In a short story I found a sentence I'm having difficulties understand no matter how I look at it or how I try to parse it:


I can't wrap my head around なにかなのだろう, I have no idea how to parse it: is なにか + なの + だろう? なに + かな + のだろう? Something else I'm missing?

I found that なにかな is a word you say someone else and なにだろう one you say to yourself; here it seems kinda a mix of the two; it could be something like "I wonder if that struck some wound in my father's heart"; that would be consistent with the translation, since it's "it seemed that", but I'm not sure since the かなの part, and I'm not sure if you can suffix なにかな and なんだろう like that to verbs.

As a side note, the second half, それにしてもよくそれで独立して事業をはじめることができるものだ、と私は思ったが、外で無理すればするだけ、できてしまうほころびがそのポイントだったのだろう, is translated as "I couldn't help marveling that he had been able to launch his own business when he had a problem like that, but I suppose the truth of it was that the harder he pushed himself outside, the more he unraveled inside"; is the "marveling" part in the ものだ? (I'm guessing so due to #1 here.)


I think なにか + なの + だろう is the correct parsing. Here,

  • なにか is a noun, meaning something. In kanji, it is「何か」.
  • なの is actually a composition of +, where ..
    • is the same as in 「今日はいい日だ。」「明日は休みだ。」
    • wraps the preceding sentence as a noun clause. To connect to this , is conjugated to
  • だろう indicates that the speaker/author guesses so.

The structure of the sentence,


is "I guess (だろう)definitely (きっと) that それは父の深いところにある傷に触れるなにかだ。"

By the way, それ points to これ at the beginning of the text you cited.

The essential part of this sentence,


has the same structure as, for example, this sentence,


with the correspondence of それ=明日 and なにか=休み.

The phrase なのだろう is used to guess the reason or cause of some observation. For example, you can use it like

  • この若者はとても酔っている。明日は休みなのだろう。(This young man is so drunk. I guess he must have a day off tomorrow.)

  • おじさんが駅の階段をホームに向けて駆け上がっている。きっとこの電車が最終電車なのだろう。 (A middle aged man is running up the stairs to the platform of a station. I guess this train must be the last one.)

  • そのネズミはずっと震えている。病気か何かなのだろう。(The mouse is shaking all the time. I guess it must have a disease or something.)

From the perspective of those people and animal, the situations are like,

  • とても酔ってしまった。でもだいじょうぶ。明日は休みだ。(I'm so drunk. But that's O.K. Tomorrow is a holiday.)
  • 急げ。これが最終電車だ。(Hurry up. This is the last train.)
  • 震えが止まらない。病気か何かだ。(I can't stop shaking. I must have got a disease or something.)

The phrase なにかな, meaning 'What is it?', is decomposed to

  • なに: pronoun of question
  • : a particle indicating question
  • : a particle of some emotion

This set of words may have some common origin with the set of words in なにか+だ(な)+の+だろう (especially なにか(something) should have been derived from なに(what)), but as phrases, their meanings are distinct from each other.

The translation 'marveling' should have indeed been chosen because of the stressing phrase,((それにしても)よく)..ものだ.

Edit 2019-10-13

I am eiditting this answer to respond to the comment by Mauro at Oct 6 at 7:14.

How can you say that それ refers to これ?

I said so by analyzing the meaning of the text you cited. The first sentence tells that これ is a mental illness (according to the guess of the author) (and hence that the author and his/her mother stop some celebrations.). However, this これ could not be named or diagnosed clearly. The second sentence adds more explanation about this unnamed something like an illness --- the author tells what kind of thing he/she guesses it must be. If you agree with this interpretation of the sentences, the subject of the second sentence それ must be pointing to the unnamed something like an illness, which was pointed by これ in the first sentence.

Also, in his reply naruto said の in an explanatory, while you say is a nominalizer; as far as I know だろう can be attached to a noun, so I don't really see the need for a nominalizer, and I was wondering about this difference in your and narutos' answers.

The link provided by naruto,

is very good. As the linked answer says, is a formal noun (*1) which can be translated as 'a thing', 'a fact', 'a case', etc. Therefore, from the perspective of synatx, this is what you call a "normalizer". However, from the perspective of semantics, this is used to load some meaning to the sentence, and hence it is "explanatory". In other words, as you thought, なにかなのだろう and なにかだろう are both valid expressions. However, the former expression adds slight emphasis to the statement. The linked answer explains the mechanism how such emphasis arises by . Also, I would choose the former expression over the latter instinctively for the particular sentence in the text you cited. Perhaps the nuance of 'filling in missed information' attached to , as explained in the linked answer, might be suitable for expressing a guess, but I don't know.

*1. I think grammatical classification of is a particle (格助詞), rather than a noun, which can be used in place of a noun.

cf. 格助詞の働き

⑤ 体言の代用になる〔の〕

(例) くつを新しいのに買いかえる。

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    How can you say that それ refers to これ? Also, in his reply naruto said in an explanatory, while you say is a nominalizer; as far as I know だろう can be attached to a noun, so I don't really see the need for a nominalizer, and I was wondering about this difference in your and narutos' answers. – Mauro Oct 6 '19 at 7:14

You have parsed it wrong. The basic structure of the sentence is:

きっとそれは X なのだろう。
Perhaps it's X. / I suppose it is X (and that's the reason for his problem).

Where な is the attributive form of だ, の is an explanatory-no, and それ refers to something before your quote. And "X" is a long noun phrase with nested relative clauses:

something (←that touches the wound (←that exists in a deeper part of my father))

Here なにか is a noun that means "something". So the whole sentence roughly means "Perhaps it's something that reminds my father of his hidden trauma".

Sentence-end かな has nothing to do with this sentence (simply because this かな is not at the end of the sentence). As an aside, sentence-end かな is a relative childish (or at least fairly colloquial) expression and it won't appear in a serious context like this.

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    Would the sentence without なの have the same meaning, just without the explanatory nuance? It seems there is a difference between yours and norio's answers, since he said is a nominalizer, so I'm trying to understand it. – Mauro Oct 6 '19 at 7:14
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    @Mauro なのだろう is a simple combination of なのだ (explanatory-の) and だろう. See these usage patterns of expalantory-の. Explanatory-の is a kind of nominalizer in a very broad sense, as you can see from how it's often translated into English ("It's that ~" and "that ~" forms a noun). – naruto Oct 6 '19 at 11:57

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