Agent Marker Ni

第129課: The Particle に III: Agent Marker 

In Lesson 21, we learned how the particle が functions as an object marker for stative-transitive predicates. In this lesson, we will be learning how the particle に marks the agent of such predicates. 

Stative-transitive predicates are predicates that describe states/conditions but still have objects. The term itself presents a dynamic often missed when discussing transitivity and the concepts of “object” and “agent.”

The “agent” is either the cause or the initiator/doer of the sentence. In the context of this lesson, only the latter purpose will be relevant. A doer doesn’t always have to be actively doing anything.

For example, when an animal “needs” food, it has no control over its need for sustenance, but grammatically speaking, “food” is the object of the verb “to need.” In English, “animals need food” is easily explained as involving the transitive verb “to need” and its object “food,” but in Japanese, the primary equivalent of “to need” is 要る.

In Japanese, 要る is categorized as a 自動詞. This is because the object is marked with が. The concept of “object” becomes befuddled here, though, because が for all other kinds of predicates marks the subject.

1. おかねる。
i. Money is needed.
ii. I need money.

~が要る can be interpreted as being no different as is evident in translation i. Regardless of whether が is a subject or object marker here, お金 is not the agent. The understood “I” is. An agent/doer, though, need not be the subject of a sentence. The same can be said in English such as in passive expressions.

i. [The man] was chased by /the dog/ for hours.
ii. [The cat] was sold to /an elderly couple/.
iii. [The turtle] was released back into the ocean by /its rescuers/.

In these sentences, the nouns in [] are subjects and the nouns in // are agents. If we were to view the が with stative-transitive verbs as a subject marker, then the verbs would remarkably resemble passive verbs. After all, “needed” is the passive form of “to need,” and translation i. could easily be reworded as “Money is needed by me.”

The next question to ask is how the “agent” of these predicates is marked by に.

2. きみのいる場所ばしょぼくにはわかるんだ。
i. I know where you are.
ii. Where you are is known by me.

In English, translation ii. is strange, but it’s exactly how Japanese expresses the emotion that can be felt in the English of translation i. The use of に exemplifies 僕 as the agent of knowledge concerning [君のいる場所]. The use of に, however, is not obligatory. As such, Ex. 2 can be reworded as follows:

3. ぼくきみのいる場所ばしょがわかる。
I know where you are.

Nuance-wise, Exs. 2 and 3 are almost the same. However, Ex. 2 is more emphatic. Grammatically speaking, the “agent” of both Ex. 2 and Ex. 3 is 僕. Just as we learned in Lesson 12, the particle は, when it is in fact the topic marker, is best understood as only marking the topic. As such, the deep structure (the form of a sentence that represents the interworking grammar in the mind) of Ex. 3 would still, in fact, look like: “boku-wa (ø-ni) kimi-no iru basho-ga wakaru.”

Motivation for why the particle に marks the agent of a sentence can be found in its basic use of denoting the place where something exists. Although long-winded and not representative of typical speech, one could say “it is within me where the knowledge of your location resides.” By extension of this, one can view the particle に as purposely marking the existence of an agent/doer as agent/doer = someone.  

We will now look at each verbal stative-transitive predicate that uses に to optionally mark the agent. This is a precursor to the next lesson in which we’ll finally learn about the passive form of verbs where に obligatorily marks the agent of a sentence. The verbs to be discussed in this lesson are as follows:


Because you already have a basic understanding of what these verbs mean and how they’re used, each section will mainly focus on particle issues the agent-marker に presents in relation to other kinds of に and other particles.

Particle Note: The agent-marking function of に is most often accompanied with the contrast-marker は. When one feels it is necessary to explicitly state the agent, one is doing so because the natural happenstance of the verb is tied to the person being stated in contrast with others.


The verb わかる, as we have learned, refers to non-intentional, natural understanding. Its lack of volition is why Japanese categorizes it as a 自動詞.  The basic patterns a sentence can take with わかる are as follows:


In these patterns, “Y” is understood to be an “object.” Even if it can be conceptualized as a “subject” due to the use of が to mark it, “X” is what is conceptualized as the subject, and as such, the exhaustive-listing function of が can be used to mark X. This can be seen in Exs. 13 and 14 below. It is also impossible to forget how there are indeed cases when the object of わかる is indeed marked by を when the verb itself is no longer treated as being non-volitional.

