Monday, September 30, 2019


In Japanese, dislocation happens when the subject or object, or other argument, comes after the verb, at the very end of the sentence, even though, normally, they're supposed to come before the verb.

More generally, in grammar, dislocation is when part of a clause, a constituent, shows up outside of that clause. In Japanese, clauses often end at the verb, so anything after that verb is outside of the clause.

Manga: Dr. Stone, ドクターストーン (Chapter 1, Stone World)


Since the grammar of dislocation is kind of complicated and not actually interesting, let's start by seeing some examples of how it works.

Below, we have some dislocated sentences and their canonical counterparts

  • nezumi wo tabeta yo, neko ga
    Ate the rat, the cat [did].
    • neko ga nezumi wo tabeta
      The cat ate the rat.
  • kirei da, tsuki ga
    Is pretty, the moon.
    • tsuki ga kirei da
      The moon is pretty.
  • baka ka omae?
    Are stupid, you?
    • omae baka ka?
      Are you stupid?
    • omae wa baka ka?
      (same meaning.)
  • dare da, teeme!
    Are who, you?!
    • temee wa dare da!
      Who are you?!
  • oishii, kore wa
    Is tasty, this.
    • kore wa oishii
      This is tasty.
  • kono saki ni ii kyuuri supotto ga aru-n-da yo.
    suki daro? kyuuri.

    There's a good cucumber spot [ahead].
    [You] like, don't you? Cucumbers.
    • kyuuri ga suki daro?
      [You] like cucumbers, don't you?
    • Sarazanmai さらざんまい, Episode 6.
Manga: Kimetsu no Yaiba 鬼滅の刃 (Chapter 8, 兄ちゃん)
  • tabun sugu shinimasu yo, ore wa
    • ore wa tabun sugu shinimasu yo
      I'll probably die immediately.
Manga: Dr. Stone, ドクターストーン (Chapter 1, Stone World)
  • sosoru ze, kore wa!
    • kore wa sosoru ze
      This excites [me].
    • In the sense of to excite, to stimulate, to stir up, one's curiosity, interest, or other feeling.
    • kore wa kyoumi wo sosoru
      This excites [my] interest.
鬼じゃないかその女は しかも醜女だ しこめ・・・しこめ?見にくいってことか?誰が? 禰豆子 醜女のはずないだろう!!よく見てみろこの顔立ちを 街でも評判の美人だったぞ禰豆子は
Manga: Kimetsu no Yaiba 鬼滅の刃 (Chapter 15, 医師の見解)
  • Context: Tanjirou 炭治郎 is a good big brother who protects his little sister, Nezuko 禰豆子.
  • oni janai ka, sono onna wa
    • sono onna wa oni janai ka
      Isn't that woman an oni?
    • oni
      A kind of demon in Japanese folklore.
  • shikamo shikome da
    On top of that, [she] is a shikome.
  • shikome... shikome?
  • minikui tte koto ka?
    [It means] ugly?
    • shikome 醜女 is spelled like minikui onna 醜い女, "ugly woman." It's also a name of an ugly female demon in Japanese folklore.
  • dare ga?
    • This isn't a dislocation. It's an omission: who [is he saying that is ugly]? You can tell it's not a dislocation by the fact there's no verb for "to say" in this context, so it's omitted, not dislocated.
  • Nezuko
    (Tanjirou realizes this guy is calling his little sister ugly.)
    • The ne of Nezuko should be 礻爾, not 禰, but 礻爾 is an archaic kanji. There's no way to type it. And in modern Japanese you just use 禰 instead.
  • shikome no hazu nai darou!!
    There's no way [she's] ugly, [you know]!!
  • yoku mite-miro, kono kao-dachi wo
    (dislocation, again.)
    • kono kao-dachi wo yoku mite-miro
      Try taking a good look at [her] face.
    • kao-dachi
      Facial features.
  • machi demo hyouban no bijin datta zo, Nezuko wa
    (dislocation, for the third time in the same page.)
    • Nezuko wa machi demo hyouban no bijin datta zo
      [Even in my hometown], [everybody agreed that] Nezuko was [a beautiful girl].
    • hyouban
      The reputation of something, according to critics, reviewers. A restaurant that's known for being is said to have a good hyouban, or a high hyouban, it's thought highly of.
    • hyouban no bijin datta
      Was the reputation of beautiful-person.
      Was agreed (by most people) to be a beautiful-person.
      Was known to be a beautiful-person.
    • machi de 街で
      In the town. This is a scoping de で particle. In this case, Tanjirou is probably talking about the town he lived at, his hometown.
爺さんあんたが作ったのか? この年季もんのご立派な盾 鉄の道具も染料もロクにねえ環境でよ
Manga: Dr. Stone, ドクターストーン (Chapter 29, Senku's Lab)
  • jiisan anta ga tsukutta no ka?
    Old-man, did you make it?
  • kono nenki mon no go-rippa na tate
    This outstanding, seasoned shield.
    • mon もん
      mono もの
    • nenki 年季
      Seasoned. In the sense of accustomed, well-used, well-worn. Because the shield has been used for a good while.
  • tetsu no dougu mo senryou mo roku ni nee kankyou de yo
    In an environment with practically no iron tools or dyes.
  • This whole panel contains only one sentence. The second line is headed by the word tate 盾, "shield," while the third is headed by a marked kankyou 環境, "environment." These two things are arguments for the verb tsukutta 作った, "made," from the first line.
  • anta ga kono tate wo kono kankyou de tsukutta no ka?
    You made this shield in this environment?


