んです and 帰ってくる

んです What in the world is this? :thinking: There are so many sentences with this random ん.

And 帰ってくる which I found while playing persona 4: “お父さん、いつかえってくるのかな” There’s no kanji as it was spoken by a child character, but I assume it’s 帰ってくる.

I have an assumption that this word consists of 帰る and 来る, is this the case? いつ(when)帰ってくる(return come = come back?) の(Question?) かな(I think/wonder). Confession; I used an Ai translator to figure out what this sentence means, but I want to figure out how it works.

So I’m basically wondering what 帰ってくる means, and how の fits into this sentence.

Can anyone give me an explanation of what this means? I’d truly appreciate it! :blush:

In んです, the ん is a colloquial (spoken) form of の. You may see some grammar resources talk about the “explanatory の”, which is what this is.

When you add のだ to the end of a sentence, you are turning the sentence into a noun (using の), and then make it into a “subject is noun” sentence by adding だ (or です).

Consider the following in English:

“My car stopped working.”

“It is that my car stopped working.”

The latter is a “subject is noun” sentence, where “it” is the subject, and “my car stopped working” is the noun that “it” is.

The latter sentence isn’t quite how we’d word English, but even so it may sound a bit like it’s giving an explanation. “Why were you late to work today?” “It is that my car stopped working.” (In English, we’d more likely use the word “because” and say, “It’s because my car stopped working.”

のだ works the same in Japanese; it’s essentially giving a reason (or, in the case of a question, asking a reason).

I wrote a bit in depth on のだ here, including on how it’s used in Japanese, which explains why it seems to be everywhere:

TL;DR: This のだ is used when an effect has been observed, and someone is asking what the cause is, or stating what the cause is.

We do this all the time in English, but we don’t have a specific grammar for it like Japanese does with のだ.

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(I’m using a separate comment to better separate my answers to the two questions.)

You are correct on the sentence being 「いつ(かえ)ってくるのかな」

This ()る (following a verb+て) is often written in hiragana, although sometimes you see it with kanji.

When you have a verb + て + いく or くる, it adds direction to the action of the verb. You’re either going or coming.

On its own, (かえ)る simply means to return home (or return to where you came from). But consider the following in English:

  • “I’ll go home after I finish writing this last report.”
  • “If your father doesn’t come home soon, we’ll eat dinner without him.”

Here, “go home” is like (かえ)っていく and “come home” is like (かえ)ってくる.

The の here is the “explanatory の” mentioned in my prior comment. In this scene, the child ponders on something they do not know: when is the person coming back? The の is sort of like having the latter of the following two in English:

  • “When will they return?”
  • “When is it that they will return?”

The first is asking when the verb “return” will happen.

The second is asking when the noun “it” will happen, where “it” is “they will return”.

The か makes it a question, and if I remember correctly the な is for when someone is talking to themself. (I may be a bit off on the な, plus that’s not my best of explanations, plus な has many other uses in different scenarios.)

Altogether, the child is saying, “I wonder when they’ll come back.”

Here’s further reading on て+いく and て+くる:

https://maggiesensei.com/2010/03/13/requested-lesson-「〜ていく+〜てくる」teiku-tekuru/

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So it has two main uses?

  • Explaining the reason/cause to someone
  • And asking questions; reason for something

Do you use の when you tell both cause and effect in a single sentence? “The streets are wet today because it rained”.

And when asking a question; do you use の to state what you think the cause was, or do you place it after what you want to know the cause for; (sentence stating the result) + の.

And why do we use なのだ when な was originally a だ. We have a new だ, so what’s the reason for the な if it’s basically a converted だ?

My knowledge is based mostly on what I’ve learned reading lots and lots of manga, so what I write next may have some inaccuracies and may be leaving parts out. With that said…

Correct.

These are two sides of the same coin.

Consider a scenario where John hears Frank’s stomach growl. For John, this growling of Frank’s stomach is the result of an unknown cause.

John can seek the cause: “Is it because you didn’t eat breakfast?”

Or if John says nothing, Frank may opt to explain it: “It is because I didn’t eat breakfast.”

In both cases, in Japanese, の would be used, as it’s built into this situation of seeking/providing the reason, for seeking/providing an explanation, for filling in for John the unknown reason that led to the effect, the result, of Frank’s stomach growling.

However, you wouldn’t use の for just any question.

If Sarah asks Linda, “Are you getting a new car?”, in Japanese Sarah wouldn’t use の, because she’s not seeking an explanation.

