Please help me create Japanese _sentence_ diagrams for beginners

This is just my dumb ass talking, but I feel like a lot of discourse here wouldn’t happen if the approach used jp terms first and then translated them, maybe?

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I just hacked on the top post significantly in an attempt to document what we’ve arrived at so far. Still a work in progress, and I’m sure there are mistakes. Please take a look and let me know of anything particularly egregious.

The issue is that many of us (myself in particular :smile:) don’t know either the Japanese terms nor the English grammar terms!

Not chocobits, but personally they look like something like this in my mind. It’s a diagram of what qualify what. The higher you go, the closer to the main clause you get, with the main verb at the top.







それが決して難しくは無いんです (variant)




故郷の駅で外した鼻ピアス (variant)


One thing I miss in your sentence diagram is that they don’t show the head-final left branching nature of Japanese. It’s was a big epiphany for me when I realized at some point that a word can never ever qualify what’s before it (with some caveat, like inversion in casual speech). But I’m not a beginner anymore, so it’s hard to know what’s the most useful for them.

Ans also, yeah in the end there are always a tons of difficult details at the tactical level, like how to treat topics marked by は, should we try to always explicit invisible が, how to deal with stuff like 難しはない or んです… This is hard and I’m not sure what’s best.


If I understand you correctly, I’m afraid I disagree. Please review the examples in the top post after my most recent edit to see if it makes more sense. I still need to create the step-by-step diagrams to make it clearer (vs. the current wall of text) but hopefully it’s still reasonably clear.

What you’re calling the “head-final” I’m calling the “core” of the sentence. It’s possible to have extremely complex sentences with multiple clauses, but only one can be “core”. I do agree that the diagrams need to make the “core” obvious, and everything else should branch from it.

I’d also call what you’ve drawn sentence diagrams, not tree diagrams with noun-phrases and verb-phrases indicated. I thought tree diagrams looked like what was discussed in this thread. I find these difficult to understand because of the additional grammar jargon.

I should probably stop harping about how much of a beginner I am. This point, for example, I think I learned in 1977. I still consider myself very much a beginner with Japanese and grammar in general, but everything is relative. (I know a lot more than most of my relatives on the US side.)

That’s a bit of a tall order for me yet. I have gotten a much better perspective on describing and using parts of English speech since I began studying Japanese, but I’m not at a level where I can deconstruct Japanese sentences (although the examples you gave aren’t too crazy). It doesn’t help that grammar wise I’m still a bit below comfortably passing N4. I’ll defer to others more experienced, as any attempts I make will betray my novice :slight_smile:

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Hey, this was cool!

Diagrams just helped me explain a pretty nuanced point from this senryu:


Please see this post in the daily senryu thread for details (twirl open the grammatical discussion).

All of that would have been much harder to describe without the visuals, I think.

I’d love it if folks here that have corrected me so much in the past would review to see if I’m off base. I think I’ve got it right, though: the difference between の and は at the end is quite interesting.

I’m on the train and I don’t want to type a full response on my phone, but to get things rolling, how would you translate the full sentence with the の instead of は?

Feel free to do a more natural translation, i wanna understand how you interpret the two the meanings

[Edit. Forgot to escape the angle brackets, darn it!]

With の I was reading it as “wanting-to-lend-a-cat-a-hand-level now-boredom”. That is, an entire noun phrase where everything modifies the final noun, (ひま).

With a sentence fragment like this, I was interpreting it as effectively saying “<adjectival modifiers> boredom [exists]”.

But I think the core sentence is actually a copula. It’s coupling “now” and “<adjectival modifiers> boredom”.

Very hard to express without the diagrams!

With diagrams: The の version in my head, the subject was “boredom” and looked like this:

While the actual は version had a subject of [@] (standing in for “now”) and uses a copula:

Since it’s just a fragment, the 今の暇 version could also have been a copula like:

◯ [が] 暇 [だ]

Since it’s just a fragment, we have to supply something to turn it into a sentence. My brain wanted to add “exists” (an “action”, an “A does B” sentence), though, rather than the copula version above (an “A is B” sentence). I think a Japanese native would tend to assume the だ version even without the explicit topic (though I’ve no proof of this).

With は, it has to be a copula, and making 今 the explicit topic emphasizes now over boredom (imo).


Interestingly, I don’t think there’s any way to capture this difference in natural-sounding English. You have to use the stilted “transliteration” forms in the diagrams.

In English, we’d say “I’m so bored right now I could lend a cat a hand”. We would automatically add an explicit subject and create a complete sentence.

After further thought, I guess we’d change the emphasis purely with word order, “I’m so bored right now …” vs. “Right now I’m so bored”. This has a similar nuanced difference to me between the の and は Japanese versions.

right. first up some pedantry: 暇 means “free” or “having nothing to do” not boredom. I agree that it’s expressing boredom in this case though, so I’ll use that when it makes the english more convenient.

on to the の case:

I think you’ve got the overall meaning, and as you’ve pointed out, it’s a sentence fragment that is a noun phrase. if you want to make it a complete sentence and you don’t have further context, the natural assumption is that there’s an implicit だ, but I don’t necessarily think you need to.

basically, other than trying to force がある into the picture, I broadly agree with your analysis.

and the は case:

this I disagree with (here we go again :stuck_out_tongue:) because it has an entire unrelated clause infront of it (and 猫に手を貸したいくらい今 doesn’t function as a clause).

compare with 今は猫に手を貸したいくらい暇(だ). in this case you’re emphasising the 今 by putting it first (and therefore making it the topic).

this I also disagree with. if we take the sentence 暇(だ), it’s a “I am free” (私が暇だ). the implied subject is “I” not “now”. 今 is an adverb here.

oither than those two points, I think I agree with what you’ve said.

nothing subtle about it. one’s a noun phrase describing the boredom of the moment, the other is a sentence describing how bored you are right now.

one of them describes the concept, the other one describes your current state.

if you don’t have context telling you what the verb is, だ is always the safe assumption since with anything else you’re effectively making half the sentence up.

