Related: Order of multiple nouns and adjectives modifying the same noun

I've come across an instance of the adjective ambiguously belonging to a noun in songs, but I'm never sure which is the correct interpretation. Since there seems to be no apparent order for adjectives aside from the most important first, is there a way to disambiguate them other than using context?

長い針が鳴っても 蒼い霧が消えない

(Roughly) Even though a long time has passed, the fog won't clear.

In this example, I think 長い (針が鳴って) is the appropriate binding, where 長い attaches to the whole noun phrase to make "The hands of a clock ticked for a long time(a long time has passed)", since the next clause infers a relation in time. But would it be possible that (長い針)が鳴って would also be a possible reading, if in a different context?

Such as:

When the long hand strikes, go to sleep.


Ignoring the odd phrasing/example, is this construction, (長い針)が鳴る, feasible to use at all?

I couldn't think of other examples at the moment, but I don't think that this is an uncommon occurrence.

  • 1
    But 針が鳴っても isn't a noun phrase. I think (長い針)が鳴っても is the only grammatical parsing here. Dec 26, 2021 at 16:34
  • Ah, it seems like I misread the structure then. I thought that "針が鳴って" is already complete, but も should attach to the phrase immediately, so there isn't an alternate reading. Dec 27, 2021 at 2:33

1 Answer 1


長い modifies only 針 because it's the only noun that is located near 長い. 鳴って or 鳴っても is not a noun. The next noun is 霧, but it's too distant.

Note that (長い)針が鳴る is a fairly poetic and unique expression. It is not a common set phrase.)

In general, you can read how to deal with a noun that has two or more modifies here: Are Japanese modifiers "greedy", "anti-greedy", or do they mean whatever people choose them to mean?

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