However, this creates a situation where Sarah knows why Sarah is asking this question, and Linda does not know why.

For that reason, if Sarah adds, “I saw you when I drove by a new car lot yesterday,” she would include の because she’s explaining the reason asked that question.

Or, if Sarah did not provide that reason, Linda may instead ask, “How did you know?”, using の because she’s seeking the explanation for why Sarah asked the question.

(By the way, I’m completely unlearned in producing Japanese sentences, so that’s why I’m using English as a medium for these examples. I realize that’s not the best way to go about it.)

I’m not certain if it’s used in this way.

But there are situations where you have a cause and effect, and an unrelated explanatory のだ.

Here’s an example, using an actual Japanese sentence this time.

In the first episode of the anime “Sailormoon”, Usagi gains the ability to transform into Sailormoon, a warrior able fight against monsters. That night, a monster appears and attacks some of Usagi’s classmates. Usagi becomes Sailormoon and goes and defeats the monster.

The next day before class, her classmates talk about the event. However, Usagi (due to being out late) is trying to catch up on sleep at her desk. When her classmates try to bring her into the conversation, Usagi says:

「あたしったら(つか)れてる んだから もう(すこ)()かせてよ」

It is because I am worn out, let me sleep a little more!”

“Let me sleep a little more, because I’m worn out!”

There are two aspects we’re looking at here.

First, there’s the cause/reason and effect/result:

  • Cause/Reason: Usagi is worn out.
  • Effect/Result: Usagi wants the others to let her sleep a little more.

However, there’s another reason/result taking place.

  • Effect/Result: Usagi isn’t taking part in the conversation.
  • Cause/Reason: Usagi is worn out.

In this case, the のだ (or, rather, んだ) in the first half of Usagi’s sentence isn’t related to the second half. She’s explaining herself to her friends in the first half.

Here’s another example, but this time with のだ at the end.

In the manga/anime “Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth”, French ironsmith Claude is in his shop when his grandfather Oscar returns from a merchant trip to Japan. As Oscar shows off some of the “bounty” he brought back with him, Claude notices a young Japanese girl in the shop. The conversation goes something like this:

  • Claude: “Gramps, don’t tell me you brought a Japanese girl as part of your bounty…”
  • Oscar: “Ah, this is Yune. It seems her family wanted her to become a live-in apprentice.”
  • Oscar: 「パリで(はたら)きたいと()うから()れてきたんだ」
    • Since she said she wanted to work in France, it is why I bought her.”

Here, the part that is unknown to Claude is why his grandfather brought a young girl back from Japan. He sees the effect (there’s a Japanese girl standing in his shop), but the cause, the reason is unknown.

In Oscar’s response, the reason (she said she wanted to work in France) and the result (he brought her back with him) are essentially a single unit that he’s putting のだ (or, rather, んだ) onto. The entire “did Z because Y” is the reason for X.

So what about the wet street?

In Japanese, things that are clear from context are often not spoken.

If there is a reason for you to explain the reason the streets are wet, then you don’t need to state that the streets are wet. You would simple say, “It is because it rained.” (And this you end with のだ.)

An exception would be if, for example, you and a friend are walking along, and out of the blue you say, “The streets are wet because it rained.”

Would のだ be used here? Would it not be used here? I’m not certain. (Sorry!)

What about other situations?

In the manga/anime “Flying Witch”, Kei is preparing lunch, and asks his witch cousin Makoto if her cat Chito will be joining them.

  • Makoto: 「ダイエット(ちゅう)だからお(ひる)いらないって」
    • “She says she’s on a diet, so she doesn’t need lunch.”

Here, Makoto is relying Chito’s statement. When Chito told this to Makoto, it was making a statement without answering a question, or explaining the reason for anything.

Yes and yes.

In the case of placing after what you want to know the cause for, you’ll have a questioning word, such as どうして.

For example in third episode of the anime “Bottle Fairy”, the main characters (fairies who are trying to learn about humans) are talking about love and marriage. They imagine a scenario where one fairy, Kururu, is going to marry her upperclassman, but another fairy feeds him a poisoned apple. The fairies use their magic to revive him, but when Kururu shows up for the wedding, her upperclassman has just married the fairy Sarara.

  • Kururu: 「ど どうして さらりんが結婚(けっこん)してる?」
    • “Wh–why is is Sarara marrying him?”

