Questions about the subject

This is perhaps me looking for too much logic where there is mostly convention, but I have a question gnawing at me after reading the following example sentence from Wanikani:


This translates to:

I took a look at your painting of a girl sitting in the shade.

When I saw the あなたが part, I took it to mean that you had looked at the painting, since you are the subject. My questions:

  1. Is the が particle somehow spent after you come across a verb in the sentence, as in 描いた there? In other words: if you see あなたが but then many verbs follow in the same sentence, does it only (necessarily) apply to the first one, and for the others it’s context-based? Would you have to keep inserting あなたがs before each verb if you wanted to leave no ambiguity?

  2. Could the sentence also be interpreted as

You took a look at your painting of a girl sitting in the shade.

and if not, how would you write this sentence?

Thanks in advance!

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First of all, there is one huge factor that makes this sentence completely unambiguous. 拝見 is 謙譲語 (i.e. “humble speech”), so the only acceptable subject for it is the speaker themselves. (technically you could have another person as a subject if for example you are talking about someone else from your company to your customer, but let’s leave extreme examples out lol)

That being said, of course the verb could be something else, so I’ll try answering your questions.

  1. Not necessarily. In this specific case having 「描いた」without a subject would sound nonsensical, so 「あなたが」gets automatically looted for it, but if it was a verb that takes no subject such as, let’s say, 「置いてあった」, the 「あなたが」could indeed be still “on the hold” for a verb yet to come, even if in this specific case it doesn’t really work.

  2. It’s hard to read it like that because of the 拝見 cited above and 描いた need for a subject. Also, if you say “you took a look”, how do you know its “your drawing”? The あなた there can only serve one of the functions.
    Yes, there are sentences in Japanese where one specific term could be interpreted as belonging to different clauses. This is not one of them but sooner or later you will run into it.

Using commas (which have no rigid rule in Japanese) is usually the prefered way to clarify those.
In this specific case,「 あなたが描いた、日陰に座っている少女の絵を拝見しました。」would make the sentence a lot easier to parse.


I think the problem is that the person is being ommited in this sentence. As in:


The あなたが描いた part is just there to modify 絵 and has no relation to the person who’s actually looking at the picture.

It could be interpreted as that. If you wanted to leave no doubt that it was “you” looking at the picture, and not “I”, “he” or “she” you would say:



(deleted because others were faster)

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Yes. The が binds the two words closely together, so that the meaning becomes “you drew”.

Let’s pull this apart a little bit to see what’s going on. Here is my thought process when reading it:

あなたが描いた - you drew something

あなたが描いた日陰 - you drew a shade? Doesn’t make sense, shade must attach to something else here.

あなたが描いた (日陰に座っている) - ok something is sitting in that shade you drew. What is it?

あなたが描いた (日陰に座っている少女) - you drew a woman in the shade? Doesn’t make sense, on cannot draw people, only pictures. What’s next?

あなたが描いた (日陰に座っている少女の絵) - aha, it’s a picture of a woman sitting in the shade. I thought so in the first place! Now what about this picture?

(あなたが描いた (日陰に座っている少女の絵)) を拝見しました。- Somebody looked at the picture you drew. Who is it? The sentence doesn’t say who stares at the picture, and as we don’t have any other context, we can only assume that it is an implicit 私 topic. So in total we end up with your translation.

No. This would be something like あなたは日陰に座っている少女の絵を拝見しました。


The whole first part is the object, it can be crudely translated as
“I took a look at the you-drawn painting”

Thank you Syncro! This is very helpful. I didn’t know that 拝見 was humble speech, so I appreciate your answer covering the more general case too.

So it seems that 「あなたが」does look to attach to something, it just doesn’t have to be the first verb it encounters necessarily.

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That’s a really neat breakdown, Nicole. I’m always interested in learning how people parse these sentences, and it’s a relief to find that your thought process is similar to mine, although I definitely took a wrong turn somewhere and got confused, so this is very helpful.

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I read a fair bunch of books and sooo often took a wrong turn :sweat_smile: Luckily I‘ve learned a lot through reading. Do you also read books? If you’re interested, the Intermediate Book Club will soon pick their next book - feel free to join in!


This example of your thought process brought great relief to my soul. Japanese sentence structures still puzzle me immensely, so seeing how someone else does it is pretty helpful.

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In Japanese, English, and most other languages, you have sentences, each of which consists of one or more clauses. Each clause has a verb (which may sometimes just be implied). Each verb has a set of nouns that have particular relationships to the verb (most commonly called cases). So each verb can have its own subject, direct object, etc.

When you find yourself confused by something like this, try to identify the individual clauses first.

You’re right, I should be trying to read more. I’ve read some short stories, but never tried an actual book. My grammar is likely at N5, so probably a Beginner Book Club would be more appropriate. :sweat_smile:

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I was just estimating from the sentence you were translating - I found it to be pretty complex :sweat_smile:
We are currently reading a book in the Beginner Book Club that consists of short stories, so basically each week is a new short story and you can jump in whenever you want. Also, the stories are available for free on Aozora! This week we are reading the second story from the list in the OP. Feel free to give it a go if you are interested, or join in on one of the other weeks?


Thanks, Nicole – I will definitely check it out! The past few weeks have been intense due to me moving and starting a new job, but I expect everything to fall into place soon, and then I should be able to do more than just reviews.

As a side note, I’ve realized that I love practicing my reading on the example sentences here. I’ve got this extension that hides the translation until I hover it, which is great. Do you know of any resources like that outside of WK?

I know I can translate sentences using other apps, and there are extensions that translate parts of a sentence, but I confess that I’m too lazy to keep copy/pasting everything.

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Just thought I’d share an approximation of my live parsing process as I read this

あなたが anata is the subject of some clause still unclear

描いた as the sentence doesn’t end here this must be modifying something. Still unclear whether あなたが is part of the modifying clause or not - it doesn’t have to be yet.

あなたが描いた日陰に it makes no sense for you to draw just a shade, let’s keep going

描いた日陰に座っている少女の絵を ok the object of the verb is a painting of a young girl sitting in the shade. Still unclear whether you drew the painting or you did something to the painting that an implied subject drew.

拝見しました is a humble verb where the subject is always the speaker. This removes the ambiguity and makes it clear that the speaker looked at the painting that you drew.

After i finished typing this i just realized i repeated @SyncroPC 's points but I’d still like feedback for if I have misconceptions in my process

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Personally, I never thought あなたが could belong to another clause, because the 描いた there, written like that, makes no sense without it.
Actually, the only reason the 描いた is on the sentence is to connect あなた with 絵. In case the painting’s author was irrelevant to the sentence, it would be simply written as 日陰に座っている少女の絵を拝見しました, because writing 描いた日陰に座っている少女の絵を拝見しました is non-sensical, it automatically becomes “???”.
Even if you are implying a 「私」as the subject, you could only add the 描いた to sentence if there was another element to be connected, such as 昨日描いた絵, 授業で描いた絵, お母さんの手伝いをもらって描いた絵… Anything is fine, but crude「描いた絵」is a no.

However, the 描いた日陰 did throw me off a bit when I first read it, and until I got to later in the sentence I actually considered “could 描く be used as a poetic way of saying throw a shadow? as in ‘the shadow you were beautifully drawing’ or such?”. But then the actual owner of the shadow 座っている少女 and the 絵 came and clarified the whole thing.

For me the 拝見しました was more like the final nail in the coffin that the implicit subject was 私 and no one else. But the あなた parsing was already clear by then.


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