On 好き acting as an adjective in "好きな人" but as a de facto verb in "〇〇が好きだ"

Qantes

New Member
Spanish
Hello!

When I started studying Japanese I remember being confused by a lot of people and guides (even prominent ones) saying が always marked the subject of a sentence and that words like 好き, verbs ending in たい, 欲しい, etc, were always adjectives. Since I wanted to use the language as closely as possible to how Japanese people themselves did I took these "facts" at face value which meant in sentences like コーヒーが好きだ, 水が飲みたい and 英語が話せる, I started to think like "Coffee is liked", "Water is drink-wanted" and "English is speak-able" as surely that's how JP people too in their heads thought no matter how strange it was.

Unsurprisingly that made the language very WEIRD which eventually prompted me to look at native Japanese dictionaries and what native people thought about the topic and thanks god I got to learn that when it comes to likes and dislikes, desires and hopes, ability, etc, が marked the object of the sentence and not the subject. That made everything much easier and natural to interpret and think in. Further that was also confirmed by free papers like these and these which appear first page of a google search on the topic and also a very in depth 1973 structural analysis of the language by Harvard and Tokyo University linguist Susumu Kuno (久野 暲) which I can't post because it is paywalled.

Which leads to the following, since in a sentence like "花子が犬が好きだ", (not using は for clarity) the first が marks the subject and the second marks the object, the sentence can be interpreted only in two ways. Either "Hanako likes dogs" or "Hanako is fond of dogs". The issue on which one it is can be easily be solved by asking ourselves whether "花子が犬が好きだ has an agent in it or not. In linguistics an "agent" (in Japanese called 動作主) is the person or thing that performs the action in a sentence. For example in "The dog eats the bone", "the dog" is both the subject and agent of the sentence. In its passive form "The bone is eaten by the dog" "The bone" is the subject but "the dog" is the agent. All English speakers know intuitively that in a sentence like "All Americans like that movie" "All Americans" is the subject and agent and that its passive form is "That movie is liked by all Americans". Similar all English speakers know intuitively that in a sentence like "All Americans are fond of that movie" there is a subject but no agent and that as such you can not turn it into the passive form and say "That movie is fonded of by all Americans".

I tried to find specific discussions regarding this topic in Japanese in the last two days and on whether that sentence has an agent or not but couldn't find much. I did find though through Google Images this old presentation slide from 2007 by Tokyo University where on page 4 on the sentence "太郎は花子が好きだ "太郎" is marked as the 動作主 (agent) of the sentence. Which would mean the exact interpretation of "花子が犬が好きだ" is "Hanako likes dogs" and not "Hanako is fond of dogs". Further I've also seen other slides and comments by natives saying that when translating English to Japanese for "to like" to use "好きだ" and for its passive form "is liked" to use 好かれる from "好く". Which makes sense. Even if Japanese people used "好き" as a de facto verb in 〇〇が好き constructions with the same meaning as "to like" in English, de jure grammatically the word is constrained as an adjective, so they would be forced to use "好く" to coniugate and make the passive form.

Considering all of that this is where I would like to know how natives here feel about a sentence like 俺が犬が好きだ. From the three sentences below, one with an agent, one possibly (I don't know but pretty sure it does) and the other definitely without, which ones feel closer in your head to "俺が犬が好き"? Or if you were to be given a test and the teacher asked you about whether 俺が犬が好き has an agent in it or not what would you choose?

The three sentences (multiple choice):

1) "私が卵を買った" "I bought eggs" which has an agent and in its passive form becomes "卵が私に買われた"

2) "私が犬が欲しい - "I want/desire a dog", which in English has an agent and in its passive form becomes "The dog is desired/wanted by me" or since that is rarely used in English as in, "A market-based rethink is desired by all sides"

3) "私が兄弟がいる - "I have brothers", which has no agents and no passive form in both Japanese and English

I'm also very curious about this question because in my own native language Spanish the term for "to like" is "gustar" and syntactically speaking in a sentence like "Maria me gusta" Maria is supposed to be the subject with a literal translation to English being "Maria pleases me". In reality though this is an exception to the rule and "Maria" here is the object of my "liking", which is also why most natives intuitively say it as "me gusta Maria" (to like). Compare that to "Maria me quiere" "Maria loves me". Same construction as "Maria me gusta" but in this case Maria is definitely the actual subject and I'm the object of the sentence. Similarly, "me gusta" despite having the same meaning as "I like" can't be used in the passive form because of grammar constraints so in Spanish you are forced to use phrases like "es querido", "es apreciado", "es de agrado/gusto" depending on the context to mean the exact same as English's "is liked" and such. Regardless though, could someone native please answer the question above? That Tokyo University slide from 2007 says so (has an agent) but how do you feel about it? Thanks in advance!
 
