Asked • 05/15/19

Varying word order for stylistic effect?

Sometimes, for stylistic or rhetorical effect, one wants to delay mentioning a word/concept until the end of a sentence. For example, it's often best to save the punchline for the very end: > I was happy to discover that my ex was sentenced to life in prison for [arson, murder, and **jaywalking**]( If we directly translate into a Japanese-style word order— > ((My ex)-NOM (Arson, murder, and **jaywalking**)-for ((life in prison)-to sentenced) was) that I discover happy was. —the utterance hemorrhages much of "jaywalking"'s comic effect into the bog of unnecessary background and framing information. Whereas English word order naturally places the word where we want it, if we instead wanted to place it somewhere else, English makes available alternative or periphrastic phrasings, such as "x did y." → "**It was y** that x did." So likewise: **what techniques or periphrastic constructions are available in Japanese to move words or clauses?**

Leo H.

Good question, and I believe Japanese to be very unique in terms of discussions only mentioning the subject at the beginning of a conversation and then mainly speaking in verbs and adjectives. This lack of reference can go on for hours, unless somebody new joins in and they have to sort of reset the subject. In addition to that form of just dropping the subject, there is the usual devices like but, however- type words; demo, to, ga, ni- that can shift the focus from object to subject quickly or add to elongate multiple sentences without hinting at that final punchline; Ano hito ga suberashii desu kedo itteru koto ga wakarimasen. It isn’t until the wakari(masen) mention that you realize the subject is catching some “shade.” Translation- That guy is wonderful but everything he says doesn’t make sense.


Curt H.

I love this question! Leo is correct. However, there are also ways to withhold direct information until the end of a statement. It is perfectly fine in conversation to break normal order conventions by omission and then re-adding them after the verb. So in your example about the jaywalking punchline, you could use this sort of construction: My ex was sentenced to life in prison so I am pleased. Because arson, murder and **jaywalking**. You can use -wa (ha), -kara, -kedo, and many other simple markers out of their normal place as standalone clarifications. So in this case, you could forgo listing the reasons and make a standalone "sentence" ending in kara that lists the reasons last. This is a common practice in Japanese comedy. The basic constructions would look something like: ? did y. It was x! (Kino-no-yoru, yopparai hito mitta. Te-chan datta!) y received it. From x. (Yukisan ni puresento-wo kuremashita. Kouchousensei-wa.) I did it. Because... (Tabemashita-yo. Onaka-ga suita kara!) There are a great many more that you could try. I would caution though that these constructions are less appropriate in writing. However, there is a bit more freedom with order in conversation simply because of how indirect the language is, so adding something to clarify context is a necessary convention which can then be exploited for surprise. Hope this helps!


1 Expert Answer


J. Ring S. answered • 10/29/19

5.0 (234)

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