Japanese basic grammar topic Performing an action on a relative clause

Acting on relative clauses

In the section about modifying relative clauses, we learned how to treat a relative clause like an adjective to directly modify a noun. We will extend the functionality of relative clauses by learning how to perform an action on a relative clause. Obviously, we cannot simply attach the 「を」 particle to a relative clause because the 「を」 particle only applies to noun phrases. We need something to encapsulate the relative clause into a unit that we can perform actions on. This is done by making a quoted phrase.

While in English, you can just add quotes and a comma to make a quotation, Japanese requires attaching 「と」 at the end of the quote. This is completely different from the 「と」 particle and the 「と」 conditional. Unlike quotes in English, we can perform many different types of actions on the quote besides the standard "he said", "she said", etc. For example, we can perform the action, "to think" or "to hear" to produce phrases such as, "I think [clause]" or "I heard [clause]" This is very important in Japanese because Japanese people seldom affirm definite statements. This also why we will have to eventually cover many other types of grammar to express uncertainty or probability.

The direct quote


1.    言う い・う (u-verb) - to say

2.    聞く き・く (u-verb) - to ask; to listen

3.    叫ぶ さけ・ぶ (u-verb) - to scream

4.    呼ぶ よ・ぶ (u-verb) - to call

5.    呟く つぶや・く (u-verb) - to mutter

6.    寒い さむ・い (i-adj) - cold

7.    今日 きょう - today

8.    授業 じゅ・ぎょう - class

9.    先生 せん・せい - teacher

10.  田中 た・なか - Tanaka (last name)

We'll learn the simplest type of quoted phrase, which is the direct quote. Basically, you are directly quoting something that was said. This is done by simply enclosing the statement in quotes, adding 「と」 and then inserting the appropriate verb. The most common verbs associated with a direct quote would be 言う and 聞く but you may use any verbs related to direct quotation such as: 叫ぶ, 呼ぶ, 呟く, etc. This type of quotation is often used for dialogue in novels and other narrative works.


1.    アリスが寒い」と言った
Alice said, "Cold".

2.    今日は授業がない」と先生から聞いたんだけど
It is that I heard from the teacher, "There is no class today."

The verb does not need to be directly connected to the relative clause. As long as the verb that applies to the relative clause comes before any other verb, you can have any number of adjectives, adverbs or nouns in between.

·         寒い」とアリスが田中に言った
"Cold," Alice said to Tanaka.

The interpreted quote


1.    先生 せん・せい - teacher

2.    今日 きょう - today

3.    授業 じゅ・ぎょう - class

4.    聞く き・く (u-verb) - to ask; to listen

5.    これ - this

6.    日本語 に・ほん・ご - Japanese (language)

7.    なに/なん - what

8.    言う い・う (u-verb) - to say

9.    わたし - me; myself; I

10.  カレ - curry

11.  食べる た・べる (ru-verb) - to eat

12.  思う おも・う (u-verb) - to think

13.  時間 じ・かん - time

14.  いま - now

15.  どこ - where

16.  行く い・く (u-verb) - to go

17.  考える かんが・える (ru-verb) - to think

18.  かれ - he; boyfriend

19.  高校生 こう・こう・せい - high school student

20.  信じる しん・じる (ru-verb) - to believe

The second type of quote is the quote along the lines of what someone actually said. It's not a word-for-word quote. Since this is not a direct quote, no quotations are needed. You can also express thoughts as an interpreted quote as well. By using this and the verb 思う you can say you think that something is so-and-so. You will hear Japanese people use this all the time. You can also use the verb 考える when you are considering something.


1.    先生から今日は授業がないと聞いたんだけど
I heard from the teacher that there is no class today.

2.    これは、日本語で何と言いますか
What do you call this in Japanese? (lit: About this, what do you say in Japanese?)

3.    私は、アリスと言います
I am called Alice. (lit: As for me, you say Alice.)

In an interpreted quote, the meaning of 言う may change as you see in examples 2 and 3. Actually, as you can see from the literal translation, the meaning remains the same in Japanese but changes only when translated to normal English. (We'll learn more about various ways to use いう in the next lesson.)

Here are some examples of thoughts being used as quoted relative clauses. In example 2 below, the question marker is used with the volitional to insert an embedded question.

1.    カレーを食べようと思ったけど、食べる時間がなかった
I thought about setting out to eat curry but I didn't have time to eat.

2.    今、どこに行こうかと考えている
Now, I'm considering where to set out to go.

