Wild Nihongo!
Relative Clause

Relative Clause

Relative Clause Japanese Grammar Lesson

Essential Meaning: A clause that modifies a noun


  • (Verb / い-Adjective) informal + Noun
    • E.g. はなひと [The person who is speaking]
    • E.g. たかほん [The expensive book]
  • な-Adjective Stem + [な / だった] + Noun
    • E.g. しずかないえ [The quiet house]
  • Noun + [の / だった / である / であった] + Noun
    • E.g. 先生せんせいである田中たなかさん [Tanaka-san, who is a teacher]


  • A relative clause is a clause that is used to modify a noun or a noun phrase. In English, a clause must contain a subject and a predicate at a minimum in order to be grammatical, but a Japanese clause only requires a predicate. Here are some important notes about Japanese relative clauses:
    • (1) A Japanese relative clause directly precedes the noun phrases that it modifies, as is the case for Japanese noun modifiers in general.
      • E.g. っているいぬ [A sleeping dog] Notice that (1) the relative clause can consist of a lone verb, and (2) the relative clause directly precedes the noun that it modifies.
      • E.g. おおきいいぬ [The big dog] This is simply an い-Adjective, but it functions grammatically identically to a more complex relative clause.
      • E.g. おおきい女子じょし [The girl with big eyes] This relative clause is slightly more complex with both a subject and a predicate.
    • (2) There is no Japanese equivalent to English relative pronouns (i.e. “Who“, “Which“, and “That“). In other words, Japanese relative clauses directly connect to the noun or noun phrase and any particles or pronouns associated with the noun / noun phrase are erased.
      • E.g. あたまがいい学生がくせい [a smart student] Note that the relative clause connects directly to the noun that it modifies.
    • (3) The particle cannot be used to mark the subject of a relative cause since relative clauses are a type of subordinate clause. is used instead. can also be used as a subject marker in relative clauses as long as the word that immediately follows the particle is not a noun.
      • E.g.トムがべたステーキ [The steak that Tom ate]
      • E.g. ジョンのべたステーキ [The steak that Tom ate] Note that the meaning is identical to the prior example because the particle precedes a verb rather than a noun.
      • E.g. トムがフットボールの切符きっぷをあげたおんな [The girl to whom Tom gave his football ticket]
      • E.g. トムのフットボールの切符きっぷをあげたおんな [The girl who gave away Tom’s football ticket] Note that the meaning is different from the prior example because the particle directly precedes a noun. This creates an attributive relationship between the nouns that precede and follow .
    • (4) The noun that is modified by a relative clause (as well as its associated particles) can not be included in the relative clause itself. Also, any particles or pronouns associated with the noun that is modified by a relative clause are dropped.
      • E.g. ジョンがべたステーキ [The steak that John ate] The particle that is associated with the direct object ステーキ is omitted when ステーキ is modified by a relative clause.
    • (5) Verbs in relative clauses are always in the informal form, regardless of the formality of the main predicate
      • E.g. んでいる学生がくせい [The students who are reading]
      • E.g. あそこでほんんでいる学生がくせい [The student who is reading over there]
      • E.g. かみながひと [The person who has long hair]
      • E.g. めがねをかけているひと [The person who is wearing glasses]
      • E.g. ねこきなひと [The person who likes cats]
      • E.g. あそこで写真しゃしんっているひと [The person who is taking a photo over there]
      • E.g. 毎日まいにち運動うんどうをするひと [The person who exercises every day]
      • E.g. タバコがわないひと [The person who doesn’t smoke tobacco]
      • E.g. 去年きょねん結婚けっこんしたひと [The person who got married last year]
  • According to “A Dictionary Of Basic Japanese Grammar“, when you have two sentences such as ジョーンはステーキをべました。そのステーキはおいしかったです。[John ate a steak. That steak was delicious], there are five steps for relativizing the first sentence:
    • Step 1: Remove the common noun phrase from the sentence that you are relativizing.
      • E.g. ジョンはXべました。そのステーキは美味おいしかったです。
    • Step 2: Remove the object marking particle that is left over after removing the noun.
      • E.g. ジョンはXXべました。そのステーキは美味おいしかったです。
    • Step 3: Change the verb into the appropriate informal form.
      • E.g. ジョンはXXべた。そのステーキは美味おいしかったです。
    • Step 4: Convert any particles to or .
      • E.g ジョンべた。そのステーキは美味おいしかったです。
    • Step 5: Connect the relative clause directly before the noun phrase by erasing any particles, pronouns, etc.
      • E.g ジョンはべたステーキは美味おいしかったです。[The steak that John ate was delicious.]
  • In some cases, the relative clause may not directly relate to the noun phrase but instead represent some event that brings about the noun phrase.
    • E.g. さかながこげるにお [The smell of burning fish] The act of burning fish brings about the smell.
    • E.g. だれかが廊下ろうかはしおと [The sound of someone running down the hall] The act of running down the hall brings about the sound.
    • E.g. やまのぼったつか [The exhaustion from climbing a mountain] The act of climbing a mountain brings about the exhaustion
  • Note that there is a distinction between relative clauses and appositive clauses. The difference is that a relative clauses modifies a noun (i.e. adds some kind of information or context) while an appositive clause re-states a noun in different terms. They are basically grammatically identical in Japanese.
    • E.g. 日本にほん計画けいかく / かんがえ/ 予定よてい / ゆめ [The plan / thought / schedule / dream of going to Japan] The subordinate clause defines the noun that it precedes rather than modify it or add context. It is therefore an appositive clause.
    • E.g. 日本にほんった事実じじつ / 経験けいけん / はなし / おも [The fact / experience / story / memory that I went to Japan.] The subordinate clause defines the noun that it precedes rather than modify it or add context. It is therefore an appositive clause.
  • In English, we typically use “That” for restrictive relative clauses and “Which” for non-restrictive relative clauses. In Japanese, this distinction boils down to context.
    • E.g. よくはたら日本人にほんじんきらわれる。[Japanese people, who work hard, are hated. / Japanese people who work hard are hated.] Depending on context, the relative clause may refer to all Japanese people or it may be restricted to only the Japanese people who work hard.
    • E.g. わたし日本語にほんごおしえてあげたブラウンさんはよく勉強べんきょうする。[Mr Brown, to whom I taught Japanese, studies well. / Among the Brown’s I know, Mr. Brown, to whom I taught Japanese, studies well.] In this example, the relative clause may refer to all Brown-sans or it may be restricted to only the Brown-san that the speaker taught.
  • Nouns marked by で (Cause) or より (Than) cannot be relativized. Nouns marked by other particles generally can be relativized.


田中たなかさんがべたステーキはたかかった。[The steak that Tanaka-san ate was expensive.]

ステーキがおいしいレストランをらない。[I don’t know any restaurants that have delicious steak.]

日本語にほんごおしえている先生せんせい小林こばやし先生せんせいです。[The teacher who teaches Japanese is Kobayashi-sensei.]

テニスが上手じょうずひとおしえてください。[Please tell me of anyone who is good at tennis.]

とうさんが医者いしゃ学生がくせい三人さんにんいます。 [There are three students whose fathers are doctors.]

わたしったまち病院びょういんがなかった。[The town that I went to didn’t have a hospital.]

道子みちこ学校がっこう東京とうきょうにあります。[The school that Michiko goes to is in Tokyo.]

スティーブがあなたの写真しゃしんをとったカメラがこれですか。[Is this the camera with which Steve took pictures of you?]

WILD Examples:

Listen to this line from 0:50: かがやいている、未来みらいらすひかり [It’s shining, the light that illuminates my future]
Listen to this line from 1:47: さけいたグラスあればすぐにぎなさい、みんながつまみやすいようにくしはずしなさい [If there’s an empty glass, fill it immediately…Separate the food from the skewers so that it’s easy for everyone to snack.]

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