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In Japanese the following such sentences are seen quite often:

「〜のほうが(よく)(聞く/使う/感じる/知っている)」

However when you consider the grammar, these are all transitive verbs (in the sense they normally take their object marked by 〜を), so it is odd that they are accepting their objects with 〜が here.

Honestly, to my ear, the sentences sound better when they are followed by some sort of noun "のほうがよく聞く気がする" "のほうがよく聞く表現だ" or are made passive "のほうがよく使われている" "のほうがよく知られている", but of course these all change the meaning.

And it cannot be denied that the bare sentences do exist and are used by native speakers as well.

So, I wonder, is there any formal syntactic analysis of what is going on here? Is the thing marked by が actually a grammatical subject?


As for initial thoughts, I think it is not a subject because:

  • it can't take subject honorification with the desired reading: *私は社長のほうがよくご存知になっている. While this is a borderline valid sentence, 私 turns into the object because 社長 is forced into a subject by the subject honorification since you can't use it with yourself -- so it's not the intended reading of "I know (the honorable) CEO better (than whatever we were talking about earlier)".

  • in addition, 自分 doesn't seem to be able to bind to it. ?私はいとこのほうが自分の親よりよく知っている "I know my cousin well more so than my parents". While this sentence sounds incredibly awkward to me in the first place, either way, 自分 cannot bind to いとこ here, just 私.

This suggests that が is instead a so-called "nominative object marker", but normally this is only seen with predicates like 好き、わかる、ほしい、聞こえる, etc. not 聞く or 使う, so it's surprising to see it here...

Is there any analysis which gives this a decent explanation?

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    確かに「聞く」については「が」のほうがよく聞きますね… – broken laptop Aug 20 '20 at 3:50
  • BTW, I’d be happy to just hear a native speaker make some judgments on sentences here — how far can you change it from the most common one “の方がよく聞く” before it starts feeling wrong? – Darius Jahandarie Oct 11 '20 at 16:36
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    @DariusJahandarie That paper seems to the best explanation we can get for now... – broken laptop Nov 29 '20 at 10:27
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    There's also the construction 病院に行ったほうが後で後悔しない, where you have a verb phrase instead of a noun phrase. Here the use of が is uncontroversial, and cannot be replaced with another particle. (I guess if you wanted to strip the ほう, it would become 病院に行ったら後で後悔しない) – dainichi Feb 10 at 13:22
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In my thoughts, this is similar to のほうがいい grammar. Only that, you substitute いい with an adjective form of it 良く then adding it to a dictionary form of a verb like 聞く、書く、見える。

So, my syntax would be のほうが + 良く + 助詞・辞書形 Verb (dictionary form).

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My intuition is that の方が is a locution (idiom) coming from ancient times where (maybe) grammar and distinction between が/を were not so precise. In French (my native language) we have such locutions that sound strange in today's context but are used and pronounced naturally.

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  • Can you give some French examples? Just out of curiosity. – Eddie Kal Feb 23 at 4:28
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    Hello it's when we have to find example that memory fail. I can't find the more accurate example. But my was around old locutions that were build in old language or local dialects and still used today in daily conversation. Such: "Se retrouver dans le pétrin", "Être dans la galère (en galère)", "Se lever du pied droit", "Faire des pieds et des main". In some case Words or grammar can be oldish. – GDF_kuma Feb 27 at 12:24
  • Thank you! This is very interesting. – Eddie Kal Feb 27 at 15:55

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