Syntactically, dislocation can happen in two ways, depending on the direction:

  1. Left dislocation.
    Japanese, we're learning it.
    Same as: we're learning Japanese.
  2. Right dislocation.
    They're learning Japanese, John and Mary.
    Same as: John and Mary are learning Japanese.

Besides the terms above, there are other terms that refer to similar, but different things, like preposing, postposing, scrambling, movement, and so on.

  • What are Right-dislocation Sentences?
    Right-dislocation sentences are those in which pre-predicate elements are dislocated (i.e., postposed) to their predicate.(Nakagawa, N., Asao, Y. and Nagaya, N., 2008:1)

This article is only about right-dislocation in Japanese. Because it's the very obvious, very blatant, and easily observable one.

Statistically, sentences pretty much always end in a verb, copula or adjective, plus any sentence-ending particles in Japanese. So every time that's not the case, we can tell: yep, this is dislocated, alright. Go see a doctor.

Left-dislocation probably exists in Japanese. At very least, its been proposed that topicalization is a form of left-dislocation in Japanese, involving null pronouns and complicated stuff like that.(Murasugi, 1991, as cited in Larson, R.K. and Yamakido, H., 2003:8)

Dislocated Particles

In Japanese phrases are assigned functions in a sentence by the particles that mark them.

You only know something is the subject or the object, for example, if the ga が particle or the wo を particle is marking it. Or if the wa は particle is marking it as the topic.

Consequently, phrases dislocated to the end of the sentence must be dislocated glued to the particles that mark them. Observe:

  • neko ga nezumi wo tabeta-n-da!
    The cat ate the rat!

If we were to move the phrase nezumi to the end, we'd end up with this:

  • *neko ga wo tabeta-n-da! nezumi

If we only move nezumi, then the particle wo を ends up marking the particle ga が, and that doesn't make any sense, so the phrase is grammatically wrong. Instead, the correct way to dislocate it would be like this:

  • neko ga tabeta-n-da! nezumi wo!
    The cat ate! The rat!

In the sentence above, nezumi is marked as the object of the clause headed by the verb taberu 食べる, "to eat." However, nezumi is uttered after the verb, so it's outside of the clause it's constituent of. That's called dislocation.

By the way, the -n-da んだ I used above isn't necessary for dislocation. I only used it in those examples because, without it, the sentences could be interpreted as a relative clause instead. See: {neko ga tabeta} nezumi, "the rat [that] {the cat ate}."


There's something very similar to dislocation that's called scrambling. The difference between scrambling and dislocation is basically that scrambling happens within the clause, while dislocation does not.

More specifically, scrambling assumes there's a standard word order, and sentences that stray from that order are said to be "scrambled."

In Japanese, the standard word order is Subject-Object-Verb. Therefore, a sentence in the Object-Subject-Verb, for example, would be considered to have been scrambled.(Harada, 1977, and Saito 1985, among others, as cited in, Murasugi, K. and Kawamura, T., 2005:131–132)

  • nezumi wo neko ga tabeta-n-da!
    That rat the cat ate!
    • This is scrambling.
  • nezumi wo tabeta-n-da! neko ga!
    Ate the rat! The cat [did]!
    • This is dislocation.

Both scrambling and dislocation have effects on the words in non-standard order, but, technically, they're different things.


As you may have noticed already, dislocated sentences have literally the same meaning as their normal counterparts. So what's the point of using dislocation at all? Or rather, why not just say every single sentence with a dislocation?

What's the difference between a dislocated sentence and a normal one?

It seems it's a bit complicated, and there's no clear cut rule. However, there are some generalizations that do kind of apply most of the time, and I'll list them here.

