1

せんぱいが好きな食べ物は、なんですか?

I come across this sentence in a web novel, I think it is supposed to be せんぱいの好きな食べ物は、なんですか?Why is せんぱい marked with が here? Is there a different use of the word すき other than the comman usage: "先輩は食べ物が好きだ" that mark the person other than the object being described as favourite? Is it an example of the usage "in love (with)" in the EN-JP dictionary?

2
  • 2
    Have you learnt about relative clauses yet in your studies? Nov 13 at 11:57
  • Yes, i have, but don't see why が marks せんぱい, rather than 食べ物, logically, when it's written like this without context, wouldn't it translate to ”Senpai is favourite food?" If すき can mark the person normally, this would make sense to me with relative clause as well, but I'm quite confused with this one
    – Tung
    Nov 13 at 12:11
2

With adjectives like 好き it is possible to say the following

[sentence 1] りんごがすきです

[sentence 2] わたしがすきです

Sentence 1 should be relatively easy to understand

Someone likes apples.

Sentence 2 isn't particularly clear when completely divorced from context.

It could mean,

Someone likes me

I would say that without any further context, this is the default reading.

But it could also mean,

I like something.

There's a lot of discussion on this site about the difference between は and が in this sort of context. I'll leave that discussion aside except to say that as a stand alone sentence

わたしがすきです

Either sounds like I am liked by someone or I am the sole individual within some group who likes something.


But, we don't have a stand-alone sentence here.

We have instead

せんぱいが好きな食べ物は、なんですか

せんぱいが好きな is a relative clause modifying 食べ物. Since foods typically don't have a preference for who's going to eat them (unless your in some strange alternate universe of anime, sci-fi, etc), the most natural way to construe this is that 食べ物 is what is being liked.

That means that the relative clause

せんぱいが好きな

functions much like sentence 2 above in the sense where it is せんぱい is the one who is liking something.

But, there is one important caveat here. The は-が distinction I mentioned above is null here. That's because は as the topic marker cannot be embedded in a relative clause (when は is found in a subordinate clause, then は is not marking the topic but usually functioning contrastively).

So this が in the relative clause marks the subject who likes some kind of food. Unlike sentence 2 above, in a relative clause, the reading is neutral: that is, nothing is to be construed as せんぱい being the only individual who likes something.


You could indeed say

せんぱいの好きな食べ物は、なんですか

But if you're thinking this の is a possessive marker indicating

せんぱいの食べ物

then you are unfortunately mistaken. A native speaker is not naturally inclined to hear it like this. That is because の can be used in relative clauses (under special conditions which apply here) to stand in for the subject marker が.


For details on subtopics I've brought up:

1

So you say you know about relative clauses. Presumably then you would be happy with a sentence like

せんぱいが食べた食べ物は何ですか。
What food did senpai eat?

In this sentence せんぱいが食べた modifies 食べ物 to describe the food. It's the food that 'senpai ate'.

せんぱいが食べ物を食べた --> せんぱいが食べた食べ物
Senpai ate food --> the food senpai ate.

The object gets promoted to the head noun of the relative clause.

The same thing happens with your sentence: せんぱいが好きな食べ物. This is "the food that senpai likes".

In this case we have

せんぱいは食べ物が好きだ --> せんぱいが好きな食べ物
Senpai likes food --> the food senpai likes

In this case it is the subject rather than the object that has been promoted to the head noun, but that's allowed too.

There are a couple of minor oddities to watch out for with this one. せんぱい has become せんぱい because は is not (usually) allowed in relative clauses. And, だ becomes な because you changed the predicative form of the na-adjective into the attributative (is that a real word?) form.

Finally, you say you would be happier if the sentence was せんぱい好きな食べ物は、なんですか. This would also be perfectly grammatical, but I suspect not for the reason you think. の can replace が in relative clauses. See this link for example.

I guess you wanted to treat 好きな食べ物 as a noun and then modify it with せんぱいの to get "senpai's liked food". I'm not sure if that is a valid way to look at the grammar or not. Perhaps someone else can weigh in on that.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.