I do not understand the need of two subject particles in 사람의 이름이 생각이 안 나요. There is only one verb but two subjects. Is it because 생각이 나다 is a fixed expression ? TIA.

  • Hi and welcome to the site! While I think the sentence 사람의 이름이 생각이 안 나요 is correct, I don't think you need either of those subject particles - 사람의 이름 생각 안 나요 / 나지 않아요 would be fine. I could probably manage an answer but will see if one of our native speakers offers a better one!
    – topo morto
    Mar 15 '17 at 0:16
  • 2
    I think the best way to understand it would be in the context of other constructions with two or more 'subject-like' constituents, e.g. 나는 배가 아프다, 나는 도움이 필요하다, 우리는 그것이 알고 싶다, 아이는 사탕이 먹고 싶다, 나는 네가 좋다. Notice that OP's sentence could even have three such. 나는 사람의 이름이 잘 생각이 안 나요. I will expand this into an answer if I find the time.
    – Catomic
    Mar 15 '17 at 3:48
  • I might add to Catomic comment here is that all the 나는's could, in some situations, be 내가s which, while less common, is more illustrative. For a natural example, let's say someone asks a group of people "who has the money? 누가 돈이 있어?" you might answer "내가 돈이 있어." with "I" being the subject of the sentence, and "돈" being the subject of the (predicate) verb clause. See that?
    – B. Alvn
    Mar 15 '17 at 4:38
  • @topomorto Actually, if you said "그 사람의 이름 생각 안나요", as a native speaker, I would immediately notice that you're a foreigner. We do omit particles quite often, but there are times when it sounds weird without them... This is one of those cases and, sadly, I don't know how to explain it :( Mar 16 '17 at 19:26
  • @Posh_Pumpkin my local native Korean thinks that "그 사람의 이름 생각 안나요" is fine. Of course she may be wrong, or may be imagining its use in a different context....
    – topo morto
    Mar 16 '17 at 20:59

This phenomenon of multiple uses of the "so-called subject marker" 이/가 has been explained in the literature in a few ways. But I will give you the one that makes the most sense to me, and what I use in my own book.

Let me try to make it as succinct as possible and avoid a few details.

이/가 can be used in three main ways.

  1. For the subject of a sentence, e.g. 눈이 내린다. (The snow is falling.)

  2. For a complement, with the verbs 아니다 and 되다 (as well as the many verbs ending in 되다 such as 발견되다) ....for example, 씨앗은 큰 나무가 되었다. (The seed became a large tree.)

  3. For the subject of a verb clause...in your example 생각이 안 나요 (thought not arise. Such a verb clause may be used in many, many ways in Korean, and that is a sizable topic.

In my ultimate analysis, there isn't that much difference between these three...a verb clause is just a small sentence (or a sentence is just a large verb clause) ..and you can see how the complement use is pretty much the same kind of thing too.

  • may I ask where you got that sentence? what you have there, apparently, is a nested verb clause, with an unstated subject (probably "I"). In the case of nested verb clauses, you proceed from right to left. I (Person's name (thought not arise.)) So, most likely you end up with "I can't think of the person's name"
    – B. Alvn
    Mar 15 '17 at 4:28
  • In korean made easy n°3 from go billy. Great serie of books. Thank you for your answer I guess I will learn to get a feel for those verb clause as I learn korean. For now I will just consider them as fixed expression so my brain can feel at rest. Mar 15 '17 at 8:44
  • not sure what you mean by "fixed expressions" but just look at it this way: if you see a noun with 이/가 attached, then look to the right for the verb, and see which of the three possibilities fits, and go from there. personally, i'm not a fan of Billy Go, and i'm not surprised his book left you hanging on a moderately complex point like this...but i'm sure they have strong points too.
    – B. Alvn
    Mar 16 '17 at 0:03

It might be easier to start with a simpler sentence, e.g.

나는 네가 좋아 (from 좋다) (I like you)

which seems to have two subject slots, one marked by '는' and the other by '가'.

What one should have expected looks more like this:

나는 너를 좋아해 (from 좋아하다) (I like you)

with one subject slot marked by '는' and one object slot by '를'.

The first sentence seems to violate the expectation that a sentence (not being compound) should have no more than one subject slot (which may however house multiple items as in, 'He and I like you').

One way to cope with this violation is to reject the violating structure as 'only surface' and to substitute another that does not violate. I believe this is the approach most grammar books take (though I have not looked at any). Examples:

  • '나는 네가 좋아' has one subject ('나는') and one object ('네가'). (The cost of saying this is that the rules get complicated. E.g. objects are marked with 을 and 를 except with certain verbs--e.g.'좋다'--they are marked with 이 and 가.)

  • '나는 네가 좋아' has one subject ('나는') and a 'verbal clause' or 'clausal predicate' ('네가 좋아'). '네가' is the subject of this clausal predicate, but not of the whole sentence. (Also see B. Alvn's answer. This account does not complicate the grammar of markers, but requires a new grammatical concept of clausal predicate.)

