While studying grammar I noticed that some words require using である/な when used with a noun/な-adjective respectively. I wanted to see if there was a pattern between which words required them and which did not. Some examples are:

  1. suzukisan wa rekishi ga suki na dake atte, rekishi no tensuu wa totemo takai.
    Because Suzuki likes history, her history grades are really good.

  2. shakaijin de aru kagiri wa, jibun no koudou ni sekinin o motsu beki da.
    As long as you're a member of the society, you must take responsibility for your actions.

(sorry, my Japanese keyboard program isn't working now)

So why do words like dake and kagiri require である/な, whereas others do not?

  • What are other words/grammar constructs that "don't require である/な?" For the most part it seems like nouns and な-adj. usually require some kind of "functionalization" to let them modify what follows them, whether it be a の、だ、な or something else. Verbs and い adj. have that ability sort of built in.
    – katatahito
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 6:01

2 Answers 2


である, な, and some instances of の are all "modifier" versions of the copula verb です. When you want to say "the building that I see from my window", you use the plain form 見る in 窓から見るビル. If you're saying "the books that I read lately", the plain form 読む in 最近読む本. So when you use a verb to modify a noun (or noun phrase), the pattern is [phrase ending with a plain-form verb] + [noun or noun phrase].

Now, the plain form of the copula です is だ - but as an exception to the above pattern, you can't use it as a modifier - instead, you use の. For "John who is a doctor", you don't say 🚫医者だジョンさん🚫 - instead you would say 医者ジョンさん. "The tree that is her home" is 彼女の家の木 - except that this could also mean "the tree of her home", or it could even refer to the wood from which her home was made.

Except, when the final word before the copula is an adjectival noun, you use な instead of の. "(The) Mary that loves candy" (or "Mary, who loves candy") is キャンディーが好きなメアリー. And of course you also use な with regular nouns in the specific case where you follow it with んだ, のです, or the like.

Now, である. である is equivalent to だ, except that (a) it is used in place of だ or です in "literary plain form", a style often found in books, that uses plain verb forms, but with just a dash of extra formality thrown in; and (b) it can be used as a noun-modifying verb, without modification. In this style, その本だ becomes その本である; and 医者のジョンさん (recall: "John who is a doctor") could be 医者であるジョンさん.

However, uses of な would typically stay the same. You'd still have キャンディーが好きなメアリー; you would not have 🚫キャンディーが好きであるメアリー🚫.

And, of course, the use in more typical Japanese of の as the "modifier" form of だ, can lead to confusion. Ordinarily, いもうとちゃんの本 means "My little sister's book" - but what if we're in a story in which an evil witch has transformed your little sister into a book? Even though the context makes it clear that "My little sister, who is a book" might conceivably be a possible interpretation for that phrase, it's still just too far from a "normal" reading of it, and a Japanese reader would likely still assume it's "sister's book". In such a case, the use of である then can also serve the purpose of disambiguating between "the Y that is X" and "X's Y". いもうとちゃんである本. For the "the tree that is her home" example, in reality I'd expect to see that as 彼女の家である木 as well, due to the same kinds of ambiguities, mentioned previously.

And this brings us to the explanation of 社会人である限り. 社会人 is not an adjectival noun, but just an ordinary noun, and so the rule would be to use の to mean "The constraint that is [being] a member of society"; except that 社会人の限りは would make it "the constraints [or limits] of society members" instead, referring potentially to limitations that members of society have, rather than a limit that membership in a society demands. So である is used to give it more of the former flavor than the latter.

  • 1
    “その人がきらい becomes その人がきらくある” ??? Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 17:24
  • Er, sorry, you're right. Must've been thinking about how that works with ござる (嬉しい -> 嬉しゅうござる/adjective -> adverb + ござる). Obviously with ある it changes the meaning somewhat, and that bit was incorrect. Fixed. Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 1:51
  • 嬉しくある is a valid form but it’s almost always accompanied by a 係助詞 (は、も、さえ, etc) in the middle of it, and does not have a particular affiliation to relative clauses. However, the real problem with きらくある is that きらい is not an i-adjective at all... Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 3:21
  • I know 嬉しくある is a valid form; but as you've pointed out you'd use it as a form of emphasis, and not just as the standard way to express that. If you would say さようでござる for そうです then you would say (perhaps) 嬉しゅうござる for 嬉しいです; but if you would say そうである, you would not say 嬉しくある; you'd just say 嬉しい. Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 14:20
  • And as to きらくある... yeah, whoops! Not sure how I missed that... twice... Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 14:23

かぎり doesn't require である you could rewrite the second sentence like this:

  1. 社会人の限りでは、自分の行動に責任を持つべきだ

かぎり can also be used with other verbs

僕の知っている限り ("as far as I know")

  • Hello, thank you for all of your input! Would you mind including more detail and explanation in your answers? Try to teach the concepts in addition to giving a translation!
    – ajsmart
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 19:42
  • I’m not quite sure what there is to add to it. 限り is grammatically a nominalization of 限る as such it should be used as any other nominalized verb. Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 4:48

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