Ultimately, however, it is Pattern 2 that is the basic pattern of わかる. Pattern 1 is simply a derivative with the marking of the agent treated as an unspoken, understood element.


4. かるひとにはかるけど、からないひとにはまったからないはなしをします。
I’m going to talk about something that will be understood by those who understand it but will be totally not understood by those who don’t understand it.

Particle Note: には is obligatory. Using は would disrupt the single-dependent clause modifying the noun 話. には is also obligatory due to the contrast grammar in the sentence. Lastly, using が instead of には would be too syntactically ambiguous and would not be able to express the contrast the sentence expresses.  

5. 人間にんげん気持きもまえにはかるものか。
You would understand what people are feeling?

Particle Note: The use of ものか is very emphatic, which matches well with the emphasis provided by には. The flipping of constituents so that お前には is not at the front of the sentence is so that が can be interpreted as being the exhaustive-listing function.

6. おれにはわかるさ。
I can tell.

7. ちなみに、わたしドイツかるから、歌詞かし意味いみ理解りかいできます。
Incidentally, because I understand German, I can also understand the meaning of the lyrics.

Particle Note: There is no heightened sense of emotion packed into this sentence, so there is no reason to use に(は) after 私 even if it would still be grammatically correct. The same can be said for Ex. 8.

8. イルカ人間にんげん言葉ことばかるのだろうか。
I wonder if dolphins can understand human speech?

9. 人気にんきがあるのかるが、微妙びみょうだね。
I understand that it’s possible, but it’s iffy, huh.

Particle Note: In this example, the は after the nominal phrase 人気があるの is the contrastive は, which means that the sentence implies that the speaker may not understand other aspects of the discussion at hand.

10. あじちがかるんですか。
You understand the difference in taste?

Particle Note: The は of this sentence should not be interpreted as the contrastive は.

11. きみおれなにかる?
What about me do you understand?

Particle Note: The particle は doesn’t follow the particle に in this sentence because there is no reason for the speaker to contrast the target agent’s (you) understanding of himself with another person.

12. わたしに・が}わかるようにおしえてください。
Please teach so that [it can be understood by me/I can understand it].

Particle Note: The use of the particle が should invoke the exhaustive-listing interpretation in this sentence, but that doesn’t have to be the case, especially if the object of discussion—the it—isn’t at the forefront of the speaker’s mind. In which case, が would just be marking the subject of a dependent clause like it usually does. However, if the exhaustive-listing meaning isn’t intended, the choice of が creates unnecessary grammatical ambiguity that is solved by using に.  

13. 本当ほんとうわたしだれにもわからない。そして、本当ほんとうのあなた{を・がわたしが・には}わかることもできない。
The true me is understood by no one. And, I cannot understand the true you.

Particle Notes:
1. The は after 私 is the contrastive は, meaning that 私 is still the object of わからない. 
2. Provided を marks 本当のあなた as the object, the following 私 would typically be marked with が as it is established via を that わかる is being treated as a typical transitive verb. には can still be used to mark 私 in this situation, but the sentence would go from sounding like “It is indeed I who doesn’t understand the true you” to “Others may, but it is not I who understands the true you.” 
3. If 本当のあなた is properly marked with が, then には ought to be used. This is because the も preceding できない technically deletes another instance of が, and although the exhaustive-listing function of が does allow for two が in a clause, Japanese never allows three instances of が in a single clause.

14. かれ(に)もわかっているはずだ。
He should also understand (the situation).

Particle Note: Without context, simply using も would cause the sentence to be ambiguous, making 彼 the object of understanding. This is why when も is used, に is frequently employed.   


The verb 聞こえる is often mistaken as a potential verb, and although it is translatable as “can hear,” it merely describes the natural phenomenon of something being audible, making it fundamentally different from both 聞ける and 聞くことが出来る, which are true potential expressions in the sense that they imply volition over the exercise of said ability.

The basic patterns of a sentence with 聞こえる is as follows:


①② can be translated as “Y is audible to X/Y can be heard by X.” Typically, the “X” element is not ever stated with 聞こえる in patterns for ①②. When it is, though, the first pattern is overwhelmingly the most used of the two. The second pattern would be limited to non-emphatic instances in which one wishes to contrast what’s audible to oneself with others (Ex. 24).

③ means “Y sounds like Z to X.” The reason why it has a difference in meaning is because there’s an additional argument (element) added to the sentence, and with it a different function of に comes into play, which can also be potentially modified by は. Whereas the に that follows X is the agent-marking function, the に after Z indicates an (indirect) object of comparison. Z can also be an adjective or verb instead of a noun, in which case it must be followed by よう so it can be treated as a nominal phrase.

