I'm reading a book and have come across this sentence


I know this sentence translates to something like

Annie was pointing to a long rope ladder.

But what I truly don't understand is what does the だった at the end modify? Is it modifying アニーが指さしている (Annie pointing) like I believe?

Or is it really modifying 一本のなわばしご (rope ladder)? And the translated sentence is more like

Annie pointed to what was a long rope ladder

  • 1
    I'm not sure if you're really interested in the technical terms, but the question as phrased doesn't quite make sense. It doesn't modify anything, it's predicating. Predicates and modifiers are two different things.
    – user1478
    Feb 6, 2019 at 2:26
  • 1
    'The thing Annie was pointing at' or 'What Annie was pointing at' seems more in line with the original text. Where are you seeing the word 'long'?
    – BJCUAI
    Feb 6, 2019 at 3:08
  • @user27280 I thought this was implied by 一本 (one long cylindrical thing). Maybe this is wrong of me. You are right, there is no word that directly means long in this sentence Feb 6, 2019 at 4:24
  • @snailboat I'm all for technical if it can help me understand. Not sure if this is right, but assuming a predicate is defined as "the part that tells us what the subject does or is". Does this mean だった is predicating Annie and my first assumption was correct? Feb 6, 2019 at 4:24
  • Expanding on @naruto's answer below: The tense of the final verb (or copula in this case) sets the tone (tense) for the entire sentence, thereby changing 'Annie is pointing' to 'Annie was pointing'. So, while there is an influence, it is not in the category of modification.
    – BJCUAI
    Feb 6, 2019 at 5:31

1 Answer 1


This is a rather simple example of a cleft sentence.

Annie was pointing to a long rope ladder.

It was a long rope ladder that Annie was pointing to.

Grammatically speaking, だった is modifying nothing.

Note: This /it is referring to a tangible object, so in this case, it is possible to translate the sentence using the simple grammar of relative clause: "The thing (=の) Annie was pointing to was a long rope ladder." But cleft sentence is a grammaticalized concept that has a wider range of usages.

  • Or simply "What Annie was pointing to ..." Feb 6, 2019 at 7:22

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