The two accounts are similar in preserving the 'one subject slot' principle, but the second represents more of an attempt to explain and motivate the syntax. We may say that the concept of clausal predicate can extend to something like:

I would rather that you went.

For which we might say that 'I' is the subject of the sentence, 'would rather that you went' a clausal predicate, and 'you' the subject of the clausal predicate.

I don't want to rag on the first approach too much though. Often complex rules committed to memory are the most efficient. For example, why should the new king be rich 'in' schemes, but hard 'of' hearing, and short 'on' money? There is no way around accepting the complexity.

In terms of motivating the syntax, however, I would consider accepting the surface structure as the true one. That is, we say that '나는 네가 좋아' has two subjects.

We do something like that in math all the time. For example, in

For all x, for all y, if F(x, y) then G (x, y).

what is the subject? Is it x, or y, or something else? We don't care. The sentence simply sets out a relationship between x and y.

Suppose then for

A took a copy of B's book

we were in the habit of using notations like:

R(A, copy, book, B).

This way, none of the four things look more like a subject than any other.

Certain translation exercises, not involving Korean, may also help to weaken the status of a grammatical subject. For example:

Er gefällt mir. → I like him.
Es gelang ihm, das zu tun. → He managed to do it.

where what is object in one language becomes subject in the other.

Thus, taking the surface structure of '나는 네가 좋아' for true would mean hearing in it something like:

It's about you, and it's about me: like.

'You' and 'me' have something like an equal status.


By 'motivating' I mean trying to see the sentence as the natural thing to say, or trying to answer, 'What could you have in mind when you say such a thing?'

However motivating (or not), this approach does not help you to know which verbs take multiple subject slots. No way around having to commit exceptions to memory.

To OP's sentence then:

나는 사람의 이름이 잘 생각이 안 나요.

The approach that complicates marker usage may say that '나는' is the subject, '이름이' the object, and '생각이' a complement.

The clausal predicate approach may say that there was a nesting of predicates. Namely, the sentence has '나는' for subject and '사람의 이름이 생각이 잘 안 나요' for predicate. This predicate has in turn '이름이' for subject and '잘 생각이 안 나요' for predicate. This final predicate has '생각이' for subject. Schematically:

나는 {사람의 이름이 [잘 생각이 (안 나요)]}.

'Accepting surface structure as true' may involve trying to see the sentence as something like:

For me, for names of people, for recollection, R.

'생각난다' belongs to a class of verbs that are made of a noun and '나다', e.g. '티나다' (be obvious), 맛나다 (be tasty).

Some combinations have not become a word. E.g. 멋 나다 (look good or dashing), 폼 나다 (look good, from the word 'form').

This answer is only trying to motivate the syntax. It's crackpot and may give you the wrong answer on an exam.

  • Catomic, I love when you "go to town" like this...however, I feel you aren't truly committing to anything here, but giving a spectrum of possibilities (of which there, in fact, are) and I kind of doubt that the OP is looking to spend hours or days (as we both have, I'm certain! :))) pondering this stuff. I love the nesting diagram...by graphically showing that, you have shed a lot of light on this case. By the way, ANY non-transitive verb (which includes all descriptive verbs) take a subject...so there is no memorizing required even if you do accept the multiple subject theory, is there?
    – B. Alvn
    Mar 16 '17 at 4:53
  • Looking at 나는(/내가) 네가 좋아 from the clausal perspective, I'd break it down a little differently, as: I (you are liked). One thing for the OP to know here is that, in Korean, the subject can be equated to, or described by, or possess, the predicate without explicitely using be-verbs or whatever else. So here, the predicate "you are liked" describes the subject "I"....I (have the characteristic that) you are liked. Or just: I like you. See how that works? Most Korean texts don't explain this at all.
    – B. Alvn
    Mar 16 '17 at 5:04
  • One more would be something like 사과가 맛이 달다. The apple (taste is sweet). The apple (has the characteristic that) taste is sweet. The apple tastes sweet.
    – B. Alvn
    Mar 16 '17 at 5:08
  • @B.Alvn. It's hard for me to know what OP wanted. I can only imagine he was someone like me, or that what he most wanted was to make sense of 'this crazy sentence' and see it as anything but arbitrary. / Trying to correlate the phenomenon to intransitivity may be a good start subject to fine tuning. For example, from '나는 눈썹이 눈을 찔러' you can see that it may not be strictly limited to intransitive verbs.
    – Catomic
    Mar 16 '17 at 5:49
  • yes, you are right...it is hard to say for sure..sorry if I came across as disrespectful, my friend, ok??? :-D All I said was that intransitive verbs take a subject, but I didn't say anything either way about transitives, did I? Regardless, there is no "list" to memorize, that's for sure...you have added more proof to that, haven't you? I feel that the "clause theory" is all-inclusive and provides a way to look at any case you may find, including: I (am characterized by) eyebrows that stab my eyes. (whatever that might means??!?!?!?)
    – B. Alvn
    Mar 17 '17 at 7:42

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