Although Japanese often drops elements out of a sentence if they’re deemed unimportant or understood, if you see a sentence that only has 〇〇が〇〇に聞こえる, it’s going to be ③. However, just 〇〇に(は)聞こえる could have either interpretation depending on the context. One way to differentiate Xに(は)聞こえる and Zに(は)聞こえる is that X must be a sentient agent (human or personified non-human), whereas Z is usually some physical/abstract entity.


15. かれらはわたしこえるように悪口わるくちっていた。
They were speaking bad of me to where I could hear them.

Particle Note: There is no logical reason to think that “they” were speaking ill of the speaker in a way that could be heard by him/her but not others. Although に is the proper particle after 私, it could be seen replaced with が, especially if one wishes to strongly emphasis the exhaustive-listing of oneself—italicizing of “I.”

16. わかひとにはこえるおとが、わたし(に)はこえない。
I can’t hear sounds that can be heard by young people.

Particle Note: For parallelism, には would be the preferred choice after 私. However, there is nothing wrong with just using は. This would be indicative of the spoken language where people are not always going to necessarily stay grammatically consistent.

17. 大人おとなにはこえず、わかひとにしかこえない不思議ふしぎおと、それがモスキートおんです!
A strange noise that cannot be heard but by the ears of young people and not adults, and that is the mosquitone!

Particle Note: It’s important to understand that しか cancels out は, meaning that it should be viewed as a derivative. しか and ~ない, and this agreement is what cancels out は. は and しか are incidentally both bound particles.

18. 人間にんげんにはこえないけれどいぬにはこえるおとというのは、実際じっさいには存在そんざいする。
There are, in fact, sounds that can be heard by dogs but not by people.

Particle Note: The には after 実際 is simply the emphatic は after the adverb 実際に.

19. {なつにはせみこえこえる。
The buzz of cicadas can be heard in the summer.

Particle Note: This example is meant to remind you that には could simply emphatically denote temporal setting. This can ascertained from には not being attached to a sentient agent (people/personified non-humans).

20. おっとわたしこえるような小声こごえわたし悪口わるくちうのが苦痛くつうです。
It’s painful that my husband insults me in a whisper where I can hear him.

Particle Note: Understand that the 私に in this sentence is in a dependent clause modifying よう which then modifies 小声, which is why が is used beforehand with 夫.

21. 右耳みぎみみこえるようになった。
I’ve become able to hear out of my right ear.

Particle Note: The use of に(は) would change the meaning to “I then became able to hear it in my right ear.” This sentence exemplifies how ② can be altered to Xが聞こえる, leaving out “Y” entirely. Of course, Xは聞こえる is possible as well.

22. 突然聞とつぜんきこえなくなったあと、みみこえるようになったが、耳鳴みみなりがのこった。
After suddenly becoming unable to hear, my ears became able to hear to again, but severe tinnitus remained.

Particle Note: The topic of this sentence is the speaker’s ears, which is why there is no 私は or the like that accompanies the first clause. If it were stated, it would be accompanied with 耳が, creating 私は耳が〇〇. Although this is an example of ②, this is not XやYが聞こえる. Rather, it’s XはXが聞こえる. Although the nouns for X are different, they are parts of a single entity.

23. ぼくみみこえにくいとかるなら、ぼくが・にこえるようにはなすのがすじじゃないか。
If you understand that I’m hard of hearing, then wouldn’t it be logical to speak such that [I can hear what’s being said/what’s being said can be heard by me]?

Particle Note: The が after 耳 shouldn’t be replaced, but because the use of が after 僕 may imply the exhaustive-listing function,the typical particle choice there would be に.

24. (わたし今変いまへんおとこえました。
I heard a strange noise/sound just now.

25. めっちゃはたらいているようにこえるけれど、実際じっさいのところ、ダレて仕事しごと(を)してる。
It may sound like I’m working real hard, but in actuality, I’m slacking at my job.

26. ずいぶん成長せいちょうはやようにこえるかもしれないですね。
It might sound like growth has been quite fast, huh.

27. あらしはこんでくる落雷らくらい南極なんきょくこおりくだけるおと、このコには、この世界せかい鼓動こどうこえているのだとおもう。
Lightning which carry storms, the sound of Antarctic ice breaking, they must sound like the heartbeat of this world to this kid.

