I'm going over my previously done translations to see if any need further editing, and the following comes up.


I relearned yesterday that a relative clause/qualifying phrase is made by placing a verb or adjective in front of a noun in Japanese. In the above, the relative clause would be 背後で聞き覚えのある. The noun being modified that makes up the main clause is 声.

The issue is that https://jisho.org/search/ある says that ある is both a verb and a pre-noun adjectival, both of which, to my meager understanding, would work in the above sentence to form a relative clause. How do you know if ある is a verb or a adjective in the above sentence?

1 Answer 1


ある as a pre-noun adjectival is used to mean "one" or "a certain," in common constructions such as ある日.

In this case, ある is clearly bringing some "baggage" with it in the form of:


(Where the の is converted from が). So you can be certain that ある is acting as the verb in a phrase modifying the noun 声.

Having said that, I don't think there's any strict difference between these two uses of ある. While ある日 may sound like, e.g., その日, it's simply "a day that exists," using the verb ある。

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    The two usages tend to have separate dictionary entries, parts of speech, and kanji you can write them with. The verb ある can be 有る or 在る, while the pre-noun adjectival ある can be 或る. Not that they are often written with kanji, but it's another point in the "separate word" list. But perhaps you were referring to etymology, I'm not sure about that.
    – Leebo
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 23:51
  • @Leebo What if the verb/adjective is only written with hiragana, such as in my example? How would you go about knowing which one ある is?
    – Toyu_Frey
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 3:48
  • @Toyu_Frey you would just have to use the surrounding context to decide if it's a verb used in a relative clause, or if it's a prenoun adjectival. The prenoun adjectival can't take on the other grammatical roles, or conjugations, that the verb can.
    – Leebo
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 3:50
  • @Leebo But both adjectives and verbs can be used in forming relative clauses, according to my Genki I book at least. And for the sentence in question, BOTH the verb and the adjectival definitions would work as far as context goes. I bet the writer used the hiragana to convey duel definitions for the same word... URGH, its ingenious, but still irksome. Do you want a link that provides the context?
    – Toyu_Frey
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 3:55
  • 1
    @Toyu_Frey The sentence in the question has a modified version of 聞き覚えがある. In relative clauses が becomes の. That can't be the prenoun adjectival. It's the verb. The prenoun adjectival can't be a predicate for anything like the verb can.
    – Leebo
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 3:58

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