Japanese expression “〜するも” (~suru mo) and vagueness of the が (ga) particle

By | January 19, 2017

Recently I read the very enjoyable short story “麦本三歩は今日が好き” by 住野よる in the literary magazine 小説幻冬 (Dec 2016 edition). I even translated a short excerpt of it into English here.

There was one line of the story whose grammar I just couldn’t figure out, and I thought that it was either some strange pattern I had never seen before, or just a typo. While I could have used something like Japanese Language StackExchange to get some help, I decided to write the publisher directly (in Japanese).

Here is the line, from page 44:


The sentence is a bit long and complex, but you may have picked up on the weird part–the “も” at the very beginning. I double checked and the character before this was a period. My first guess was that this was a typo for  “もう”.

Here is the answer from their editorial department:


The summary of this is that the も is usually connected to the previous sentence, rendering the pattern “〜するも” which translates to something like “〜したけれも”.  However, the author apparently added a period before the も in order to create a unique sense of rhythm.

Looking at the previous sentence before the “も” we see  “。。。フークで持ち上げてから指でつまむ。”, which means that this:


effectively means this:


For beginner, or even intermediate students of Japanese this can be quite confusing, because a non-past verb tense (つまむ) is effectively being interpreted as a past verb tense (つまんだ). However, once you consider that Japanese verb tenses are generally a little more fluid than in English, this is a bit easier to accept. One manifestation of this how you may find a mix of past and non-past tenses in literature (even in the same paragraph) much more often than in English.  (The phrase “ちょっとまった!” is another example, can you guess what it means?)

Now that I knew this was a variation of the ~するも (~suru mo) pattern, I searched for that and found this educational post in Japanese. (Note that you shouldn’t confuse this with “〜するのも” (~ suru no mo) where the verb is being treated as a noun. This would have a different, more straightforward meaning (ex: “日本に行くのもいい”, “It would also be good to go to Japan”)).

As is typical with posts asking about grammar explanations, there are some differing opinions, but overall I think there is some agreement that this is a literary expression that is used less frequently (if at all) in spoken speech. Also, as I talked about above,  the 〜するも pattern can mean 〜したけれも, and the post also mentions meanings 〜したのに and 〜しても.

The topmost answer (No. 5) mentions something really interesting that I thought I would touch on here, which is that there are some people who advocate avoiding the use of “が” as a connecting particle (this is supposedly one of the reasons why 〜するも is preferred over が). The below examples were given:


In the first sentence, が has more of a connecting meaning, as in “It’s cheap and tastes bad.”

However, in the second sentence, it has more of a contrasting meaning, as in “It’s cheap, but tastes good.”

So, in summary, we see that the が particle can be used for two very different meanings (not to mention other common ones such as a subject marker which I am not addressing here). The poster of that answer mentions that this can “put a burden on the reader” and expresses his/her annoyance regarding its usage.

I vaguely remember learning that が had these double meanings a long time ago, but it’s good to know that some native speakers also struggle with the vagueness of this usage. Fortunately, I think most cases you can tell the purpose of が from the context, as in the above examples about cheap food.

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