Particle Note: The pattern of this sentence is YがXにはZに聞こえる. Don’t let the fact that the Y elements come before the X element confuse you.

Grammar Note: The use of ている emphasizes how the truth of the statement holds for more than just the present point in time and has been so for some period of time.

28. とても日本語にほんごにはこえないなあ。
It sounds absolutely nothing like Japanese.

29. とおくにいてもあなたのこえわたしにだけはこえるの。
No matter if you are afar, your voice can only be heard by me.

Particle Notes
1. The は after あなたの声 replaces the が that would typically follow the “Y” element to topicalize/emphasize it.
2. だけに(は) is also possible, but this would shift emphasis off 聞こえる to the noun phrase that precedes the combination particle, which would be 私 in this sentence. Although 私 is emphasized thanks to だけは, the presence of に helps bring a stronger emphasis between the agent and 聞こえる.

30. 日本にっぽん三菱電機株式会社みつびしでんきかぶしきがいしゃが、ブラインドサッカーに適応てきおうする指向性しこうせいスピーカーの開発かいはつすすめている。位置いちすこしずれるだけで、おとこえたりこえなかったりするものだ。ピッチではおとこえないけれど、観客席かんきゃくせきだけにはこえるようにすることができる。
Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation is developing a directional speaker adapted for blind soccer. Just by shifting direction slightly, sound can be heard or not heard. Although sound won’t be heard on the field, one can have it so that sound will only be heard in the spectator stands.

Particle Note:
1. The は after 音 in the third sentence replaces the が that would otherwise follow the “Y” element so that it can be topicalized and used as the “Y” element for the next clause without having to be restated.
2. だけに(は) emphasizes the distinctiveness of the person/people who are a part of the phenomenon described by 聞こえる, which in this sentence is 観客席. Although not a typical person, the people who sit in the stands are people. 


見える is also often mistaken as a potential verb, and although it is translatable as “can see,” it merely describes the natural phenomenon of something being visible, making it fundamentally different from both 見(ら)れる and 見ることが出来る.

The basic sentence patterns for 見える are as follows:


The grammatical dynamics for 見える are the same as with 聞こえる. ①② are interpreted as “Y is visible to/can be seen by X” and ③ is interpreted as “Y looks/seems like Z to X.” The Z is an (indirect) object of comparison and can be made up of just a noun or with an adjective or verb that is then purposed into a nominal phrase with the help of よう. So for instance, 働いているように見える = “to seem like (one) is working.”

Of ① and ②, the latter is most common, with には only really explicitly marking the agent if there is a strong, emotional appeal being made (Exs. 31 and 32). To distinguish ①② from ③ when various elements may be missing, remember that X is always a topicalized argument (sentence element) that is a sentient agent (human or personified non-human). Z has no restriction as both people and non-human entities are frequently used as objects of comparison. However, Z must be directly followed by 見える for the comparison-marker function of に to be made clear.

Translation Note: There are two translations provided for each example. The only difference being showcased is the variation in the interpretation of が with 見える. 


31. 信仰者しんこうしゃにはかみえる理由りゆう何故なぜですか。
i. Why is it that God is visible to believers? 
ii. Why is it that believers can see God?

32. かみ信仰者しんこうしゃ{にだけ(は)・だけに(は)}えるようにしているんでしょうか。
i. Is it that (they) are making it so that God is only visible to believers?
ii. Is it that (they) are making it so that only believers can see God?

Particle Note: だけに(は) is also possible, but this would shift emphasis off 見える to the noun phrase that precedes the combination particle, which is 信仰者 in this sentence. にだけ(は) emphasizes the distinctiveness in the phenomenon which is described by 見える, whereas だけに(は) emphasizes the distinctiveness of the person/people who are a part of the phenomenon described by 見える. 

33. おまええるか、おれかなしいかおが…
Can you see, my sad face…?

Particle Note: The sentence pattern here is a derivative of ①. There is some inversion in here, which is why the “Y” element appears after the verb. Although this means that the “X” element is right next to 見える, because it is お前, there really isn’t ambiguity here to confuse it with ③.

34. 動物どうぶつ(に)は幽霊ゆうれいえるのですか。
i. Can ghost be seen by animals?
ii. Can animals see ghosts?

Particle Note: The importance of being able to see spirits/ghosts can be deemed important enough to emphasize “animals” as the agent of 見える.