Kururu sees a result (Sarara in a wedding dress leaving the church with the upperclassman at her arm), but she doesn’t know the reason. Thus, when asking, の is used.

There are cases where だ becomes な (such as when 綺麗(きれい)だ is used as a modifier for another noun, it because 綺麗(きれい)な).

But for だ and なのだ, it’s important to remember that we are not replacing one だ with another. We’re retaining two (one as な).

Consider the following in English:

  • Ronald: “Garfield is a cat.”
  • Jeff: “But why do you like Garfield so much?”
  • Ronald: “It is that Garfield is a cat.” (“It’s because Garfield is a cat.”)

Notice that the first sentence has one “is” (like one だ). The third sentence has two “is” (like the な and the だ).

The first sentence is a “subject is a noun”, where the subject is “Garfield”. This sentence answers the question, “What is Garfield?” “He is a cat.” The subject “he” is “Garfield”.

The third sentence is also a “subject is a noun”, but this time the subject is “the reason I like Garfield so much”. This sentence answers the question, “Why do you like Garfield so much?” “It is because Garfield is a cat.” The subject “it” is “the reason I like Garfield so much”. “The reason I like Garfield so much is that Garfield is a cat.”

Edit: Sorry about the length… If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter explanation.

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For this case, you use ので or から. You can still end the sentence with んです, which would indicate the entire sentence is explaining a reason (for example, why the roads are closed today.)
今日は雨が降ったので、道がつるつるになってきました。

の at the end of a question indicates that you are seeking an explanation or reason and not simply an answer to the question itself.

I’m pretty sure な here comes from the archaic copula なり and is unrelated to だ . In any case, this is just how Japanese grammar works. Nouns require a な to be inserted before の unless the の is appositive (e.g. 私の猫).

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From what I know, な can also be seen as the 連体形 (noun-joining form) of だ, but yes, it definitely comes from なり. I’m just saying that perhaps they’re not completely unrelated. However, I guess you could see it like this, @JesperHH: you have to use な instead because the sentence isn’t over yet, and you’re joining the word to another noun or noun equivalent – の. Traditionally, Japanese separated the 連体形 (noun-joining form, of the sort you find in relative clauses) and 終止形 (terminal form, found at the end of sentences): they’re not necessarily the same, though that’s often the case in Japanese today, and in Classical Japanese, they’re usually different.

I really like @ChristopherFritz’s detailed explanation, but there’s just one minor translation I disagree on:

I think (though this is much less natural in English) that the Japanese actually says ‘It is that I brought her here because she said she wanted to work in Paris.’ That is, Oscar is insisting on the particular way in which his ‘bringing her to Paris’ occurred – he is stressing that that is the case.

My take on のだ・のです and their abbreviated forms is that they add emphasis, and often do so with an explanatory nuance, whether it be for requesting an explanation or giving an explanation. I think that the ‘emphasis’ factor is key, because のだ really does draw one’s attention to a particular thing by nominalising it (i.e. by turning it into a phrase that functions as a noun). I think another way of understanding it is that by using 〜のだ・〜のです , one is stating that (or asking if) ~ is the case. You can see parallels of this in other similar structures like 〜のなら vs 〜なら (and as some of us may know, なら is a form of なり or だ, both of which are copulae): by adding の, one emphasises that is it is the specific thing indicated by ~ that makes the second half of the sentence relevant and can mean ‘if ~ is the case,…’, whereas without it, なら just highlights one thing in particular for discussion. For that matter, if we think about it, even ので and のに work this way: an event or action is nominalised, and then marked as a reason or something contradictory/unexpected using particles.

One particularly striking example of the ‘emphasis’ nuance is 〜のだから, which can be used, for example, for special emphasis in an argument or discussion, particularly when one wants to convey that the other party is not seeing things the same way and is therefore missing the point. The matter represented by ~ is often something that the other party has failed to understand the implications of, as in @ChristopherFritz’s example:

Anyone who knows what happened to her before this might know that she’s tired, but the fact that she’s not being left in peace is, to her, proof that they haven’t grasped the implications of this. Therefore, she adds emphasis with んだ in order to explain the situation while hoping everyone else will understand her point of view.

I think that a very helpful and detailed breakdown of how this structure is used has already been done, so I’ll just finish off with this: so far, my ‘emphasis, often for the sake of explanation/insisting on something’ idea has never failed to explain a use of のだ・のです, so while it’s very true that the uses of this structure can be broken down further, if you need a summary of how it works for quick reference, I’d like to suggest you consider mine.

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