Grammar Part 3: Clauses

For many this material will be especially tricky, since the rules I can give are not as rigorous or as thorough as before. In fact most of the page is spent listing special cases. We're getting to the point where you really do have to "think in Japanese" to get this stuff.


List of Clause-Ending Nouns
  事 koto
  癖 kuse
  物 or 者 mono
  側 gawa
  時 toki, 頃 koro, うち uchi and 度 tabi
  前 mae and 後 ato
  積もり tsumori
  気 ki
  様 you
  風 fuu
  為 tame
  甲斐 kai
  訳 wake
  儘 mama
  程 hodo
  甲斐 kai
  所為 sei and お蔭 okage
  振り furi
  所 tokoro
  場合 ba'ai
  より yori
  方 hou
  筈 hazu and べき beki
Miscellaneous Clause-Related Issues
  Ambiguity and Context
  Clause-Ending か ka
  Tenses In Subordinate Clauses
  Compound Particles Revisited
  Hard Examples




The quintessential rule in complex Japanese grammar (in my opinion) is that a verb always ends a clause.  This usually also means it ends the sentence (especially if sentence ending particles come after it), unless:

  1) the verb is conjugated to some connective form (-te, -i, -eba, -nakereba, -nai to, nara, -tara, etc)

  2) the verb is immediately followed by a compound particle or quote-marking particle

  3) the verb is immediately followed by a noun phrase

Case 1 was thoroughly dealt with by the last page (Grammar Part 2: Conjugation), while case 2 was largely handled by Grammar Part 1: Particles and the examples in Essential Vocabulary which use compound particles.  Most of this page is about the potentially confusing case 3 (and how 2 is sometimes a special case of 3).


Long story short: if the verb at the end of a clause is immediately followed by a noun phrase, then the clause is describing the noun somehow.


Most likely, the clause is simply an action performed by said noun.  A literal translation in these instances will often use a relative pronoun (e.g. "who"/"which"/"that").  For these first examples, I'll put subordinate clauses inside parenthesis for clarity.


   (criminal [object] to capture/arrest(past)) police officer [subject] medal [object] to receive(past)
   The police officer (who caught the criminal) received a medal.

   (to get tired(past)) I [subject] (already to start to move(-teru)) train [object] to chase(potential(negative))
   I (who was tired) cannot chase the train (which is already starting to move).

   still vacuum tube [object] to use(-teru) old computer [subject] to need(negative)
   I no longer need an old computer (which is still using vacuum tubes).


The only restriction on what verb forms can be used at the end of a subordinate clause is that the clause must not end in one of the aforementioned “connective forms.” That means it'll usually be infinitive, past, ~te iru or ~te ita form.


And keep in mind that, if it makes no sense for the noun to be performing the action, then the clause is describing it some other way.  For example, the clause may be an action that is to be performed using the noun, or an ability of the noun, or even something the noun causes (more precisely, this means the causative/potential/passive forms can all be implied on top of the usual subject/object implication).  However, this is quite rare.  By the time you have to worry about it, it'll come to you naturally anyway.


List of Clause-Ending Nouns


So, a guide can't help teach you every way a noun phrase can be modified by a subordinate clause.  However, it can list and explain all of the nouns which do unique things when used under such a clause.  A clause-ending noun is my term for nouns which have special meanings or uses when they end clauses, separate from what they would mean anywhere else in the sentence.  Many of the ones I list below will have definitions both as ordinary and clause-ending nouns, so try not to get confused.  And of course it's subjective what counts as a “special meaning,” so a few of them you may feel are just words that often get used to end clauses but still mean the same thing.


事 koto


Literally means “thing,” “fact” or “matter.”  As a clause ender it may also mean “the act of _ing,” “things which _” or “instances/occurrences of _.”


借金を持つことは変更してない The fact that I have a debt is not changing.

大統領になることに苦労はある There are hardships in (the act of) becoming president.

知っていることが多すぎて怖い The things that I know are too many, and I'm afraid.