35. 視力しりょくわるひとにしかえない画像がぞうをご紹介しょうかいしていきます!
i. I’m going to introduce you to images that are invisible but to people whose eyesight is poor!
ii. I’m going to introduce you to images that only people with poor eyesight can see!

Particle Note: The fact that にしか appears in a dependent clause modifying 画像 indicates that 画像 is the “Y” element of ①. Furthermore, the use of しか emphasizes the fact that “X” is the agent of 見える.

36. この手相てそうぬし(に)は幽霊ゆうれいえる。
i. Ghosts are visible to possessors of these palm lines.
ii. Possessors of these palm lines can see ghosts.

37. 昆虫こんちゅうカラス紫外線しがいせんえる。
i. Ultra-violet rays are visible to even insects and crows.
ii. Even insects and crows can see ultra-violet rays.

Particle Note: As this is a generic statement concerning fact, there is no semantic reason for why 昆虫 and カラス to be marked with にも instead.

38. じつは、いぬいろえるが、色弱しきじゃく人間にんげんおな程度ていどえる。
i. As for dogs, colors are in fact visible to them, but only to the same degree as a person who has slight color-blindness.
ii. Dogs can in fact see color, but only to the same degree as a person who has slight color-blindness.

Particle Note: The に after 程度 functions as a comparison-marker. It can also be seen as being adverbial, creating a degree-adverb out of 色弱の人間と同じ程度.

39. 蜜蜂みつばち(に)は紫外線しがいせんえ、それを利用りようして自分じぶんこのみのはなつけることができる。
i. Ultra-violet rays are visible to honeybees, and they can find their favorite flowers by utilizing them.
ii. Honeybees can see ultra-violet rays, and they can find their favorite flowers by utilizing them.

Particle Note: The use of には accounts for the agent of both 見える and 見つけることができる. Using it over は helps emphasize the uniqueness of honeybees being explained by both predicates.

40. あたらしい恐竜きょうりゅうアライグマえるかもしれない。
A new dinosaur might look like a raccoon.

Particle Note: The は of this sentence actually mark the “Y” element of Pattern 3. The “X” would be an implied あなたには.

41. トムソンガゼルのれをおそうクロコダイルたち完全かんぜんものにしかえない。
Crocodiles attacking a herd of Thomson’s gazelle just completely look like monsters.

Particle Note: Due to the elements in the sentence and word order, にしか is after the “Z” element and not the “X” element, like has been the case for other examples in this lesson.

42. ねこにはひとえない「あるもの」えているらしい!
There appears to be a “certain something” not visible to the human eye that is visible to cats!

Particle Note: The phrase 目に見える means “visible to the eye.” The use of には after 猫 establishes grammatical parallelism with 目, as both are agents. 猫 is the agent of 見えている. 見えている is used instead of見える to emphasize the ability cats (unintentionally) utilize that isn’t accessible to humans. 

43. 人間にんげんのようなものにけてはいるが、とても人間にんげんにはえない。
Although it has shape-changed to something like a person, it hardly looks like a person.

44. えない状態じょうたいでメイクするなんてできません。
I couldn’t possibly do my make-up blind.

Particle Note: This example demonstrates how ② can be modified to Xが(Yが)見える, especially when the “Y” element is irrelevant, such as is the case here. Furthermore, が is obligatory here because it is in a dependent clause modifying the noun 状態.

45. 今夜こんや十六夜いざよいつきいえちかではえるかな。
Tonight is the sixteenth-day moon; I wonder if I can see it near my/the house.

Particle Notes:
1. This sentence reminds us not to forget other particle expressions that could appear before 見える. では shows the location of 見える and has nothing to do with the “X” or “Y” elements of the basic sentence patterns with 見える. The same can be said for 聞こえる.
2. The “Y” element of the sentence is 十六夜の月. The “X” element is an understood 私. However, the thing topicalized in the sentence is 今夜, the time which the phenomenon of 見える is to potentially occur.

ある & いる

In the sense of “to have” as in indicating possession, there are two basic sentence patterns with ある and いる, which are as follows:


The use of には emphasizes the agent of possession, in other words, who is doing the possessing. “X” must be a human agent or a personified non-human agent. Both ①② are equally common with ある. For when the object of possession is people, いる almost always refer to having family members. In this situation, the agent can either take には or は. Of course, if the exhaustive-listing function of が needs to be employed, it too can follow “X.”