First, generally, dislocation is used for clarification. Its function is often said to be for "after-thoughts," but those are after-thoughts that clarify the matrix clause, so it's clarification.

This clarification can be divided in two ways: postposing elements recoverable from context, that the speaker thinks the listener is aware of, so they're omittable, and postposing elements that are physically present.(Kuno, 1978, as cited in Nakagawa, N., Asao, Y. and Nagaya, N., 2008:3)

As it turns out, those are the same kinds of things that can be referred to using demonstrative pronouns, like the kosoado kotoba こそあど言葉, and personal pronouns. Consequently, most dislocations will end up looking like this:

  • ____, kore wa
    (Is something), this [thing].
  • ____, koko wa
    (Is something), this place.
  • ____, watashi wa
    (Am something), I.
  • ____, kare wa
    (Is something), he.
  • And so on.

To have a better idea, let's recall what was dislocated in the examples at the start of the article:

  • _____, ore wa
    First person pronoun.
  • ____, kore wa
    Demonstrative pronoun.
  • ____, sono onna wa
    Demonstrative pronoun.
    Plus the guy is even pointing at her, it's pretty obvious who he's talking about.
  • ____, kono kao-dachi wo
    Demonstrative pronoun.
    Plus Tanjirou is even pointing at her.
  • ____, Nezuko wa
    Proper noun.
    Again, Tajirou is literally pointing at her, it's pretty obvious he's talking about her, even if he didn't say her name.
  • ____, kono [...] tate
    Demonstrative pronoun.
  • The only exception was referring to the "environment" where the shield was made. However, this, too, is omittable. That's because you simply replaced "environment without iron tools, etc." by "in this environment."

As you can see above, most of the time the dislocation will have a pronoun, because it's something recoverable from context. Even when it doesn't have a pronoun, it's usually clarifying something pretty obvious in the conversation.

For example:

にしてもアスナ足速いよねー 悪かったわね 私はコレやのに 体力バカで
Manga: Mahou Sensei Negima! 魔法先生ネギま! (Chapter 1, お子ちゃま先生は魔法使い!)
  • Context: a tsundere and her friend run to school.
  • ni shitemo Asuna
    [That said,] Asuna,
  • ashi hayai yo nee
    1. [Your] legs are fast. (literally.)
    2. You [run] fast.
  • watashi kore ya no ni
    Even though [for] me, [I] have this.
    • This = roller-skates. She's running at the same speed the other is rollerskating.
  • warukatta wa ne
    [Well, I'm sorry.]
    • This is sarcasm.
  • tairyoku baka de
    For being a physical-strength baka.
    • baka バカ
      Sometimes someone that's stupidly something. In this case, someone who has a lot of stamina, endurance, agility, strength, etc.
  • The dislocation here is:
    • {tairyoku baka de} warukatta
      [I'm sorry for] being a physical-strength baka.
    • In this case, the de で is the te-form of the da だ copula, and therefore a conjunction. This means subordinate clauses can be dislocated entirely, too.

Even though there's no pronoun in the dislocated clause above, the speaker is merely clarifying something that's already pretty obvious, and possibly known by the listener.

She's saying she's sorry, not explicitly for "running fast," but for having the physical-strength that allows her to run fast, which is basically the same thing.

One important point is that, once again generally, the focus can't be dislocated in Japanese.(Takami 1995a: 136, as cited in Nakagawa, N., Asao, Y. and Nagaya, N., 2008:5)

If you don't know what focus is, it's basically the opposite of the topic. It's new information, that the listener can't predict, as opposed to old information.

If you ask someone something, you're seeking new information, so the information asked is the focus.

  • ichiban oishii no wa dore desu ka?
    The one most delicious is which one?
    • ichiban oishii no wa - topic.
    • dore - focus.
  • dore ga ichiban oishii desu ka?
    Which one is most delicious?
    • dore ga - focus.
    • ichiban oishii - topic.
  • *ichiban oishii desu ka, dore ga?
    • You can't dislocate the focus dore ga.

Similarly, the answer to somebody's question is the focus, too:

  • Tarou wa Hanako ni nani wo katte-ageta no?
    What did Tarou buy for Hanako?
  • #Tarou wa Hanako ni katte-yatta yo, juu-karatto no daiya no yubiwa wo
    Tarou bought for Hanako, a ring of diamond of ten carats.
    • The information "a ring of diamond of ten carats" is the focus of this sentence, since it's the information that was asked in the previous sentence, and, therefore, shouldn't be dislocated.

Basically, this means that interrogative pronouns can't be dislocated in Japanese. At least no in their bare forms.