試験で満点をとったことはない There is no instance of me getting/I have never gotten a perfect score on a test.

Also, this technically isn't relevant, but のこと is effectively an emphatic を to be used after an animate object or when discussing emotions.


癖 kuse


Literally “habit.”  When followed by に it's effectively the same as 事 koto except it implies criticism or blame (often with anger).  Otherwise, treat it like an ordinary noun.


あなたも落ちたくせになんで私を責めるの You failed too, why are you blaming me?

何も知らないくせに俺の有罪を決めるな Don't decide if I'm guilty when you don't know anything.


物 or 者 mono


Literally “thing” or “person” depending on the kanji.  May be either if in kana.  Often overlaps with 事 koto.


この事件に関するものを全部隠さないと We must hide all things/people which relate to this incident.

信教を持つものだけに救済ある Salvation exists only for persons who have faith.

Can also be colloquially shortened to もん, and used as a feminine gobi much like よ in short or long form.


側 gawa


Literally “side” (of a debate or issue) and is effectively the collective noun for 者 mono, meaning it refers to a group or type of people (especially an opinionated one).


噂を信じてる側がうるさくなってる The ones who believe the rumor are getting louder/more vocal.


時 toki, 頃 koro, うち uchi and 度 tabi


All of these literally mean “time.”  As a clause-ender 時 toki usually means “the time when _.”  If followed by に it means “at the time when _” or “at the same time as _.”  頃 koro is the same, but more likely to indicate a long period of time in the past.  うち uchi is more likely to indicate a short period of time near the present.  たび tabi is more likely to indicate one of several similar periods of time.


大学にいた時を思い出すと懐かしい It is nostalgic when I remember (the time) when I was in college.

猫が食らい付いた時に鼠はもう死んでいる When the cat bit into the mouse it was already dead.

小学校にいる頃には問題児だった I was a problem child back when I was in elementary school.

宿題をやってるうちに妹が悪戯をした My little sister played a prank while I was doing homework.

家に帰るたびにほっとした気分になる Each time I/As I return home, I feel relieved.


前 mae and 後 ato


The words themselves are pretty easy: “in front” vs. “behind”, “before” vs. “after” and “previous” vs. “next.”  They also mean “before/after” as clause-ending nouns, but for some reason students seem to misinterpret them a lot, so they're listed here.  Also, I think 後's “nochi” reading is unique to clause-ending.


家を出る前に歯を磨かないとダメ I have to brush my teeth before leaving the house.

授業が終わるあと、公園で散歩したい After class ends, I'd like to take a walk in the park.


積もり tsumori


Literally “intention” or “plan.”  As a clause ender it means “intent to _,” “the thought/belief that _,” “to plan/intend on _” or “to think/believe that _ is the case.”


今年で運転免許を取るつもりです I plan on getting my driver's license this year.

てめらを殺したつもりだった I thought I killed you bastards.


気 ki


Literally “spirit” (see Confusing Vocabulary for its usage in idioms).  Overlaps with tsumori.  As a clause-ender it means “intent/inclination to _,” “to intend on _,” “to be in the mood to/for _” or “to feel like _.”


やっと教授と喋る気になった I finally became inclined to/felt like talking with my professor.

肉を食べる気がない I have no inclination to eat/am not in the mood to eat/don't feel like eating meat.


様 you


Literally “manner” or “appearance.”  As a clause ender, with no adjacent particle,  it means “it seems to be the case that _.” 
If you add certain particles, you get similies.
XようにY means "to Y as if Xing". XようなY means "a Y which seems to be X".
XのようにY means "to Y like an X".    XのようなY means "a Y which seems like an X".
Xように can also mean "in order to X" or "so that X may be so".


ここに車がないようだな It seems there are no cars here.

壊れているように怖い音を発した It emitted a scary sound as if it was broken.

すごく痛いような仕草で説明した He explained it with mannerisms as if it was incredibly painful.