Last edited:
  • SoLaTiDoberman

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    I don't know well what is discussed on here, but 私が犬が欲しい and 私が兄弟がいる are obviously funny and wrong as Japanese in ordinary situations.
    They should be 私は犬が欲しい and 私は兄弟がいる or 私には兄弟がいる.
    I don't know about Japanese grammar, so I don't answer to your questions here.
    But making unnatural sentences in order to explain a certain grammatical explanation cannot work because they are just unnatural and wrong. And as a native Japanese speaker, I cannot agree with your logic because of the unnaturalness.
    Maybe a non-native Japanese speaker of an advanced level can answer to your question(s).
     

    Qantes

    New Member
    Spanish
    Right, I know it is unnatural but I said at the start of the third paragraph that I was going to use が and not は for clarity's sake because the second is a topic marker and many times it doesn't mark the subject of a sentence as in the infamous 私はウナギです which means "For me, it is (an) eel" not "I'm an eel". Its actual subject was being omitted. Double が makes it more clear who's the subject and who's the object (although が can also have the role of introductory particle as in "太郎がお父さんが死んだ, Taro — (his) father died/has died). Susumu Kuno used this double が construction routinely in a 2005 and past papers explaining the object marker が to not confuse readers so I thought of doing the same. You can use は anyway
    if you want since in all these 3 sentences the topic and subject are the same. As for the grammar, I'm just asking whether you would identify a sentence like 俺が犬が好き (or 俺は犬が好き) as having an agent in it or not. Compare 私が兄弟がいる (私には兄弟がいる) to 私が卵を買った (私は卵を買った), the first has no agent, feels like so and additionally can't be turned into the passive form while the later does have an agent, feels like so, and can be turned passive as in 卵が私に買われた with 私に being the agent but not the subject. Is it more clear now? You can search in Google for 動作主 if you would like further details in Japanese on what is the agent of a sentence.
     
    Last edited:

    gengo

    Senior Member
    American English
    ...I was going to use が and not は for clarity's sake because the second is a topic marker and many times it doesn't mark the subject of a sentence as in the infamous 私はウナギです which means "For me, it is (an) eel" not "I'm an eel". Its actual subject was being omitted.

    I understand what you mean, but in that sentence I don't think the subject is omitted. It is clearly 私, and we can think of it as an abbreviation of 私はウナギを食べたいです / ウナギにします.

    Japanese speakers often have trouble with this when learning English. I remember a friend who went to a coffee shop with me, and he tried to impress the waiter by ordering in English, saying "I am coffee" (pronounced as アイヤムコーヒー). Obviously, he was trying to say "俺はコーヒー." However, there again, 俺 is the subject of the full sentence 俺はコーヒーにする.

    As for your examples, 俺は犬が好き is the normal form. We can use が for a subject for the sake of emphasis, as in 俺が言ったんだよ、彼じゃなくて。 That usage means "I, and nobody else." (Fui yo, el que lo dijo.)

    Personally, I'm not interested in the minutia of grammar, about whether or not there is an agent in sentences such as 花子は犬が好きです. When natives learn Japanese as children, they don't think about these things, and simply copy what they hear other people saying, and that's what I try to do.
     

    Qantes

    New Member
    Spanish
    Definitely agree gengo about not being interested too in the minutia of grammar, it literally is a rabbit hole with no end but in this case I don't think this specific issue can be considered a minutia. Getting wrong the usage of entire word classes is a pretty egregious mistake. Thinking that things like が always mark the subject of a sentence will ruin your understanding of the language pretty hard. Treating 好きだ、嫌いだ、〇〇欲しい、たい ending verbs, the potential form of verbs, etc, as adjectives that are part of a copular sentence while natives are using these words as de facto verbs will make the language very very weird to you. I take grammar advice at face value, if someone tells me that something is always an adjective I will only be making "to be" sentences with these words, no matter how unnatural and strange it is.