You can't say dore どれ, "which," in dislocated position, because it's an interrogation, and therefore focus, but you can say dore-mo どれも, for example, because it means "whichever" instead, and isn't necessarily the focus.

  • oishii yo! dore-mo!
    Is delicious! Whichever!
    Whichever is delicious!
    Any of them is delicious!
    Every single one of them is delicious!
    • Note: just because dore-mo isn't "necessarily" the focus, that doesn't mean it can't be the focus.
    • Once again, if someone asks you "which one is delicious," then "every one," which answers that question, would be the focus in the answer. Consequently, dore-mo would be the focus, and you shouldn't dislocate it.
    • On the other hand, if someone asked you "are they delicious?" Then oishii is the focus, and you can dislocate dore-mo like the sentence above.

Once again, these are generalizations. Exceptions exist.

For example, if a sentence has multiple focus elements, one of the foci can be dislocated.(Nakagawa, N., Asao, Y. and Nagaya, N., 2008:6)

  • Tanaka-san tte omiyage ni nani wo katta no? dare ni?
    What souvenirs did Tanaka-san buy? For whom?
  • osake wo katta rashii yo, okusan ni
    [I heard that] [he] bought sake, for his wife.

In the sentences above, the dative (ni-marked) foci dare ni and okusan ni are dislocated, but the object foci nani wo and osake wo aren't dislocated: they remain in the matrix clause.


It's worth noting that not all dislocated sentences feature a pause.

That is, you may have noticed that most sentences in this article feature some sort of punctuation before the dislocated element.

  • miro (pause) kore
    Look at, this.

Upon further inspection, you may have noticed that the manga examples feature no such punctuation. So here comes the question: do they have a pause, or they don't have a pause? And is the pause important?

According to Ono(2006, as cited in Nakagawa, N., Asao, Y. and Nagaya, N., 2008:16), there's type of right-dislocation which doesn't feature a pause, which is emotive.

  • baka ka omae?!
    Are you stupid?!
    • This is said without a pause.

Basically, when the dislocation is an after-thought, when it's a clarification, the speaker said something, and then they realized what they said doesn't fully capture what they wanted to say, so they "add" something else, clarifying what they mean.

Since the speaker takes a moment to realize that, you end up with this pause between the matrix clause and the clarification.

On the other hand, an emotive dislocation doesn't feature a pause. That's because the speaker already planned on postposing the dislocated element before they started uttering the sentence.

  • korosu zo temee
    [I'll] kill you.


Regarding the punctuation, Japanese people, just like people from any other language, aren't really sure about which of these dotty things to use. Some people use a comma, others don't, regardless of whether there's a pause or not.

In dislocated sentences with an exclamation marks and question marks, it's common to see the mark appearing twice, once in the matrix and once in the postposed element.

  • baka ka? omae?
    Is stupid? You?
  • korozu zo! temee!
    [I'll] kill! You!

As you may have noticed, in manga a line break can be used to separate the matrix clause from the dislocated element. This is only acceptable because in manga the speech bubbles are pretty small, so it's normal to just start writing in a new line instead of using a comma.

It's possible that a space can be used to separate them, too, depending on the author.

Written Speech

In general, right-dislocation is only used in Japanese spoken speech, not in written speech. The reason for this has already been mentioned. The two use cases of dislocation are:

  1. Clarification.
  2. Emotion.

When we say "written speech" we aren't talking about text written in manga speech balloons, of course, we're talking about documents, news, reports, business e-mails, and stuff like that.

If someone needs to clarify something in a document, they'll just press backspace, delete the text, and rewrite it in a clearer way. They won't use dislocation.

Similarly, it's unlikely they'll be using the emotive function when formalities require you to write in the least emotionally charged and most professional-sounding way possible.

Dislocated Interrogatives

Perhaps the most ubiquitous and hard to explain instance of dislocation is this:

  • nani kore?
    What is this?

This seemingly innocent two word phrase hides within a very bleak secret: it's grammatically incorrect. Or so anyone with sanity points left remaining would think.

That's because while you can say this:

  • kore nani?
    (same meaning.)

Because it's the same as this with an omitted particle:

  • kore wa nani?
    (same meaning.)

You can't say this:

  • *nani wa kore

Because an interrogative pronoun such as nani 何, "what," can't be the topic of a sentence.

To make matters worse, if you make it the focus by marking it with ga が instead of wa は, then it doesn't even have the same meaning anymore:

  • nani ga kore?
    What [thing] is this? (of all these things.)
    What do you mean by this? (idiomatic meaning.)

And the phrase above simply is not used the way nani kore is used, or with the frequency that nani kore is used.

