のは~だ Japanese Grammar Lesson
Grammar Type: Structure
Essential Meaning: The one that ~ is / The one who ~ is / It is ~ that
- (Verb / い-Adjective) informal + のは~だ
- E.g. 話すのは~だ [The one who speaks is ~]
- E.g. 高いのは~だ [The one that is expensive is ~]
- (な-Adjective Stem / Noun) + [な / だった] + のは~だ
- E.g. 静かなのは~だ [The one who is quiet is~]
- E.g. 先生なのは~だ [The one who is a teacher is~]
- With this structure, the speaker is able to say “The one who X is Y“, “The thing that X is Y“, “The reason that X is Y“, et cetera. The situation X that precedes the の particle is some fact or situation that is known to both the speaker and hearer, and the noun phrase Y provides some new or important information regarding that fact or situation. As an example, imagine that on Valentine’s Day I see my friend John walking to school carrying a single red rose. This makes me curious, so I ask another friend who John gave the rose to. That friend may reply: ジョンがバラをあげたのはモリーだ。 [The one who John gave the rose to is Molly.] In this situation, that fact that John gave a rose to someone was already know to both speaker and hearer, but the new and important information is that it was MOLLY who John gave the rose to.
- The important content between のは and だ must be a noun or a noun phrase. This must be the case in order to be congruent with the dependent pronoun の that appears earlier in the sentence. In other words, the content between のは and だ is the antecedent of の, so the two must be grammatically parallel.
- A sentence with multiple noun elements can form multiple のは~だ statements. For example, the sentence ジョンがジェンに東京で八月に会った。[John met Jen in Tokyo in August] has four noun elements that can organized into various のは~だ sentences:
- E.g. ジェンが東京で八月に会ったのはジョンだ。[The one who Jen met in Tokyo in August is John.]
- E.g. ジョンが東京で八月に会ったのはジェンだ。[The one who John met in Tokyo in August is Jen.]
- E.g. ジョンがジェンに八月に会ったのは東京でだ。[The place where John met Jen in August is Tokyo.]
- E.g. ジョンがジェンに東京で会ったのは八月だ。[The time when John met Jen in Tokyo was August.]
- With the のは~だ structure, the subject and object marking particles that accompany the noun phrase (i.e. を and が) are always dropped, and other particles (e.g で, から, に) are typically dropped if the usage of the noun is clear from context or if the sentence involves a verb that generally co-occurs with a particular particle. For example, くれる implies an indirect object, which implies the に particle).
- E.g. 森田さんが持って来たのはケーキだ。[The thing that Morita-san brought is cake.] In this case, the particle を before the direct object ケーキ is dropped.
- E.g. 八時にうちに来たのは森田さんだ。[The one who came to my house at 8 o’clock is Morita-san.] In this case, the particle が before the subject 森田さん is dropped.
- E.g. 森田さんが来たのは東京だ。[The place where Morita-san came from is Tokyo.] In this example, the particle から before Tokyo is dropped.
- E.g. 森田さんがうちに来たのは車でだ。[The method by which Morita-san came to my house is by car.] In this case, the で particle remains. Without で, it becomes ambiguous what relationship Morita-san has to the car. Did he come by car, did he come to see a car, or is there some other reason? で clarifies these questions.
- The element between のは and だ can not be a manner adverb. It must be a noun phrase to maintain grammatical parallelism.
- E.g. *花子が歩いたのはゆっくりだ。 [The one that Hanako walked is slowly.] This clearly makes no sense.
- E.g. *太郎が字を書いたのはきれいです。[The one who Taro wrote kanji is beautiful.] This also makes no sense.
- The copula だ in のは~だ normally takes the present tense even when the entire sentence takes place in the past.
- E.g. 昨日買ったのはステレオです。[The thing that I bought yesterday is a stereo.]
- The は particle in のは~だ indicates that the information before は is already part of the “universe of discourse” (i.e. it is old and unimportant information that is already known to both speaker and hearer), and it implies that the information that precedes だ is new and relevant. However, the first clause can also take the が particle rather than は in order to flip this relationship and indicate that the content before が is new and important, and the content before だ is old and unimportant.
- E.g. 私が作っているのはロボットだ。[The one that I’m making is a ROBOT.] In this example, the は particle suggests that the fact that the speaker is making something is already established, and the fact that what the speaker is making is a ROBOT is new information.
- E.g. 私が作っているのがロボットだ。[The one that I’M making is a robot.] In this example, the fact that the speaker is making something is the relevant and new information, and the fact that it’s a robot is old news. In other words, robots were already established in the discussion and the speaker has just added the new fact that he or she is making one.
- Be careful not to confuse the のは~だ structure with の (Nominalizer). They look extremely similar, but can be differentiated by context. One suggested method for differentiating between the two is to remove のは and だ and to see if the sentence can be re-arranged to make sense. If not, it’s probably an instance of の (Nominalizer).
- E.g. 本を読むのはたいてい夜だ。[The time when I read is usually evening.]
- E.g. たいてい夜本を読む。[Usually in the evening, I read books.] By erasing のは and だ, we can rearrange the preceding sentence in a sensible way. This indicates that the preceding sentence is an example of the のは~だ structure.
- E.g. 本を読むのはいいことだ。[Reading books is a good thing.]
- E.g. *いいこと本を読む。[Good thing reading books.] By erasing のは and だ, we can NOT rearrange this sentence in a sensible way. This indicates that the preceding sentence is an example of の (Nominalizer).
私が中国に行ったのは三年前だ。[The time when I went to China was three years ago.]
このクラスで一番頭がいいのは吉田さんだ。[The one who is the smartest in this class is Yoshida-san.]
ここで一番きれいなのは山だ。[The thing that is most beautiful here is the mountains.]
山田さん、あなたがシカゴに行ったのはいつですか。[Yamada-san, When was the time when you went to Chicago?]
おととい遊びに来たのは秋子さんです。[The one who came to play with me the day before yesterday was Akiko-san.]
モーツアルトが大好きになったのは大学一年の時です。[The time when I began to love Mozart was the first year of university.]
父が嫌いなのはテレビだ。[The thing that my dad hates is the TV.]
日本でおいしいのは果物だ。[The thing that is delicious in Japan is fruit.]
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