    Honestly, on this issue, from the papers linked above on usage and the lower half of this 2008 post from Flaminius, because of the fact things like 誰を好き are allowed in Japanese and because I've read posts from natives saying that "好きだ" has a verb-like feeling to it I'm thinking these sentences have an agent in Japanese too like in English. I would be very very surprised if Japanese people were to be using the を particle in copular sentences which by their own very nature don't have agents in them. So the interpretation that 〇〇が好きだ means "I like" and not "I'm fond of" seems to be the correct one here which would be also in line with that old 2007 UTokyo slide presentation marking 太郎 as the 動作主. That aside, on 私はウナギです I was thinking of it in the context of someone making an order as in "For me, it (the order) is eels". There 私 would be the topic but not the subject. 私はウナギを食べたいです has pretty much the same meaning though, either way it is pretty clear person A wants X. Also on your friend saying "I am coffee", if the goal was to impress the waiter that was definitely achieved. We can have it both ways right?
     
    Last edited:

    graysesame

    Senior Member
    Taiwanese Mandarin
    Disclaimer: I am not an expert in linguistics. I learn it for fun in my leisure time.

    カギが見つかった: カギ is the subject; みつかった is the predicate; the agent is not specified. It is unusual to introduce the agent with the verb みつかる.
    犬が好きだ: 犬 is the subject; 好きだ is the predicate; the agent is "me" by default but can be someone else. The natural way to introduce the agent is to use は.
    It is not a good idea to think of 犬 as the object in the sentence 犬が好きだ in my opinion, though it turns out to be the object in the English translation "(someone) likes dogs."
    same for 水が飲みたい and 英語が話せる.
     

    Qantes

    New Member
    Spanish
    The first が marks the subject in sentence 1 as the predicate doesn't concern desire/hope, likes/dislikes, ability, potential, etc, on the second sentence which does, が marks the object. You can see the Japanese definition for が here or here.

    From Kuno 1973, example list of predicates that can accept objects (marked usually by が):
    • Competence: 上手、苦手、下手、得意、上手い、できる
    • Feeling: 好き、嫌い、欲しい、怖い
    • Nonintentional perception: 分かる、聞こえる、見える
    • Possession and need: ある (have)、要る
     

    graysesame

    Senior Member
    Taiwanese Mandarin
    on the second sentence which does, が marks the object.
    I don't think so.
    From Kuno 1973, example list of predicates that can accept objects (marked usually by が):
    • Competence: 上手、苦手、下手、得意、上手い、できる
    • Feeling: 好き、嫌い、欲しい、怖い
    • Nonintentional perception: 分かる、聞こえる、見える
    • Possession and need: ある (have)、要る
    「説明が要る」の「説明」は目的語でなく主語であるとKuno 1973に反論します。

    Edit: I find out that "oblique subject" has to be in a case other than the nominative (marked by が) so maybe it is true that the subject is in dative (marked by に as opposed to nominative が) and the object is in nominative (marked by が as opposed to を) in certain constructions. I have to admit that I am not familiar with the concept and I don't know why.
     
    Last edited:

    Qantes

    New Member
    Spanish
    Languages routinely ignore/flaunt out formal rules whenever they want because it is a natural thing not created in a laboratory. Natives don't pay attention to following grammar because in the first place most don't even know what all its rules are, they have just spent their whole lives surrounded by it and know intuitively what sounds right and what doesn't. It's why linguists don't bother with prescribing grammar, they have no authority to decide usage so they just describe it, with all its quirks and leave it at that. How the original nominative case ended up in the role of marking objects too is anyone's guess but considering the evidence not much we can do. If you know how to access the paper below about this you can read it, the first part is understandable enough to everyone the second half not so much unless you have a degree but overall it is useful. Also note its formatting is a bit wacked in certain parts for some reason (probably being originally in print).
    Nominative Object
     
    Last edited:
    Top