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I came across this sentence and I can't figure out what the purpose of に is. The full sentence in context is:

天照大神【あまてらすおおかみ】は須佐之男命【すさのおのみこと】という弟の神様がいたのですが、須佐之男【すさのお】はとても乱暴【らんぼう】で悪いことばかりするので、人々はとても困っていました。

I factored out irrelevant clauses from the sentence so it boils down to:

天照大神【あまてらすおおかみ】は須佐之男命【すさのおのみこと】という弟の神様がいた。

In my experience, に combined with the existence verb いる marks the location in which someone exists or is:

友達は家にいる。My friend is at home.

But it doesn't make sense to me that the god 須佐之男命【すさのおのみこと】 exists in 天照大神【あまてらすおおかみ】, but I rather think that the meaning is simply that 須佐之男命【すさのおのみこと】 has a brother 天照大神【あまてらすおおかみ】:

天照大神【あまてらすおおかみ】は須佐之男命【すさのおのみこと】という弟の神様がいた。Within the Great God Amaterasu, there was [her] younger brother Susanoonomikoto (it feels wrong to me).

I would rather say the same sentence without

天照大神【あまてらすおおかみ】は須佐之男命【すさのおのみこと】という弟の神様がいた。As for the Great God Amaterasu, there was [her] younger brother Susanoonomikoto.

What is the function of this に?

Thank you in advance.

  • This can help. Treat it as には not just に.dictionary.goo.ne.jp/word/%E3%81%AB%E3%81%AF – rebuuilt Jul 2 at 7:29
  • Just out of curiosity, can you add a reference to the source if possible? – JansthcirlU Jul 2 at 19:51
  • @JansthcirlU yes, it's a sentence appearing in the textbook 上級へのとびら、第6課、読み物 #2. The textbook is organised in 15 chapters, each of them dealing with a different topic. The topic of the chapter 6 is 日本人と宗教. – jarmanso7 Jul 3 at 4:02
  • Thanks, always nice to see what other people are using to learn Japanese! – JansthcirlU Jul 3 at 7:11
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Disclaimer: I don't think this answer will be helpful for a lot of people, but I wanted to share my perspective on this topic anyways.

I think it's probably not that effective to try to explain Japanese using western grammar concepts, but nonetheless, に is often associated with the dative case (because it's used for the recipient of a gift, for example). And as a former student of Latin, I just can't help but see the similarities between に + ある / いる and the concept of the possessive dative:

私には (dative) 友達が (nominative) いる。

Mihi (dative) socii (nominative) sunt.

*Friends (nominative) are us (dative).

There are also surely other languages out there that do this that I am not aware of. But as for English, it doesn't really work of course, since it lost the distinction between the dative and accusative case, and that's precisely why I said that this probably won't help much. But if I had to describe it, it feels like a sentence "My friends are there for me" where the "for" is really weak. And precisely because the "for" is really weak, you wouldn't use ため when translating it into Japanese, but a simple に or には.

So all in all, from my standpoint and knowing the languages that I do, this に + ある / いる feels quite natural, but I lack the means to properly convey it in English. I just wanted to share my view on this stuff on the off chance that it might click with someone.

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    That's interesting because the link that jarmanso7 included in his answer also dealt with the "dative subject construction" It's nice to see how it's seen in other languages. This got me thinking about how to understand dative and accusative in English, which apparently has not lost the distinction, but rather blurred it. I was led to this link which also included Spanish which I think is cool and helpful to OP who most probably speaks it courses.washington.edu/furman2/dative%20&%20accusative/… – rebuuilt Jul 2 at 22:15
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    @rebuuilt That's very interesting! I was a little bit lost with the dative / accusative terminology, but it clicked in when I read that it loosely corresponds to the indirect and direct object respectively in your linked article. I'm actually a Spanish native speaker! – jarmanso7 Jul 3 at 4:29
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Following the definition of the dictionary:

「に」の付いた部分を強める意を表す。「僕にはわかっている」「ここにはない」「わざわざ出向くには当たらない」

In other words, you can treat 〜には as 〜は except that whatever comes before the particle is emphasized. This is different from 〜に that serves as a "location" particle.

The answer is discussed in more detail here

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  • Thank you! Though your post definitely helped me to find out an answer to my question, I feel it lacks an explanation of the actual function of に in my sentence, which is marking the subject, according to my findings. Note that some of the に's in the example sentences of your quote don't mark a subject. While it's true that は emphasizes the previous 〜に clause, it's not the point of the question. According to the post I linked in my answer, に historically existed as a subject marked independently from は, even though they usually appear together in modern Japanese – jarmanso7 Jul 2 at 19:04
  • Right, thanks for pointing that out. For some reason, I thought the question was "How には was different from は" when it was very clear that the function of に was being asked. – rebuuilt Jul 2 at 21:55
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In this sentence, に is acting as a subject marker and は is adding contrast. This answer explains it pretty well, so please check its section "Contrasted (XにはY)" for more detail.

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  • Note that I decided not to mark my question as a duplicate, because whereas the provided answer addresses my question, the usage of には in my post is quite different from that of the original question in the link. – jarmanso7 Jul 2 at 18:39
  • This is interesting. I didn't know that に can act as a subject marker in には. I have always considered that が is the only subject marker possible. – rebuuilt Jul 2 at 22:01

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