俺はサラリーマンのように働いた I worked like a salaryman.

死んだ魚のような目で見つめた He gazed with eyes like a dead fish.

世界が平和でありますように May the world be at peace. or So that the world may be at peace.


風 fuu


Much the same as 様 you, but it only means “manner,” not “appearance.”  The “as if” and “like a” definitions above apply to 風 fuu as well, but not the others.  As a result, particles are much more optional.


こんな激しい風に終わりたくなかった I didn't want it to end in this violent a manner/so violently.


為 tame


Literally “sake” or “cause.”  As a clause ender, unsurprisingly, means “for the sake of _,” “in order to _” or “as a result of _.”


基地を守るために撤退せねばならん We must retreat for the sake of protecting/in order to protect the base.

この計画の全ては正義のため All of this plan is for (the sake/cause of) justice.

寝過ぎたため、学校に遅れました As a result of/Because I overslept, I was late for school.


甲斐 kai


Literally “effect/result” or “worth/use/avail.”  As a clause ender, it means the latter.


徹夜をする甲斐があったみたい It seems it was worth pulling an all-nighter.


訳 wake


Most literally, “a set of circumstances surrounding an action or situation.”  Sometimes translates to “reason,” “circumstance,” “way,” “meaning,” “situation” and so on.  When in Japanese you say a 訳 wake ある exists or ない doesn't exist, you mean that there is or is not a plausible reason for something to be the case (the latter may be translated “there's no way”).  If there is no explicit verb and the sentence just ends with 訳 wake and maybe a gobi, then it is an explanation of the circumstances surrounding some situation.


電車が遅れてる訳を聞きたくない I don't want to hear the reason why the train is late.

今全員犯人を追ってるわけで誰もいない Everyone's chasing the criminal right now so no one's here.

月まで飛ぶことができるわけがない There's no way you can jump as far as/all the way to the moon.

今月だけは違う仕事をしてるわけだ Just for this month I'm doing a different job.


Incidentally, the phrase というわけだ is a common way of ending an explanation (especially a long one), and the phrase というわけで is a common way of transitioning from one subject to another.


儘 mama


Most literally, a “state of being” or “tendency of progression.”  Most often used in conditional statements to mean “given this state/condition/trend” which often translates to “like this,” “in this condition,” “at this rate,” “if this keeps up” or “with the way _ is/are.”  When it ends a clause, the clause is describing the state.


このままでは公平な大会にならない Given this trend/At this rate it won't be a fair tournament.

扉が開いたまま残したことはない The door has never remained in an opened state/been left open.


程 hodo


Most literally, “the degree or extent to which an action is performed.”  Sometimes translates directly to “degree,” “extent” or “limit.”  As a clause ender it can be a standard noun meaning one of those three things.  It can also be “no more than _” (especially if ending the sentence) or “to the point that _.” Sometimes you'll see a phrase like “[verb]hodo[verb]” which means “[verb] to the extent that [verb]” i.e. “the more _ [verb] the more _ [verb].”


殺すほど傷付けるつもりじゃない I don't plan on hurting him to such a degree that/so much that he dies.

皆が言うほど悪いじゃないよ He's not bad to the extent that/as bad as everyone says.

高校をギリギリ卒業したほどのものだ He's no more than a person who barely graduated high school.

働いすぎるほど狂うと思う I think the more he overworks, the more insane he'll get.


所為 sei and お蔭 okage


所為 sei is literally “cause,” “reason” or “fault.”  Identical to the “as a result of _” meaning of 為 tame, except it implies anger or blame.  Its opposite, お蔭 okage, literally means “assistance” and also has 為 tame's “result” meaning, but implies gratitude instead.


君のせいでこの捜索は無能だった This investigation accomplished nothing because of you.

俺が勝ったのはコーチのおかげだ The fact that I won is because of/thanks to my coach.


振り furi


Literally “pretense,” “appearance” or “behavior.”  As a clause ender it almost always means “pretending to _” or “acting as if _,” and it's often written in katakana when used this way.