So what's actually happening?

Basically, a bunch of very, very angering features of the Japanese language have come together to culminate in the hardest-to-explain two word phrase syntax ever concocted by the human brain:

  • kore wa nan-desu ka?
    As for this, what is [it]?
    What is this?
    • The interrogative pronoun is the focus, so it's part of the comment, while kore is the topic.
  • kore wa nani?
    (same meaning.)
  • kore nani?
    (same meaning.)
    • Here, we're omitting a particle. This is possible because Japanese hates you. See: null particle.
  • nan-desu ka, kore wa?
    Is what, this?
    • This is a dislocation.
  • nani, kore wa?
    (same meaning.)
  • nani kore
    (same meaning.)

There you have it. That's how it works.

Some other examples include:

  • nani sore?
    What's that (near you)?
  • nani are?
    What's that (far from us)?
  • nanda korya!
    What's this?!
    • korya nanda
      (same meaning, contraction of...)
    • kore wa nanda?
      (same meaning.)
  • doko da koko?
    Where is this?
    • koko wa doko da?
      (same meaning.)
  • dare da omae?
    Who are you?
    • omae wa dare da
      (same meaning.)
  • nanda koitsu?
    What's [up with] this guy?
    • koitsu wa nanda
      (same meaning.)

This is an instance of the emotive effect mentioned previously. In particular, it's used to express surprise, antipathy, or insult, rather than asking a question.(Ono and Suzuki, 1992: 439-440, as cited in Naruoka, K., 2006:486)

In other words, none of the phrases above are real questions. The speaker doesn't expect an answer for "what is this?" and so on. He probably won't get one, either. They're kind of like "what the...?" in English.

なにこれ・・・・・・? へへへ♡当たってる?
Manga: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure - Part 5: Golden Wind, JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Ougon no Kaze ジョジョの奇妙な冒険 黄金の風 (Chapter 456, 5プラス1)
  • Context: Fugo フーゴ gives Narancia ナランチャ a math question to solve.
  • 16 × 55 = 28.
  • *stares puzzledly.*
  • nani kore......?
    What is this?
  • hehehe♡
  • atatteru?
    [Did I get it right]?

As mentioned previously, nani kore appears to be ungrammatical at first.

  • [A native Japanese speaker has] the knowledge to produce an appropriately ill-formed sentence such as nani-kore? (which translates as "what is this?" but is generally considered to be a grammatically incorrect sentence) rather than an inappropriately well-formed counterpart such as kore-wa nan desu ka? ("What is this?") at a certain moment in her speech as when, for example, shocked by confrontation with something disgusting;(Tsuruta, 1996:117)

In the quote above, we can see that, at least 2 decades ago, nani kore was "generally considered to be a grammatically incorrect sentence."

One reason for this is that, when you use the copula da だ after nani なに, it becomes nanda なんだ, not nani-da なにだ. Similarly, nani-desu なにです is pronounced nandesu なんです.

Manga: Prison School, 監獄学園 (Chapter 168)
  • Context: a girl is conflicted.
  • n? nanda.. kono kimochi wa..
    Hm? What is it.. this feeling..
    • In my chest..??!!
なんだよこれ・・・入墨? えっ 本物か!? うん
Manga: Horimiya ホリミヤ (Chapter 3)
  • nanda yo kore... irezumi?
    What is this... a tattoo?
  • e'? honmono ka!?
    Eh? It's real!?
  • un

The phrase nanda なんだ is easier to recognize as a dislocation because it can easily come before a sentence-ending particle like yo よ, as in nanda yo kore, so you can easily tell that the matrix clause already ended, and kore was added after its end.

However, nani kore doesn't feature the copula, so it's harder to tell what's happening. If the phrase was nani yo kore, there would be a stronger hint, but just nani kore is too short for anybody to figure out what in the world is going on with the grammar of it.

Ultimately, nani kore is grammatically correct, despite being confusing. After all, it's just nanda kore without the copula. And nanda kore is grammatical. So nani kore must be grammatical, too.

And the proof that nanda kore is grammatical is the fact that such emotive dislocation can be found in other interrogative pronouns, too, so it's not something someone just randomly said wrong, it's a feature of the language native speakers have copied and reproduced.



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  1. Impressive amount of work put into this article as always! Thank you!

  2. "Regarding the punctuation, Japanese people, just like people from any other language, aren't really sure about which of these dotty things to use"
    And only in russian punctuation use is strictly codified, and any attempt to use wrong sign in a wrong place is punishable by death penalty.

    Great article! Wouldn't you like to write something about clefting?