As we learned in Lesson 21, the possession of other animate, living things such as pets is usually not expressed with いる. However, when it is, には is used but with words such as うち and 我が家 which both refers to oneself and one’s household.

Particle Notes:
1. The use of に to mark the agent with ある and いる also calls upon に’s function of indicating where something exists, which is why には is so emphatic here.
2. に isn’t usually by itself to mark the agent with these verbs except when it’s in a dependent clause with just the “X” element that modifies the “Y” element. 


46. うちにはおかねいから。
‘Cause I don’t have money.

47. わたしたちには禁酒中きんしゅちゅう、ぼーっとぱらっていたころではかんがえられないほど、時間じかんあるんです。
When we’re abstaining from alcohol, we have so much time that we couldn’t have ever thought when we’d be spaced out drunk.

Particle Note: The adverbial phrase ending with the particle ほど does not interfere with the basic sentence pattern XにはYがある. It is just one of two adverb phrases in between Xには and Yが, the other being 禁酒中.

48. 自分じぶんにはかねがあるのに、なぜまわりのひとかねっていないだろう。
Why is it that the people around me don’t have money when one oneself does?

Particle Note: The reason for why には doesn’t follow 周りの人 is because 持っている is not a stative-transitive predicate. Although it expresses the continuous state of having money, it also implies there is an active volition behind the agent carrying money around, which is contrary to ある, which implies that the possession in question is just a natural circumstance.

49. 大学生だいがくせい一般的いっぱんてきには時間じかんあるようにえるが、サークル活動かつどうやバイトなど様々さまざまなことあり、意外いがいいそがしい。
It may seem that college students, generally, have time, but they are surprisingly quite busy with various things such as club activities and part-time jobs.

Particle Notes:
1. The use of には after 大学生 would be strange as the clause it’s in is just a generic statement. In such situations, the “agent” of possession should just be marked by は and not には.
2. Note that the agent of the second が phrase in the second clause is the same as the first.
3. The には after 一般的 is simply the adverbial form of 一般的だ (to be typical) followed by the contrast-marker は.

50. 特捜班とくそうはんにはフランスかるメンバーだれもいないんだ!
There’s not a single member in the squad that understands French!

Particle Note: 特捜班 can be treated as a location of affiliation and/or a sentient, human agent of possession of people, which is why it is marked には. Using は here would be ungrammatical.

51. うちにはいぬがいます。
i. I have a dog.
ii. [I/we] have a dog at home.

Particle Note: The translation that best reflects the particle grammar of the sentence is translation ii.

52. いぬいるから、余計掃除よけいそうじするようになった。
Our house has begun to excessively clean because we have a dog.

Particle Note: This is an instance where いる can show possession of a non-human object (pet)  with the agent being marked by は. For one, 我が家 is a personified noun referring to both oneself and one’s household. Two, 我が家 is both the topic of the first clause and the second clause. Although it can be viewed as the subject and agent of both clauses, the second clause is not a stative-transitive predicate, and because には doesn’t mark the agent of a regular transitive predicate, using it would be ungrammatical here.

53. 人生じんせいいぬいることによってうつくしくかがやいてえる!
Life seems to shine so beautifully by having a dog.

Particle Note: This sentence demonstrates that you mustn’t ignore independent-dependent clause boundaries. This is not an example of ② because 犬がいる is in a dependent clause modifying こと. However, this is an example of いる indicating the possession of pets, which is common with こと with the “X” element being omitted as an understood—oneself and/or people in general.

54. 自分じぶんにしかないものはなんだろう。
What is it that only I myself have?

55. 自分じぶんないものをかぞえるより、自分じぶんあるものをかんがえましょう。
Rather than count what you don’t have, count what you do have. 


As we learned in Lesson 83, 出来る is the potential verb of する and is the representative verb of potential in general in Japanese. The agent of a potential sentence can be marked with に(は) so long as the potential phrase in question can be perceived as being a natural phenomenon. Meaning, when you see に(は), the sense of “volition” that may or may not otherwise be present becomes voided out. If cancelling out the nuance of volition is not possible, then so too is the use of には in that circumstance. To demonstrate this, consider Ex. 56.  

56. わたし(には ??・は 〇)テニスができますよ。
I can play tennis!

Although it is not entirely ungrammatical to use には to mark 私 as the agent of this sentence due to できる being a stative-transitive predicate at its basic understanding, it is incredibly unnatural here because the strong volitional nuance of the transitiveする.

