I'm sure there are plenty of resources on this topic, but I don't know what keywords to use to find them.

I want to know how you might create a noun by saying that the noun does something.

For example,

I saw the cow that ate vegetables at the shop

Would be something like


The bracketed part of the above sentence is the clause that I don't know how to turn into a noun.

Note that I'm not looking for a sentence like


That would mean

I saw the cow eating vegetables at the shop

Because the cow did not eat the vegetables while I saw it, that's just how I'm identifying the cow.

Hopefully, the question is clear. Thanks in advance.

Edit Even a name for what this is called so that I can do further reading would be invaluable.

  • 5
    Perhaps "relative clause" is what you're after. – ZLK May 17 at 4:17
  • 1
    @ZLK This is perfect. Just to check 店で野菜を食べた牛を見ました is correct? – PolymorphismPrince May 17 at 4:30
  • @PolymorphismPrince this might help with understanding how this works in Japanese: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/52677/… note that a lot of it is in Spanish, as well, but it addresses how nouns can be identified. – psosuna May 20 at 19:08

In addition to naruto's answer, I'd like to point out that the relative clause "that" that's used in English (even in this very sentence) doesn't exist in Japanese, simply because the structure of the language is different.

It might be easier to explain using examples.

Let's look at your sample sentence in English.

I saw the cow that ate vegetables at the shop.

(I assume here that you mean you saw the cow ... at the shop, and not that the cow ... ate vegetables at the shop.)

Here, the phrase that ate the vegetables describes something about the cow. If we rephrase this as an independent statement, the cow ate vegetables. Translated to Japanese, 牛【うし】は野菜【やさい】を食【た】べた.

If we want to say something else about the cow, and use the vegetable eating as a description of the cow, in English we turn it into a relative clause, and use that "that" to connect the clause to the noun.

In Japanese, however, we don't need the "that". Verbs and verb phrases can directly modify nouns, so we just stick the whole verb phrase in front of the noun.

So if we want to turn the independent statement,


... into a relative clause in Japanese, we get:


Literally, the vegetables-ate cow.

For your simpler sentence, you're just saying:

I saw the cow ... at the store.


To add our clause to describe more about the cow, we just add that in at the ... Again, English requires the "that", but Japanese doesn't:

I saw the cow that ate vegetables at the store.


  • 1
    is it not ambiguous whether or not the「店で」is part of the relative clause? I assume one could disambiguate by moving it, e.g.: 「野菜を食べた牛を店で見た。」, but if I'm not mistaken that moves the emphasis from the cow to the shop... – HotelCalifornia May 17 at 8:47
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    @HotelCalifornia It is ambiguous, yes, but as is pointed out early in this answer, the original phrase has the exact same ambiguity in it. – Williham Totland May 17 at 8:51
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    すいません、英語力が低いもので、わからないんですけど、なんで "I saw the cow that ate vegetables..." は「野菜を食べ牛を見た」じゃなくて「野菜を食べ牛を見た」になるんですか? – Chocolate May 17 at 9:21
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    @Chocolate, "the cow that ate vegetables" といえば、見た時点では牛が食べているところではなく、見た時点より前に食べていて、見た時点では食べる動作がもう終わりました、というニュアンスがあります。見た時点で牛が野菜を食べているところの場合は、 "the cow that was eating vegetables""the cow as it was eating vegetables" 等の構文で表せます。 – Eiríkr Útlendi May 17 at 17:47
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    @HotelCalifornia, the bracketing in the original question suggests that 店で is outside the scope of the relative clause. However, due to the potential for ambiguity, I specifically call that out in my post and clarify my own phrasing and intent, with the parenthetical comment, "(I assume here...)". There are ways of rephrasing the original samples in both English and Japanese to remove that ambiguity, but since doing so is irrelevant to the core question about how to form relative clauses, I chose not to go into that. – Eiríkr Útlendi May 17 at 17:51

Thanks to @ZLK 's comment @naruto 's answer:

These are called relative clauses. They're constructed by simply writing the clause without the subject and then placing the subject afterwards.


At the shop I saw the cow that ate vegetables



  • Yep. One gotcha that caught me is you can't use a ます inside a relative clause. – Wilson May 17 at 7:35

The grammatical term you're looking for is relative clause (関係節 or 連体修飾節 in Japanese).

With this keyword, you should be able to find enough articles, but this answer is a good starter: https://japanese.stackexchange.com/a/14550/5010

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