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I know that relative clause compounds are generally made with the following format.

sentence/verb/adjective + noun

My Genki I textbook supports this with the following example of a relative clause compound, with the noun 学生 being italicized in English.

あそこで本をよんでいる学生はみちこさんです。

The student who is reading a book over there is Michiko.

However I remember browsing Japanesestackexchange last year and finding some users referring to the noun part of a relative clause compound as a 'main clause'. This has recently made me question where the noun/'main clause' ends in Japanese sentences.

Edit: In other words, using the above example once more; is the entirety of 学生はみちこさんです the main clause which the relative clause modifies, or is it only the noun that is being modified; thereby restarting the sentence after the noun?

I'm asking as in the word doc for a book I'm translating I have two different examples of relative clause compounds, and I'm wondering which example is correct.

Example 1: 返事をした女の子がこちらに近づき、僕の手にナイフを[握]{にぎ}らせる。

Relative Clause: 返事をした

Main Clause: 女の子がこちらに近づき

Example 2: 荒野を渡る風よりもなお、アインの声は冷たかった。

Relative Clause: 渡る

Main Clause/noun: 風

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I know that relative clauses are generally made with the following format.

sentence/verb/adjective + noun

Strictly speaking, a relative clause refers only to the part before the modified noun. 本をよんでいる学生 is not a relative clause although it has a relative clause. The grammatically correct way to explain this phrase is "本を読んでいる is a relative clause which modifies 学生".

(On this site, you may see people say "本を読んでいる学生 is a relative clause" for the sake of brevity, but technically speaking that's not the most correct explanation.)

Do you understand what a clause (節) is in general? Very roughly speaking, it's a predicate associated with corresponding subject/object/etc (see this). The main clause of a sentence refers to the outermost clause (=subject-predicate pair). In your example sentence:

  • Main clause:
    学生はみちこさんです
    The student is Michiko
  • Relative clause (modifying 学生/student):
    あそこで本を読んでいる
    who is reading a book over there

referring to the noun part of a relative clause as a 'main clause'.

"The noun part of a relative clause" is not part of the relative clause in the first place. In your example, 学生 belongs to the main clause.

where the noun/'main clause' ends (therefore the end of the total relative clause construct) in Japanese sentences.

In Japanese, when a relative clause ends, the main clause (re)starts (unless several relative clauses are deeply nested). In a regular Japanese sentence, the main clause ends always at the end of the sentence.

In English, a relative clause starts with a relative pronoun (that/which/who/where/etc, although that may be omitted), but the modified noun before it is not part of the relative clause.

Is the main clause in the relative clause construct a actual clause?

This question doesn't make sense to me. The main clause refers to the outermost clause in a sentence. A relative clause never contains a main clause. (A sentence may have two or more main clauses. See: compound sentence)


EDIT:

is the entirety of 学生はみちこさんです the main clause which the relative clause modifies, or is it only the noun that is being modified

A clause is a noun? If you know what a clause is, you don't have to ask a question like this. A clause is not a noun, but basically a subject-predicate pair. And a relative clause modifies a noun, not a clause!

  • Relative clause: 返事をした (modifies 女の子)
  • Main clause 1: 女の子がこちらに近づき
  • Main clause 2: (女の子が)僕の手にナイフを握らせる
  • Relative clause: 荒野を渡る (modifies 風)
  • Main clause: 風よりもなおアインの声は冷たかった

Note that each clause (main or relative) has one and only one predicate (an adjective or a verb).

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  • You see where my confusion is coming from? I guess from seeing "relative: main clause: formats" on this site in my beginning months two or so years ago made me misthink that the relative clause was able to modify the main clause, and despite having long since then learned the correct method, I had yet to FULLY dispel my erroneous way of thinking until now. – Toyu_Frey May 13 at 5:54
  • @Toyu_Frey Well, please learn about "clauses" and you will probably realize how nonsensical the title of your question is. You don't have to be a grammarian, but asking about "the main clause in the relative clause" is awful, to say the least :) – naruto May 13 at 7:48

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