Context Senstive Subjects

The sentence in question:


This is two creatures talking to one another. This is probably the English speaker in me but I assumed the first speaker was saying they themselves didn’t know about something. Like they were expressing their own ignorance. They were actually referring to the past ignorance of the person they are speaking to. :face_exhaling:

Should I have known that from the first speaker saying “Salmon”? Should I just “get good” and know from tons of reading that usually this structure means someone’s talking about the person they’re speaking to? I’m a little frustrated today just because I massively misunderstand this aspect of the language constantly, even after years and years, it’s been a huge hurdle to reading anything more complex than random sentences. I lose the thread in any sort of work without pictures to make objects and subjects super obvious. (and even then) Maybe it’ll just never make sense to me.


FWIW, the things that cued me in to the fact that the not-knowing person is the person being spoken to were:

  • use of 多分 and だろう – “I probably didn’t know” is much less likely than “you probably didn’t know”, because usually you know for certain that you didn’t know something, there’s no doubt about it
  • later in the sentence, when we get to きみに夢中だった this confirms it – if you have a crush on somebody you absolutely know it

Dialogue is hard compared to running text, it can be pretty elliptical. Usually the missing subject in dialogue is either “you” or “me”, but there are no hard grammar-level or structural cues to this – it is all in the meaning of the sentence (and the surrounding context), which will make one or the other make sense/make no sense. Unfortunately for us learners, that means that if you’re at all uncertain about the meaning of anything else in the sentence then pinning down the omitted subject gets really hard.


as a terminally unsure person this will take some getting used to.

yeah I just need to get used to the idea of reading paragraphs five times to gather all the evidence so I can make a truly educated guess on who is the subject and object in each sentence. I’ve just had situations where I try to translate text from like a random manga panel, I botch the subject and object and another person confidently explains that because of this that and the other the subject and object are actually obvious lol.

Was just curious if there were more clear clues I’m missing that could help me. Seems like it’s just gonna be more reading to make the inference faster and more natural.

Thanks so much for your reply


I forgot, but one of the big exceptions to this is the verbs of giving and receiving くれる あける もらう (both as standalone verbs and as auxiliaries) – the ingroup/outgroup restrictions on the subject and agent can make ‘you’ or ‘me’ in those positions grammatically impossible.

Keigo is another case where the grammar can rule in/out which person is involved.


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