Here is a link to the song being discussed.

In song lyrics of both English and my native tongue Swedish, it's more often than not somewhat obvious to the listener of a song, or rather, the reader of song lyrics, when a clause is over. I guess there is in Japanese too, and would like to identify why I'm having trouble parsing verses such as the one below:


I think my main problem is separating between the conjunctive and the imperative form. This is not something that I have a problem with when reading news articles or novels, since they are always made up of clear sentences with a beginning and an end.

Am I to understand "その時は頼りない爪でひっかいて" as:

  • その時は頼りない爪でひっかいて守ってあげる. That is, te as a connective. (Then scratch I will protect you and scratch them with my unreliable claws.


  • その時は頼りない爪でひっかいて. That is, imperative form. (Then scratch them with your unreliable claws.)

My best understanding of the verse is as follows:

"Let's continue walking like this towards the sea.
There may be monstrous beasts,
but if there are, I will protect you by scratching them with my unreliable claws."
If you would say such things,
perhaps I may grow stronger.

  • I'm not even sure who's talking. The cat?
    – aguijonazo
    Oct 13, 2022 at 6:26
  • That was discussed below. I was myself not sure if I had correctly identified the subject.
    – timseb
    Oct 13, 2022 at 17:49
  • You would have to ask あいみょん.
    – aguijonazo
    Oct 13, 2022 at 20:57

1 Answer 1


First off, parsing song lyrics is in the same vein as parsing poetry. Sometimes there is deliberate ambiguity, and no one knows what the true meaning is except for the writer.

I acknowledge that your question is about grammar and not necessarily meaning but song lyrics, like poetry, play fast and loose with prescriptive grammar.

That being said, I think the key to understanding the line "その時は頼りない爪でひっかいて" in this case is by looking at the line that comes after:


the use of "あげる" here suggests the direction of the action in that clause. "あげる" always speaks to the subject doing something for someone else. So the subject is doing the protecting, and we can assume that the subject is "私" because otherwise, the speaker would be saying someone would be protecting someone else. You can't use "あげる" to say that you receive something only to say that you do something for someone or that someone else does something for a third party.

So the subject of the first line is "We/Us" because of the verb ending in there, and then we get to "守ってあげる" with what we have to assume is the same speaker (there is nothing to suggest otherwise).

So while:



are both grammatically valid segments, it would just be odd from a Japanese sentence for the subject to shift like that without any indication.

In English, it would be fine because we would explicitly include some indication as to who is doing the action:

I would scratch it with my claws

scratch it with your claws

but in Japanese, it's just not necessary; in this case, though, the fact that it isn't there means we would have to rely on some other context for that info, and the surrounding context suggests that the speaker is the doer of the action and that the "て" is acting as a conjuction. So taking some creative liberties (which I think is necessary when deciphering poetry and prose), and focusing on localization, I would interpret the entire thing as:

Let's keep walking toward the ocean

Where we might find great beasts

Then I would scratch them with my unreliable claws

To protect you

I was wondering about the next two lines, and checking the original lyrics, I see where they are separated. I think this represents a separate thought.



I would interpret this part as (again, taking some creative license and focusing on localization):

What could I say

that could make me stronger


What could be said

that could make us stronger

In this context, because we are dealing with song lyrics and because of the nature of Japanese, both are valid interpretations. We could debate, but there is no way of telling from the rest of the lyrics. The writer may not have even had anything definite in mind because the language naturally allows for this kind of ambiguity.

I suppose my conclusion here is that these things are usually clear from context. Generally speaking, you can sometimes use the subject or the doer of the action to determine between an imperative or conjunctive "て”, but the subject isn't always necessary in Japanese. In that case, you just have to derive from the surrounding context or accept the duplicity/ambiguity in the interpretation because that is completely valid in Japanese.

This is a nice little article on ambiguity or 曖昧 in Japanese. This phenomenon is well researched and documented, so you'll be able to find a good deal of information on it. I think understanding this concept is essential if you truly want to approach native-level fluency. Japanese people often talk about foreigners not being able to "read the air" 「空気読めない」and part of that has to do with this concept.

EDIT I didn't mention the trailing "て” here, which I think is an integral part of my interpretation.

Also see @bulgar69's interpretation. It kinda throws ambiguity back into the mix for me where "ひっかいて” is concerned. But his interpretation (which uses the imperative) makes more sense poetically to me! So I'd vote up his answer over mine if he posts one.

  • Thank you! Am I right to understand that, when lyrics are not intentionally vague, a good option is to follow the line all the way from the start until a main verb, in this case あげる(+から)? And that, in general, no mention of a subject most often means "I/we", rather than "you"? Am I also right that whether て is a conjunctive or an imperative is something context and a "feel" for the language will help decide, rather than specific rules?
    – timseb
    Oct 12, 2022 at 17:25
  • 1
    None of those assumptions are wrong, per se. Except I would prefer to say that no mention of a subject when there is no intention to be ambiguous most often means refer to surrounding context, assume that the speaker has not changed. You would imply the subject based on that. There is no definite rule to imply "I/we" or "you". it typically comes from the context or it doesn't come at all. Oct 12, 2022 at 17:35
  • 1
    Also, whether て is a conjunctive or imperative in a context where it's not explicitly implied then yes you would have to "go with your gut" based on your understanding of the language. In this case, I did infer from the surrounding context and my understanding of how the language works. Oct 12, 2022 at 17:47
  • 1
    isnt the その時は頼りない爪でひっかいて 守ってあげるから actually, "at that time scratch me with your helpless nails, because ill protect you"? that から makes me think that, i see it being used like that relatively often.
    – bulgur69
    Oct 12, 2022 at 18:37
  • @bulgur69 that sounds like a valid interpretation to me. this から does indicate reason/motivation and is often translated as "because". I did interpret it that way I just didn't translate it directly as "because". I think You should post an answer with that interpretation as well. It would make a valid argument for how you could legitimately interpret "ひっかいて" as an imperative (scratch me) and offers a sound counterpoint to my assessment while bolstering my point about ambiguity, I think. Oct 12, 2022 at 18:49

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