As far as I know, the relative clause should be placed immediately in front of the noun it modifies. For example, in sentence [木の下で休んでいる人の眼鏡], relative clause [木の下で休んでいる] modifies the noun [人]. Then why in sentence [今使っている日本語の本] relative clause [今使っている] modifies noun [本] instead of [日本語]?

In the second case [今使っている] should modify [日本語] (the noun it stands in front of) and the full translation is going be something like "Book about the Japanese language that (someone) currently using". But I'm pretty sure that the correct translation is something like "Book about the Japanese language that (someone) currently using". (Bold points the word modified by relative clause)

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    It would help us to know a) what you think 今使っている日本語の本 means, and b) what you think the sentence/clause should look like in full. Mar 31 at 22:37
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    English sentences/clauses with relative clauses can also be ambiguous and the meaning oftentimes has to be determined semantically by context. Consider these: That's the mother of [the boy who I saw yesterday] or That's [the mother of the boy] who I saw yesterday. Your mind processes sentences when you read and draws mental parentheses.
    – Eddie Kal
    Apr 1 at 6:34
  • @EddieKal But every source I've found says that relative clauses modifies the noun which placed exactly after it. Does this mean that the relative clause can modify not only the following nouns themselves, but also already modified nouns?
    – Sousha
    Apr 1 at 7:47
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    Non-academic sources often do not distinguish between nouns and noun phrases. How do you understand this movie title: 私の知らないわたしの素顔? See this answer: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/93061/30454
    – Eddie Kal
    Apr 1 at 8:15
  • @EddieKal Thank you so much! This helped me a lot.
    – Sousha
    Apr 1 at 8:28

2 Answers 2


A relative clause modifies a noun phrase. In this case there is a potential ambiguity as it could modify the noun phrase 日本語 or it could modify the noun phrase 日本語の本. The ambiguity is resolved pragmatically, that is by understanding the context.

While it would be grammatically possible to parse this as 今[使っている日本語の]本 that is odd to the point of being meaningless. Therefore the understood meaning is 今使っている[日本語の本].

A similar ambiguity can exist in English and many other languages: You can say "A book about Japanese that I'm using". Pragmatically you understand that you are using the book, and the book is about Japanese. You don't interpret this as being a book about "the Japanese that I'm using". since that is nonsensical. Sometimes the placement of a modfier creates ambiguity that results in a ludicrous sentence (see "misplaced modifier). Normally, you have no difficulty parsing the sentence correctly


「日本語の」is describing what type of book it is. The only noun is 「本」, so 「今使っている」modifies the only noun in the sentence, 「本」。

  • 日本語 is also a noun.
    – James K
    Sep 2 at 16:37

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