I'm pretty sure I understand the usage of「である」 here:


My sister, a pianist, is always careful not to injure her hands. (My translation)

But I'm wondering if that usage is appropriate in all cases. For one, my understanding is that「である」is literary-sounding and wouldn't typically be used in speech. Is that the case here, or is that only relevant in the sentence-ending case? Are there other alternatives with the same meaning? For instance, could something like「のある」 or「の」be used in place of that「である」?

  • Tangential question: the application of the description ピアニストである seems ambiguous. That is, it seems like it may be applied to either or 私の姉. Of course the context makes it clear, but in another situation, would there be a better way to specifically indicate the sister? Maybe 私のピアニストである姉? Although that sounds funny/wrong to me.
    – istrasci
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 3:32
  • 1
    @istrasci I think if you insert a comma, it becomes acceptable. 私の、ピアニストである姉は (of course in this particular case 私の itself may well be unnecessary). However, I wouldn't say that it's better, unless confusion is a serious possibility.
    – Hyperworm
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 3:43
  • If you have A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar, see page 33. It gives an example where NのN is acceptable in place of NであるN. (I am not sure what counterexamples exist, if any, so I can't write an answer at the moment.)
    – user1478
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 7:14
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    Just for people who aren't aware, I think it's worth pointing out that である is the 連体形{れんたいけい} (attributive form, i.e., what you see in a relative clause) of the copula だ. In modern Japanese the 連体形{れんたいけい} and 終止形{しゅうしけい} (terminal form) are the same for things like 形容詞{けいようし} (-i adjectives), but in the case of the copula we have である for the 連体形{れんたいけい}, which is why it's showing up in this relative clause (and why you would never see *ピアニストだ私). Of course, である does have a formal feeling to it, which is why one does not always see the 連体形 of だ being used so often. Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 15:50

2 Answers 2


This is not an answer but a collection of comments based on my personal feeling, but I post it as an answer because it is too long for a comment.

First, here are two clear facts:

  • のある simply does not have the same meaning as である. ピアニストのある私の姉 is incorrect.
  • Replacing AであるB with AのB sometimes causes ambiguity. For example, ピアニストの姉 can mean either “(my) sister, who is a pianist” or “a sister of a pianist” depending on the context.

Now I will move on to a less clear part.

I agree with you that AであるB sounds a little too formal for a casual conversation (although I would not call it “literary”). In a casual conversation, I would probably avoid a relative clause in this case and say something along the following.

My sister is a pianist, and she is always careful not to injure her hands.

The same meaning as AであるB can be also expressed by AのB in some cases, and I agree that AのB can be less formal than AであるB. But in your case, I find using の in place of である less natural:

? ピアニストの私の姉は、いつも手に怪我をしないように気を付けています。

Unfortunately, I do not know why I feel it less natural than ピアニストである私の姉.


My thought went along the line of Tsuyoshi's, but here is another comment:

On top of である being a bit more formal, 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:

ピアニストである姉は… My sister, who is a pianist, ... (nonrestrictive use)
ピアニストとドラマーの姉がいるんだけど、ピアニストの姉は… I have a sister who is a pianist and one who is a drummer. My pianist sister ... (restrictive use)

This isn't a hard rule, just tendencies that I feel. Obviously this will sometimes clash with the "である is more formal" pattern, so if you wanted to use a nonrestrictive relative clause in colloquial speech, e.g.

I, being a pianist, ...

the restrictive/nonrestrictive tendency might speak in favor of


whereas the formality of である might speak in favor of


Read here if you're unsure about the restrictiveness thing.

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