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I'm a native English speaker and taking Kumon's Japanese for 小学校1年生 class (which is an adventure lol), and it's trying to teach me about 修飾語 right now. I looked up 修飾語 and everything I can find is telling me that 修飾語 is a "modifier" in English. Ok, that makes sense.

But one of the example sentences in my homework is 女の子がボールをなげる。And it identifies ボールを as the 修飾語, modifying なげる。But I'm pretty sure that in English, in "the girl throws the ball", "ball" would be the direct object. Direct objects can't be modifiers, can they?

I've managed to thoroughly confuse myself. Am I misunderstanding how modifiers work? Are 修飾語 slightly different from modifiers in English? What is happening?

  • It seems to me that you understand the grammar of the sentence '女の子がボールをなげる。': your question seems to be about the meaning of 'modifier', which may have a different scope in Japanese and English. A question of grammatical vocabulary rather than of grammar proper. Right? – Mathieu Bouville Feb 10 at 10:00
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    I remember I was taught at primary school (or maybe middle school?) something like: In 「きのう、花子さんが学校で太郎くんにチョコを渡した。」 for example, きのう, 学校で, 太郎くんに, チョコを are (連用)修飾語 that modify the 述語「渡した」... like... this or this – Chocolate Feb 10 at 14:44
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Your logic doesn't work when you compare "ball" with ボールを instead of ボール itself. Is "at him" as in "the girl throws the ball at him" a modifier? If so, ボールを is no different.

Now, "him" and ボール are an indirect object and a direct object respectively. However, "at him" and ボールを work adverbially to specify information about the verb, i.e. you throw not other things or to other directions but a ball at him, as well as 白い花 indicates not other flowers but white one, in other words, a modifier for the verb.

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In a site like this, direct objects are usually called direct objects in English, and 直接目的語 in Japanese. However, in linguistic terms, they are modifiers that modify verbs, both in English and in Japanese. You can read about it in this Wikipedia article: Head (linguistics). To take the sentence "He plays the guitar" for instance, he is usually called a subject, but it's also a modifier that modifies the verb plays. And the guitar is usually called an object, but it's also a modifier that modifies the verb plays. Likewise, in this sense, one can say 女の子(が) and ボール(を) are both modifiers that are modifying the verb 投げる.

Either way, in most cases, you can treat "modifier" and "修飾語" as exactly the same concept. I think you believe typical modifiers look like these, and most Japanese people believe these are the typical 修飾語, too. If you ask a Japanese person "Is this ボールを a 修飾語?", they probably say "No it's a 目的語 (object)". But please keep in mind that the word "modifier" itself can be used in a bit tricky manner by some experts.

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