to know that だ is not always needed. Sep 21, 2018 at 21:51
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The short version, although probably not enough for someone who would ask the question:

だ is a contraction of である, which functions as a pseudo-copula. It is a combination of the particle で and the verb ある. There needs to be a noun preceding it, which will then function as the で-marked "argument" of ある.

だ is not in the same category as sentence-ending particles like ね and よ. It has clear grammatical function - although it is re-grouping things in a way that obscures the natural pattern. The polite form of だ is です, itself a contraction of であります. (However, です has evolved a separate usage, which also allows it to be used at the end of a sentence after i-adjectives and certain conjugated forms of verbs.)


In the example 私は彼女だね, ね is a colloquial sentence ending, adding the nuance of ", right?", as noted. The core of the sentence, however, is 私は彼女である. Contracting to だ (or です formally) at the end of a sentence is more or less mandatory, but the analysis will be easier to follow using the un-contracted form である - so all the examples below will do that.

Here, we functionally have a verb ある - "to exist" - with a topic 私 ("I") marked with は, and a... mode of existence? marked with で. This sentence is about the speaker, and it asserts that something exists in a "her" way. In other words, that something "is" her. Although the で is normally contracted with the verb, it is really a particle that marks the preceding noun's role.

Many observations at this point:

  1. There isn't an expressed grammatical subject here (marked with が). Japanese is a "pro-drop" language, where these things can formally be omitted (i.e., it is grammatically correct to do so) and the listener is expected to infer them from context. English struggles with both of those: a grammatical subject almost always needs to be stated explicitly (even if that subject is "it").

    In particular, 私 isn't the thing that 彼女である - that would mean "I am her". By using a topic marker instead, we allow for something else to be the thing that is identified as "her". Why do we have a sentence that is about 私, when 私 isn't the thing that ある? Er... good question. (If you have a few years to research, start by looking up the classic example 「[象]{ぞう}は[鼻]{はな}が[長]{なが}い」.)

  2. The English verb "to be" is very strange. It can mean "to exist"; but it can also function as a copula, which we understand as either relating an adjective to a subject predicatively ("the cat is cute"), or predicatively equating (in multiple different ways, actually) a subject to a direct object: "This animal is a cat" (categorizing), "That is my cat" (identifying), etc.

    Japanese doesn't have anything like that. The closest thing in Japanese equivalents to an "adjective" can freely be used predicatively already: 可愛い猫 ("cute cat") -> 猫が可愛い ("the cat is cute"). For equating things predicatively, Japanese uses the verb ある, which is pretty close to "to exist" (there is also いる, but we won't get into that now and we don't use it in this context), with the particle で to indicate the role.

  3. The example cannot be properly understood as "omitting が好き", because that would be changing the で-marked part from 彼女 to 好き, and similarly changing the role of 彼女. Although, contextually, 私は彼女が好きである could mean the same thing, it conveys that meaning in a different way.

    Note here that 好き is grammatically a noun, not an adjective - although it is one with very restricted uses. Practically, we only find it either before だ/です, or used as a "na-adjective" (but see the note at the end). In English grammatical terms, 好き is basically a gerund formed from the verb form 好く - although directly using that verb is so unidiomatic as to be almost theoretical-only.

    Anyway, the point is that 私は彼女が好きである means that "she" exists in a "liking" way, and this sentence is about the speaker. The natural inference is that the speaker is the one doing the liking.

What about the original?

The sentence is about the speaker, and there is something identified as being "her". We also know from context that the speaker is claiming to like her. What is the implied subject? It might, therefore, be "a liked person": 私は好きな人が彼女である. In this rendering of the subject, 好きな人, we get to see the use of the combination 好きな as a "na-adjective".

For bonus marks: using な to turn a noun into an adjective like this is really the same thing as using だ=である to do it. (There are complex historical reasons why な is used instead of だ in this context; basically, Japanese used to conjugate verbs differently in these two contexts, and dropped the distinction in most cases but kept it for these idiomatic, contracted forms.) However, sometimes we have to use の instead, which is functionally different and probably better understood as "just a way to connect nouns".

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