I was wondering whether Japanese distinguishes restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses in some way, either structurally or prosodically.

English, for example, marks the distinction prosodically by inserting pauses for non-restrictive relatives, also indicated in writing by commas (a more thorough explanation can be found in this Wikipedia article). For example,

(1) The builder, who erects very fine houses, will make a large profit. (non-restrictive)
(2) The builder who erects very fine houses will make a large profit. (restrictive)

have different intonations and different interpretations: For (1) it is known already which builder we're talking about and the relative simply states additional information, while in (2) the relative clause specifies which builder makes a large profit.

For Japanese I have never heard of a similar phenomenon - but also no statements about its non-existence. Only for relative copula clauses, one answer on this site mentions that である and の tend to be used more frequently with one type or the other. ([...] I also feel that である tends to be used more in nonrestrictive relative clauses, whereas の tends to be used more in restrictive relative clauses).
Are there any other such structural tendencies?

For testing for prosodic differences, one can imagine a scenario where some person has a mother and an older brother, who live in Osaka, while another brother lives somewhere else. In a situation where onw of the relatives living in Osaka wants to move, they might say something like (3) or (4):

(3) 大阪に住んでる母が東京に引っ越したいと言ってる (non-restrictive)
(4) 大阪に住んでる兄が東京に引っ越したいと言ってる (restrictive)

Would these two sentences be pronounced differently?

2 Answers 2


Sentences (3) and (4) would be pronounced with no difference in prominence or intonation. Interpretation depends solely on the context.

の works as well for both in this particular case.

(3)’ 大阪の母が東京に引っ越したいと言ってる (non-restrictive)
(4)’ 大阪の兄が東京に引っ越したいと言ってる (restrictive)

If it is one of your two older brothers who is living is Osaka (with the other living somewhere else), you might say:

(4)’’ 大阪に住んでる方の兄が東京に引っ越したいと言ってる (restrictive)

But this doesn’t work if you have more than two older brothers.


The Japanese language does not have a special way to mark nonrestrictive relative clauses. All relative clauses basically work restrictively by default as long as it makes sense. But when there is clearly only one entity that corresponds to the relative clause, it would be appropriate to translate it as a non-restrictive relative clause.

  • 初代アメリカ大統領であるジョージ・ワシントンは…
    George Washington, the first President of the United States, ...
  • 昨日5歳になった私の息子が…
    My son, who turned five yesterday, ...

In your 兄 example, you cannot tell whether this speaker has other older brothers who live outside Osaka using syntax or intonation.

In your 大工 example:

  • 立派な家を建てる大工は大きな利益を得る。
    The builder who erects very fine houses will make a large profit.

This 立派な家を建てる works restrictively. In this case, you can force nonrestrictive reading by turning 大工 into 彼ら or 彼ら大工 because you have already introduced 大工 in the discourse. Note that use of a comma doesn't change anything. But simpler and preferred approach is to stop worrying about potentially ambiguous relative clauses and just rephrase the sentence:

  • 彼ら大工は立派な家を建て、大きな利益を得る。

Please read this for similar examples: Saying something was happening when something happened

In particular, nonrestrictive when and where can be translated naturally only by rephrasing the sentence into a compound sentence.

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