Though at this point it goes without saying, there are two basic sentence patterns involving potential phrases, which are as follows:


As for ①, に is typically only seen when in a dependent clause were “X” is only present to directly modify “Y,” or when “Y” and “X” flip places. Having に directly next to the predicate helps emphasize the agent to the point that は isn’t needed unless one wishes to also contrast the agent with other people. Otherwise, には is typically seen. ① is frequently employed when showing the inherent abilities of one agent over that of another (Exs. 59 and 61). Another reason for using には is when は is used as the contrast-marker and not as the topic marker.

As for ②, this is the most common pattern for potential phrases because most people generally imply volitional control of the execution of their abilities. As we have already seen with Ex. 56, the presence of this nuance will cause には to sound unnatural. Because we have already seen plenty of examples of ② in previous lessons, all the examples below will be of ①.


57. わたしできることはなんだろう。
i. What is it that I can do?
ii. What is it that can be done by me?

58. わたしにはできることとできないことあります。
i. There are things that I can and cannot do.
ii. There are things that can and cannot be done by me.

Particle Note: This example is a misnomer as には is used with the predicate ある. However, the presence of できる in the sentence, emphasizes the necessity of には in the speaker’s mind. Simply using は would cause the sentence to sound rather unnatural.

59. ひとには出来できないが、かみには出来できる。
It cannot be done by man, but it can be done by God.

60. なんでこんな馬鹿偉ばかえらそうなことまえけるんや!
How is it that you can write such absurdly cocky crap like this?!

Particle Note: Topicalizing お前 and having it come at the front of the sentence to make it follow ② would ruin the chastising tone. Although お前 could theoretically be marked by が with the exhaustive-listing function, the use of に is further enforced by the standard phenomenon of avoiding particle duplication in the same clause.

61. そりやれるひとにはやれるし、できないひとにはできないとしかこたえようない。
That’s something that can be done by those capable of doing it, and the only answer is that it cannot be done by those incapable.

Particle Notes:

1. そりゃ is a contraction of それは. The それ is the “Y” element to やれる人にはやれる. It also happens to be “X” element to ない in the second clause, but it’s important to note that the purely existential meaning of ある, with which there isn’t an agent/owner to the existence.
2. Just as に is common when “X” and “Y” are flipped in ①, the same can be said for には. Additionally, the contrast-marker は is obligatory here due to the contrast being made between やれる人 and できない人.

62. どっちにしろ、日本語にほんごにはない言葉ことばだから日本人にほんじんには発音はつおんできないんだよね。
Either way, since it’s a word that isn’t in Japanese, Japanese people can’t pronounce it, no?

Particle Note: The “Y” element here is 日本語にはない言葉. It is not repeated after 日本人には due to the lack of “it” in Japanese grammar.

63. もはや、エラーコードを人間にんげんめる形式けいしき変換へんかんする必要ひつようはない。
No longer is there a need to convert error codes into expressions that are human-readable.

Particle Note: This sentence demonstrates how ① is the base pattern of potential expressions. Although using が instead is possible here, because the conditions for using に are all met, and because it is the base pattern, に is the preferred particle choice.

64. 暗号あんごうとは、解読方法かいどくほうほうらないひとには解読かいどくできないものだ。
An encryption is something that cannot be deciphered by someone who doesn’t know how to decode it.

65. べなければならないのは人間にんげんにはつくれない物質ぶっしつがあるからです。
We must eat because there are substances that cannot be created in people.

Particle Note: には is used to contrast with how other organisms may very well be able to create substances that the human body cannot.

66. それは我々われわれには想像そうぞうができないようなくるしみだろう。
That is surely a hardship that is unimaginable to us.

Particle Notes:
1. With する verbs, が is often inserted between the base-noun and できる, making the base-noun the object of できる. When this happens, the presence of が after “X” for the exhaustive-listing function becomes less likely.
2. Because special emphasis is being placed on 我々 for being the agent of 想像ができない, simply marking the agent with は would be inappropriate, especially also given that the topic is already established as being それ.  


To bring this lesson to a conclusion, the last stative-transitive predicate that we will learn about will be the very one used as an example in the opening: 要る. As we know, this is the basic verb for “to need.” As has been the case for the other verbs, 要る too has two basic sentence patterns:


Although ① is inherently the base pattern, ② is most commonly used at a ratio of ten-to-one. Whenever the agent of “to need” is actually present, に will always be optional. には is used to emphasis the relation between the agent and 要る. As is to be expected, XにYが要る is exceedingly rare and would only be seen in dependent clauses in which “X” directly modifies “Y” (Ex. 70) or when “Y” and “X” flip places followed by some emphatic sentence ending (Ex. 71).