でも恥ずかしかったから気付かないフリをした But it was embarrassing so I pretended not to notice.


所 tokoro


Literally “situation,” often “place” and/or “time.”  Can also mean “parts that _,” “the part when _,” “something like _,” “what someone looks/acts like when _ing” or refer to a certain “side” of someone.  Also, the phrase ところで by itself is roughly equivalent to “speaking of which” in English.  Finally, ところ is interchangeable with とこ and どころ.


人がいないところでいたくない I don't want to be in a place where there are no people.

俺が見たところによるといいかもしれない Based on the parts I saw/what I saw it might be good.

事件が終わったところであいつが現れた That guy appeared (at the part) when the incident ended.

あなたの焦っているところも見たい I also want to see what you look/act like when you're under pressure.


場合 ba'ai


Arguably the more figurative version of 所 tokoro, meaning “situation” as in “time” or “place” as well as in “position,” “role” or “standing.”  No weird alternate meanings on this one.


遊んでる場合じゃないって I'm saying this is no time to be playing.

社長の場合でミスは許されない Mistakes are unforgivable in a company president's position.


より yori


Means “more than,” but once again backwards compared to English.  Also, the thing being compared to may be implied, or entirely unnecessary.


猫よりかわいい生き物はないと思う I think there is no animal more cute/cuter than a cat.

より賢い解答を探しています I'm searching for a more intelligent answer.


方 hou


Literally “way” or “option,” but its most common usage by far is in comparisons.  In Japanese, when you say a 方 hou is [adjective], you almost always mean that whatever's describing the 方 hou is more [adjective] than some other thing (which is either implied or specified with yori).  Also, 方 kata after a gerund means “way of _ing” or “how to _.”


撃ち合いで勝つより目立てず方がいい It's more good/better to not stand out than to win in a firefight.

科学には詳しい人の方が好ましい In science, the knowledgeable person is more desirable.

早いほうが勝算高いって言ったよ I said the fast option/doing it faster has a higher chance of success.


筈 hazu and べき beki


You've seen these in Grammatical Vocabulary.  筈 hazu is a clause ender just like anything else in this list, but べき beki is an adjectival verb form which attaches to the infinitive/nonpast form, making it a grammatical oddity.


すぐ帰ってくるはずから待つべきだ Since he should come home soon, we should wait for him.


Miscellaneous Clause-Related Issues


If you've been seriously attempting to read source material up to this point, then most of the subsections below will probably cover things you've more or less figured out on your own (consciously or otherwise). My goal in talking about them is not so much to teach you new things, as it is to give you an idea of how well you intuitively understand Japanese, and get you to start consciously thinking about some of the more subtle and complex issues with Japanese grammar (especially in contrast with English) which you might not have noticed.


Ambiguity and Context


There are two quick things I'd like to show you to get you thinking about some of the more subtle issues that come up once you can understand multi-clause sentences.

First, the subject of the subordinate clause is not necessarily the noun it modifies.  Even the object (if any) doesn't have to be located anywhere in the clause.  Instead it may be in a previous sentence or clause, or it may be the “context” denoted by は.  Since this is only useful or common during a long conversation where the subjects and objects intended gradually become obvious, there's not much point in giving more than one simple example here:


何をあげたらいいと思う? What do you think I should give her?
あげたいもの Something you want to give her.


That example should also make it very clear what I meant at the beginning when I said Japanese relies on context and leaves things implied a lot more than English.


Second, consider this sentence: 脱出するものは支援せよといったから行く。 Obviously, there are two subordinate clauses (if you interpret the quote as a clause).  However, it is not clear whether the second subordinate clause encompasses the first one or not, giving us two valid but very different meanings:


“(those who escape [subject] reinforce) said [so] go” = “We're going because he said to backup anyone who escapes.”


“(those who escape) [subject] (reinforce) said [so] go” = “We're going because the escapees said to back those guys up.”


