Japanese literary expression:「〜かのように」 (~ka no you ni)

By | April 25, 2018

If you read enough books in Japanese you’ll start to come across certain expressions and grammatical patterns that are used frequently in certain genres. In this post, I’d like to go over the expression 「〜かのように」 (~ka no you ni) which I’ve found to be pretty common in Japanese literature.

Before I discuss the pattern itself I want to talk about the parts that comprise it.

「か」is the question particle in Japanese, and can be used both at the end of question sentence or in the middle of a sentence for an embedded question (basically, when talking about something that is uncertain). See this post of mine with some examples.

「の」serves many purposes in Japanese, but for the purposes of this discussion all you need to know is that is used when one thing is modifying, describing, or possessing something else. For example, 大学教科書 (daigaku no kyoukasho) is “(a) college textbook” and 僕教科書 (boku no kyoukasho) is “my book”.

「よう」has a few uses in Japanese, but the most common is to express something is “like” or “similar” to something else. This word is used immediately after verbs or i-adjectives, for example:

  • 間違えたようですね
  • It seems like you/I made a mistake.
  • 難しいようだね
  • It seems like it is difficult.

In both of these examples,  よう can be replaced by みたい, though the latter sounds a little less formal to me.

When following a noun, よう requires the particle の:

  • 山のよう
  • It’s like a mountain.

「に」 is another particle with many uses in Japanese, including the direction of an action (そこ行った)or to specify where something exists (床本がある). However, it also can be used to change a noun into an adverb, especially in the pattern 「のように」

  • 彼はネズミのように逃げた。
  • He ran away like a mouse.

Here the phrase ネズミのように is describing how the action occurred, which is what adverbs do. The word 早く (quickly) could be put their instead as a different way to describe how the running happened.

Finally, we get to the expression which is the main topic of this article, かのように。Let’s look at an example:

  • 嫌なことがあったかのように悲しい顔をしている。
  • He looked sad (literally: he had a sad face), as if something bad had happened.

Not surprisingly, the meaning of かのように is “like” or “as if”. Basically there is a comparison being made, sometimes called a simile. Something didn’t happen but there was the appearance of it happening (or we felt as if it happened).

By the way, you might wonder why is the かの part even needed, after all ように can follow a noun as discussed above. The reason is that ように actually has a completely different usage, which is to express “in order to” or “so that”. For example:

  • 彼女はテストに合格するように数時間も勉強しました。
  • She studied many hours so that she would pass the test.

While ように has this alternate meaning, かのように does not, so the latter more clearly indicates a comparison/simile instead of “in order to” or “so that”.

Sometimes you see this expression used after the word である (dearu), which is essentially a more literary way of saying “is/are” (normally you would use だ or です, or omit it completely). Let’s rewrite one of the above example sentences to use this:

  • 彼はネズミであるかのように逃げた。
  • He ran away as if he was a mouse.

This means pretty much the same thing, it’s just that there is an explicit is/was. (Note: だのように or ですのように are incorrect).

You can also use the word 如く (gotoku) in place of “かのように”, for the same meaning. However, this has more of a literary nuance to it.

  • 彼はネズミである如く逃げた。
  • He ran away as if he was a mouse.

When using よう or みたい to make a comparison/simile, there are some words that are frequently paired with it. While these don’t add any meaning per se, they do alert the listener/reader at an early point that a comparison is being made, which is arguably an important purpose in its own right. These words include:

  • まるで
  • あたかも(sometimes written in kanji as 恰も)
  • まさに

To give a simple example:

  • まるで山のよう
  • It’s like a mountain.

Note that these types of words are generally used when there is a comparison to something that is actually not true. For example, in the following sentence, there is the possibility that something is actually difficult, so it sounds a little strange to use まるで in a sentence like this:

  • まるで難しいようですね。 (???)

In the previous sentence (まるで山のようだ), the assumption is that there is no chance of something actually being a mountain, so the まるで is more natural.

As a final note, a related expression is 「かのような」(ka no you na) which is when a comparison is being used as an adjective instead of an adverb. For example:

  • 彼女は褒められたかのような、満足げな表情だった。
  • She had a satisfied expression as if she had been complimented.

Note that in this case the かの could be omitted (leaving 。。。褒められたような。。。) since from the context there is no alternate meaning of “so that” competing here.

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