67. お年寄としよ(に)はかねらないんじゃないか?
Don’t old people not need money?

68. 息子むすこには、おかねらないからそのわり旅行りょこうれてってってたのんでるのさ。
I ask my son to take me on trips instead since I don’t need money.

Particle Note: This example is a misnomer. The には after 息子 goes with 頼んでる. The sentence pattern for 要らない is simply ② with only “Y” present. は is used to imply that of the things the speaker needs, money is not one of those things. However, the fact that the speaker does need things is not negated, just the need for money.

69. 奴隷どれい(に)は、おかねらない。
i. Slaves don’t need money.
ii. Money isn’t needed by slaves.

Particle Note: Translation i. is most appropriate for when は is used, whereas translation ii. is most appropriate when には is used.

70. われるものは、銀河ぎんがつつむエネルギーである。
What is needed by us is the energy that envelops the galaxy.

71. なにかを使つかまえに、自分じぶんるものか(を)確認かくにんしてから使つかったほうがいいとおもう。
Before using something, I think it’s best to use it after verifying whether it’s something you yourself need.

~に必要だ: The Purpose-Marker に 

The one adjectival stative-transitive predicate that can take に is 必要だ, unsurprisingly synonymous with 要る. 必要だ means “to be necessary,” and the use of に indicates “to whom” “Y” is necessary. However, this use of に isn’t quite the agent-marker. This is because “X” is not limited to sentient entities. In fact, “X” can be anything, including nominalized expressions (Ex. 73). This に marks a purpose/reason for an action/state.  

72. 運命うんめいひと出会であうためいまわたし必要ひつようなことはなんでしょうか。
What is it that my current self needs to meet my soulmate?

Particle Note: Thematically, both に in bold can be viewed as marking purpose/reason.

73. ギターをはじめるのに必要ひつようなものをまとめてみました。
I’ve tried to compile the things necessary for beginning guitar.

The greatest cliffhanger in the introduction of this lesson was the lack of a Japanese translation for “animals need food.” Without further ado, the translation of this sentence is as follows:

74. 動物どうぶつきるには食物しょくもつる。
i. Animals need food (to live).
ii. For animals to live, they need food.
iii. For animals to live, food is needed.

This sentence represents another facet of には. This には is thematically the same as the ones in Exs. 72 and 73, making it equivalent to “for/to.” The reason why には can directly follow a verb is that the verb is actually nominalized as an effect. This makes には equal to のに(は).

The three translations above tie back to various things detailed in this lesson. The insertion of ~が生きる re-purposes に as the purpose-marker because 動物 isn’t a true agent. However, because 生きる ends up being nominalized, it is not illogical to treat this as an extension of the agent-marker に. In fact, it’s contexts like these where the purpose-marker に likely derived. A way to conceptualize this as such is translating Ex. 74 as “The state of animals living requires that there be food.”  

75. ひときるには意味いみがあり、そして価値かちがあるのです。
There is meaning and value to people living.

Particle Note: The relation between には and ある can be interpreted as both being its existential and its possessive meaning. Where “meaning” resides is within people living, and it is the act of man living which has meaning. Additionally, if we view the purpose-marker に as being one in the same as the agent-marker, then one could translate this as “The state of people living has meaning and value.”

Verb + には 

Thinking this deep into how and why には is used after verbs helps in understanding how に truly works in its various functions. Although one could create grammatically literal translations for any instance of には like the ones just presented, Verb + には is typically translated as “in + verb + -ing…”

76. 飲食店いんしょくてんをやるには調理師免許ちょうりしめんきょ必要ひつようだとおもっているひとおおいですが、じつはそんな必要ひつようはありません。
There are many people who think a chef certificate is needed [in running/to run] a restaurant, in reality, there is no such need.

77. 自分じぶん必要ひつよう保険ほけんかんがえるには、まず保険ほけん加入かにゅうする目的もくてき確認かくにんすることが大切たいせつだ。
In thinking about what insurance is needed for oneself, it is important to first confirm one’s aim in subscribing for insurance.  

Curriculum Note: As has been alluded to, there is overlap between “Verb + のに(は)” and “Verb + には.” However, due to the complexity of the topic, this will be foregone for now and will thoroughly discussed in a later lesson.