Wednesday, October 2, 2019

な Attributive Copula

WIP : this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, the na な particle is actually an attributive copula sometimes.


The simplest way to identify the na な copula is with na-adjectives.

The predicative form of a na-adjective ends with the predicative da だ copula, while its attributive form ends with the attributive na な copula. Observe below that you can translate both of these copulas to the English copula "is."
  • tsuki wa kirei da
    The moon is pretty.
    • kirei da is the predicate for the subject tsuki.
  • {kirei na} tsuki
    A moon [that] {is pretty}.
    A pretty moon.

Note that verbs and i-adjectives technically have predicative forms and attributive forms, too. However, their forms are identical:
  • neko wa kawaii
    The cat is cute. (predicative kawaii.)
  • {kawaii} neko
    The cat [that] {is cute}. (attributive kawaii.)
    The cute cat.

Only na-adjectives have distinct attributive and predicative forms. Or, more generally, only when you have a phrase that ends in the da だ copula you have to change it to something else (na な) when it comes before a noun.

Although this sounds very easy at first, it's trickier than you may imagine.


In general, you can't use the predicative copula da だ before a noun, only the attributive copula na な.(Nightingale, 1996:32)
  • *{kirei da} tsuki
    (this should be wrong, because you should use na な here.)

However, if the sentence is a dislocation, then it's alright:
  • kirei da, tsuki
    • tsuki, kirei da
      (...same as...)
    • tsuki wa kirei da
      The moon is pretty.

This is fine because the matrix clause kirei da is in the predicative, so it can have the predicative copula.
  • dare da omae?
    (emotive dislocation)
  • omae wa dare da?
    Who are you?


The na な copula can only come before nouns. If you see it coming at the end of the sentence, then it's something else. It's the na な sentence-ending particle, which is different from the copula, and can have multiple functions:
  • oishii na!
    [It] is tasty, huh! (agreement.)
  • taberu na!
    Don't eat [it]! (negative imperative.)
  • ayamari na
    Apologize. (positive imperative.)

Past Form

The past form of the predicative da だ, "is," is datta だった, "was." The past of na な, "is," is datta だった, too. In other words, datta だった can be used both predicatively and attributively, unlike da だ or na な.
  • tsuki wa kirei datta
    The moon was pretty.
  • {kirei datta} tsuki
    The moon [that] {was pretty}.
    The once pretty moon.

Light Nouns

In Japanese, there are many words that are syntactically nouns, but translate to expressions in English. For example, toki 時, "time," often translates to "when" if it's qualified by something.

So, to say "the time [when] {something is something}," you'll have to change da だ to na な. Observe:
  • hima da

    [I] am free, (in the sense of schedule.)
    I've got nothing to do.
  • {hima na} toki dou sureba ii
    What doing is good the time [when}{[I] am free}.
    What should [I] do when {I've got nothing to do}.


The most common instance of this exchange is the compound nano なの. This is the na な copula plus the no の nominalizer, which, too, acts like a noun syntactically.

This no の nominalizer is the no の sentence-ending particle used to ask questions. Observe:
  • {sore wo taberu} no?
    Are [you] going to eat that?
  • {oishii} no?
    Is [it] tasty?

Manga: Erased, Boku dake ga Inai Machi 僕だけがいない街 (Chapter 7, 失われた時間)
  • baka nano?
    Are [you] stupid?
    • Original phrase:
    • baka da
      [You] are stupid.

The no の particle can combine with the de で particle to form node ので, which sometimes translates to "because."
  • {kawaii} node suki da
    [It] is liked because {[it] is cute}.
    I like it because it's cute.

If the reason before "because" ends in da だ predicatively, you end up with nanode なので.
  • {suki na} node kawaii
    [It] is cute because {[it] is liked}.
    It's cute because I like it.

This nanode なので is sometimes contracted to nande なんで.

Note that another word that translates to "because" is kara から. This word is not a noun, but a conjunction, therefore you don't use the attributive copula with it.
  • kawaii kara suki da
    (same meaning as before.)
  • suki da kara kawaii
    (same meaning as before.)

The no の particle can also combined with the ni に particle, forming noni のに, and consequently nanoni なのに, which can translate to "even though."
  • konna ni yasui noni?
    Even though [it] is this much cheap?
    Even though it's so cheap?
  • {konna ni kirei na} noni?
    Even though [she] is this much pretty?
    Even though she's so pretty?

The phrases noda のだ, nanoda なのだ, and the contractions nda んだ, nanda なんだ, are used sometimes used to assert or explain things.
  • kawaii kara da!
    [It] is because [it] is cute!
  • kawaii kara nanda!
    (same meaning.)



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