I'm just starting to tackle non-textbook Japanese, so apologies if my question is silly.

The sentence below gave me some headache even though I more or less know what it's supposed to say (this is from a review of an old historical drama):


My translation is something along the lines of "Ranmaru’s father and older brother that were important military commanders of Nobunaga have died because of war".

But why is であった used in this relative clause? Aren't 有力武将 animate?


The usage you quoted is the past form of である (formal/literary version of だ), rather than of ある, so the question of animate vs. inanimate does not arise.

だ in fact derives from である, which is still used in literary or authoritative-sounding written speech (for the difference between である and だ, I would refer you to Tae Kim's website or Makino & Tsutsui, Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar, page 35).

I don't see any errors in your translation.

  • Thank you! I was aware of である, but mistakenly thought that it was the formal version of ある, not だ, hence my confusion. Would this sentence even be grammatical if いた was used instead of であった? 信長の有力武将いた乱丸の父と兄は戦で死んでいる。 – ash Jun 20 '20 at 10:43
  • 信長の有力武将いた is simply ungrammatical. Do you mean 信長の有力武将だった? – broken laptop Jun 20 '20 at 12:32
  • @broccoli-facemask-cloth Not quite. I was wondering if my initial assumption of である being a form of ある even makes sense if one takes into account the grammar of the sentence. But now I realize that it does not, and well, that's it actually. – ash Jun 20 '20 at 13:05

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