“the (my?) current boredom” vs “I am bored right now” is the best I can think of at the moment. it’s a bit harder once you add the bit about the cat…

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Are you reading the senryu as three stanzas?

I was interpreting the final stanza (今は暇) as standing on its own.

Trying to use an English word in place of a Japanese word is difficult at best, but I do believe “boredom” most closely captures the meaning of 暇 in this context.

it’s still a single sentence, and should be interpreted as such

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I’m not so sure. Though I now realize that I should diagram it as two sentences with my interpretation (the first two stanzas being one sentence, and the last stanza being the second)

why? the haiku format is generally single sentences, and I don’t know how you’d make 猫の手を貸したいくらい a standalone sentence.

given how well 今は暇 completes the sentence both grammatically and semantically, I don’t see any reason to assume it’s separate.

I’ve no idea if that’s actually true. Sometimes they seem to contain independent thoughts, other times not. Just like any poetry, I’m not sure it’s so clear cut.

Regardless, your reply confused me into thinking something like the following, but I now think it’s a complete distraction, and I withdraw the thought.

My withdrawn thought for completeness

I was thinking something like this:

But is くらい a 形容詞 (can it end a sentence)?

I’m still trying to understand your reply, regardless.

I don’t understand how the は could possibly be anything but a topic marker here.

Right. Total agreement: the cat-hand-lending-level modifier has to be modifying “boredom”, not “now”.

This is precisely how I was interpreting the sentence originally (and precisely how I diagrammed it). You’ve just moved the 今は to the front rather than just prior to 暇. The は is still a topic marker in either location, no?

Is there a grammatical rule that the は topic identifier has to be at the beginning of the entire sentence? I thought like any particle-identified modifier it just needs to come before the thing it’s acting on.

Is there any syntactic, semantic, or grammatical difference at all between





the topic has to be part of the main clause and is almost always at the very start (with some exceptions). I can’t really demonstrate it, but I can point you to linguistics papers. it’s actually at the start in most languages, even ones that don’t have topic markers.

I guess a relevant question here is where would you put the subject? is it 今は私が暇 or 私が今は暇

syntactically, clearly yes - the order of the words is different.
semantically, no - but then the topic isn’t really a semantic thing anyway.
grammatically, yes because the syntax is different.

in terms of nuance and emphasis though, can you not feel a difference?

I dunno. I’m less confident with this particular example, but it still feels more contrastive than topic-like to me

I’d say that it would most naturally come after the topic.

But how is that relevant? The subject is the zero pronoun in the original sentence. It’s only conceptual, not explicitly present, so it can still come after the topic and before 暇:

猫に手を貸したいくらい今は (◯が) 暇

Heh. I meant I would draw a syntax diagram identically even though the word order differs.

Honestly, the only difference I feel is the delay of a punchline, with no difference in meaning.

You’ll come around! :laughing:

You convinced me that は between a 動詞 and a suffix like ない that modifies that verb root is solely contrastive. But that isn’t the case here.

Topics are also contrastive: they provide explicit context (ruling out other context).

I don’t understand how は in this sentence is not a topic marker.

Other languages are irrelevant. I only want to diagram Japanese sentences, which have topic markers. I believe that allows them to be moved around (just as the に and を modifiers in this sentence could have their order swapped with no change in meaning).

it’s a question of how you parse it.

if the subject is first, 今 is not a topic. if it comes after, 今 is the topic.

both are natural depending on what you want to express. in the first case 今は is very strongly contrastive (it can’t be the topic since it’s no longer part of the main clause).

in the second, it’s less so and feels more neutral since there’s more room for ambiguity (could be aiming for contrast, probably just the topic).

if the syntax is different why is the syntax diagram the same :stuck_out_tongue:

I’m not talking about overall meaning though. I’m talking about the feel. whether a は marked clause is a topic or not has no effect on the meaning anyway.

probably not. we’re coming at this from different directions. you’re saying “は is the topic marker, it’s は marked, therefore it’s the topic”. I’m saying “does interpreting this as a topic add anything meaningful to the analysis, or does it confuse things”.

I don’t think calling it a topic aids in understanding, and I think it makes the syntax diagrams harder to interpret (really in this case I only think it matters because it changes the diagram so much) :person_shrugging:

topics are not contrastive. は can (and often is) contrastive, irrespective of whether it’s marking a topic. the confusion comes from the fact that は can do both. も can also mark a topic, and it’s explicitly inclusive.

in other words, 今日はかわいい isn’t insulting because the topic is contrastive, it’s insulting because は might be being used contrastively. 今日もかわいい is fine not because 今日 is no longer the topic (it still is), but because も is inclusive.

my point is more along the lines that humans generally tend to put the topic at the start of the sentence irrespective of culture

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Before I get to the rest I’d like to understand what you are saying here. Today is … cute?

Ah! Subject is something like あなたの服

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just あなた (the sentence means today you are cute) ((it could be your clothes are cute depending on context of course))

Today you are cute (but the other days you are not!), it’s the classic faux-pas :smile:
In the senryuu I guess the 今は stresses the fact that the author is really bored now, in their old days, probably compared to their life before retirement or something.