Unlike the direct quotation, which you can just copy as is, if the quoted relative clause is a state-of-being for a noun or na-adjective, you have to explicitly include the declarative 「だ」 to show this.

1.    彼は、これは何だと言いましたか
What did he say this 

2.    彼は高校生だと聞いたけど、信じられない
I heard that he 
is a high school student but I can't believe it.

Notice how 「だ」 was added to explicitly declare the state-of-being that is highlighted in the English translation. You can really see how important the 「だ」 is here by comparing the following two sentences.

·         これは何だと言いましたか
What did (he) say this 

·         言いましたか
What did (he) say?

Using って as a casual version of 「と」


1.    智子 とも・こ - Tomoko (first name)

2.    来年 らい・ねん - next year

3.    海外 かい・がい - overseas

4.    もう - already

5.    お金 お・かね - money

6.    ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)

7.    本当 ほん・とう - real

8.    明日 あした - tomorrow

9.    あめ - rain

10.  降る ふ・る(u-verb) - to precipitate

11.  すごい (i-adj) - to a great extent

12.  いい (i-adj) - good

13.  ひと - person

You may be surprised to hear that there is a shorter and casual version of the quoted relative clause since it's already only one hiragana character, 「と」. However, the important point here is that by using this casual shortcut, you can drop the rest of the sentence and hope your audience can understand everything from context.


1.    智子は来年、海外に行くんだって
Tomoko said that she's going overseas next year.

2.    もうお金がないって
I already told you I have no money.

3.    え?何だって
Huh? What did you say?

4.    今、時間がないって聞いたんだけど、本当
I heard you don't have time now, is that true?

5.    今、時間がないって、本当
You don't have time now (I heard), is that true?

って can also be used to talk about practically anything, not just to quote something that was said. You can hear って being used just about everywhere in casual speech. Most of the time it is used in place of the 「は」 particle to simply bring up a topic.

1.    明日って、雨が降るんだって
About tomorrow, I hear that it's going to rain.

2.    アリスって、すごくいい人でしょ
About Alice, she's a very good person, right?

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Basic grammar

  • 1 :Addressing People
  • 2 :Adjective Practice Exercises
  • 3 :Adjectives
  • 4 :Advanced proximity of actions
  • 5 :Advanced Topics
  • 6 :Advanced Volitional
  • 7 :Adverbs and Sentence-ending particles
  • 8 :Basic Grammar
  • 9 :Casual Patterns and Slang
  • 10 :Causative and Passive Verbs
  • 11 :Compound Sentences
  • 12 :Conditionals
  • 13 :Covered by something
  • 14 :Defining and Describing
  • 15 :Desire and Suggestions
  • 16 :Essential Grammar
  • 17 :Expressing amounts
  • 18 :Expressing must or have to
  • 19 :Expressing State-of-Being
  • 20 :Expressing the minimum expectation
  • 21 :Expressing time-specific actions
  • 22 :Expressing various levels of certainty
  • 23 :Formal expressions of non-feasibility
  • 24 :Formal Expressions
  • 25 :Giving and Receiving
  • 26 :Hiragana
  • 27 :Honorific and Humble Forms
  • 28 :Hypothesizing and Concluding
  • 29 :Introduction to Particles
  • 30 :Introduction
  • 31 :Kanji
  • 32 :Katakana
  • 33 :Leaving something the way it is
  • 34 :Making requests
  • 35 :More negative verbs
  • 36 :Negative Verb Practice Exercises
  • 37 :Negative Verbs
  • 38 :Noun-related Particles
  • 39 :Numbers and Counting
  • 40 :Other Grammar
  • 41 :Other uses of the te-form
  • 42 :Particles used with verbs
  • 43 :Past Tense
  • 44 :Past Verb Practice Exercises
  • 45 :Performing an action on a relative clause
  • 46 :Polite Form and Verb Stems
  • 47 :Potential Form
  • 48 :Relative Clauses and Sentence Order
  • 49 :Review and more sentence-ending particles
  • 50 :Saying something is easy or difficult to do
  • 51 :Showing signs of something
  • 52 :Special expressions with generic nouns
  • 53 :Special Expressions
  • 54 :Tendencies
  • 55 :The Question Marker
  • 56 :The Writing System
  • 57 :Things that happen unintentionally
  • 58 :Things that should be a certain way
  • 59 :Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
  • 60 :Trying something out or attempting to do something
  • 61 :Using suru and naru with the ni particle
  • 62 :Using yoru for comparisons and other functions
  • 63 :Various ways to express similarity and hearsay
  • 64 :Verb Basics
  • 65 :Verb Practice Exercises