Notice that, without any context, it is impossible to tell which of these two interpretations is correct.  Fortunately, in context, it will usually be very easy to tell which meaning is intended.


Also, the distinction between は and が is relevant here, since が is more likely to be found inside a subordinate clause and は less so (though if context, tone of voice or anything else imply the contrary, follow those cues instead).  On occasion you may be able to eliminate one or the other option by noticing a particular verb is strictly intransitive.


Clause-Ending か ka


When a subordinate clause ends in か, and is therefore a question, you don't actually need a noun.  In this case the clause represents either the question itself, or its answer.  It can also express a possible reason for something described by the next clause.  Multiple か ka clauses in parallel usually mean “whether/or”


あいつが何を知ってるかを調べなきゃ What does he know? We must investigate.
We must investigate what that guy knows.
建物が古いか新しいかは関係ない Is the building old? New? It's irrelevant.
It's irrelevant whether the building is old or new.

Tenses In Subordinate Clauses


Interpreting a single tense in a single clause is generally pretty simple, since many of the most basic tenses in Japanese can be accurately equated with basic English tenses. However, the way you interpret tenses of verbs in subordinate clauses can be subtly different. Consider the following sentence:


考えるうちに授業が終わった Class ended while I was thinking.


Notice that 考える is in nonpast form, even though the act of thinking takes place in the past. The English tense ("was _ing") makes the past-ness explicit. In my opinion, the trick here is: because the 考える is in the subordinate clause, its tense should be interpreted relative to the tense of the main clause. In this case, the "thinking" occurs in the present relative to when the "ending" happened (which means the "thinking" happened at the same time as the "ending"). Since the "ending" is in past tense, that means the "thinking" also happened in the past. If your brain is operating in Japanese then this might make sense. A different example:


その方程式を暗記したらテストを合格したはず If I'd memorized that equation I probably would've passed that test.


合格した is in simple past form despite the fact that no "passing" ever took place. In English we have to use a "would've" to mark the hypothetical status of this act. No further analysis should be necessary, though it's worth explicitly saying that Japanese completely lacks a direct equivalent to "would" because, as you can see, it simply doesn't need one.


Compound Particles Revisited


Some of the compound particles can be explained a little better once you understand clause-ending nouns. Basically, I think の can be short for 事 koto or もの mono, especially if in a compound particle.

To convince you this works, let's bring in some old examples:



Why is it that you fall asleep right away when reading something?



Looks like another weird thing came.



It's dangerous writing for two months straight, but I wanna write at least one masterpiece.



Is is that pretty?


Similarly, に in a compound particle may loosely resemble 場合 ba'ai or 所 tokoro.



For me, snakes are terrifying.



In science, the knowledgeable person is more desirable.


These are probably the most useful comparisons, but I think most compound particles can be explained (at least in some of their uses) in a similar way if desired.


Hard Examples


And now, just for good measure, some examples of painfully long sentences. Because long multi-clause sentences normally only occur deep in context, natural-sounding examples aren't really possible, so I had fun stretching these out until they got ridiculous.



You say the reason was that even though you intended to finish your homework by the end of the week, expectant friends from the tennis club came, you were unable to refuse, and you played with all of them even though there was only one week remaining?



The fact that we were saved thanks to the idiot is depressing but, since this is no time for talking, the best option for us and our comrades waiting at the base should be to escape faster while they still haven't found us.



When I went to the store I pretended not to be interested in her, but I was spoken to (by her) while picking out apples, and thanks to that I was able to do most of the things I should have and had always planned on doing.



Back when I was living with my grandfather, I often thought about whether it was better, in order to not use too much power, to leave the lights on rather than turn them off.  Thinking about it now, did that have a frightening degree of influence on or was it just incredibly worthwhile for my young self?




That's the end of the main guide. Either review some of the pages you've read, go read a ton more source material, or browse some of the supplementary pages to see if they'll help:
Confusing Vocabulary
Additional Grammar Topics
Dissected Excerpts