Subordinate clauses (jūzokusetsu 従属節) are the opposite of independent clauses (dokuritsusetsu 独立節). In English, independent clauses stand alone as sentences with at least a subject and a verb, and dependent clauses are composed of a subject and verb but do not form a complete thought. Thus, the former is used as a sentence and may also be called the “main clause (shusetsu 主節)” but the latter is not. In the English sentences, below, the clause put in  is labeled as either being an independent or a dependent clause.
In English, dependent clauses are usually marked with the words "what," “which,” “whose,” “where,” “who,” “whom,” and “that.” English doesn’t particularly distinguish between using these words based on whether a question is being embedded or not. In other words, “what” doesn’t look different in v. or vi. despite that the meaning is not the same.
When you are creating a subordinate clause but not to embed a question, you simply place the verbal phrase like you would an adjectival phrase directly before the noun you wish to modify. This is exactly opposite of English, which depending on the length of the phrase, usually places complex verbal qualifiers after the noun in question.
Kenta-kun wa kinō, yama wo noborimashita.
Yesterday, Kenta climbed a mountain.
Kinō yama wo nobotta no wa , Kenta-kun deshita.
The one who climbed the mountain yesterday was Kenta.
In Ex. 2, the particle no の is used to change kinō yama wo nobotta きのう山を登った into a nominal phrase exactly. It is essentially the “one” in the sentence with no intervening “who” being necessary. This should not be new information at this point as we've seen plenty of sentences in which whole phrases, whether they end in adjectives or verbs, modify nouns. Now you just know a little more about what’s going on.
Kyodai na sakana ga ano same wo nomikonda.
An enormous fish swallowed that shark.
Ano same wo nomikonda, kono sakana wa yahari ōkii desu ne.
This fish, which swallowed that shark, is big as expected, isn’t it.
When a subordinate clause is an embedded question, the particle ka か intervenes. Embedded sentences, as a rule, don’t include the topic of the sentence. This is because the topic should be outside, in the main clause. As such, you will expect to see ga が in dependent clauses. If for some reason you do see wa は, that’s a clue that you are not actually in the embedded clause, and if you are, it’s not being used to mark the topic.
Kairo wa(,) doko no kuni ni aru ka shitte imasu ka?
Do you know which country Cairo is at?
Literally: As for Cairo, do you know which country it is at?
Dono shukudai ga muzukashikatta ka oshiete kudasai.
Please tell me which homework was difficult.
Dore ga oishii ka mazui ka sappari wakarimasen.
I have no idea which is delicious and which is nasty.
Kono seibutsu wa nani ka oshiete kudasai.
Please tell me what creature this is.
Tanabata wa itsu ka shitte imasu ka?
Do you know when Tanabata is?
Culture Note: Tanabata 七夕, also known as the Star Festival, is a Japanese festival that celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime 織姫 and Hikoboshi 彦星 represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively.
Ka dō ka かどうか
To express "whether (…)or not,” you can substitute what “not” would stand for with dō ka どうか. This gives rise to the phrase ka dō ka かどうか.
Tsuma ga nete iru ka okite iru ka wakaranai.
I don't know whether my wife is asleep or awake?
Tsuma ga nete iru ka dō ka wakaranai.
I don’t know whether or not my wife is asleep.
(Watashi wa,) kanojo ga mushi ga kirai ka dō ka wakarimasen.
I don't know whether or not she hates bugs.
Otto ga hontō ni shiawase ka dō ka wakarimasen.
I really don’t know whether or not my husband is really happy.
Without the dō ka どうか, you create a sentence that asks “if” something is so.
Ofuro ga jūbun ni atsui ka dō ka tashikamete kudasai.
Please check whether or not the bath is hot enough.
Ofuro ga jūbun ni atsui ka tashikamete kudasai.
Please check if the bath is hot enough.
Kyō wa, ano mise no sōmen ga hontō ni mazui ka chōsa shimasu.
Today, I will investigate if that place’s somen really is disgusting.
Indirect Questions are Noun-Like
In Japanese, whenever there is a quantifier that follows ka か, it will refer to the noun phrase embedded in the indirect question.
Yamaguchi-san wa dare ga utatta ka daitai shitte iru deshō.
Mr/M(r)s. Yamaguchi probably knows for the most part who sang.
Word Note: Daitai 大体 corresponds to the quantity of people dare 誰 refers to.
Watashi wa nani ga todoita ka zembu shitte imasu.
I know all of what has arrived.
Word Note: Zembu 全部 corresponds to the quantity of things nani 何refers to.
This demonstrates that embedded questions end up functioning like nouns thanks to か. This can be further demonstrated by how other particles can follow it.
Keisatsu wa dare ga hankō gemba ni ita ka wo shirabete imasu.
The police are investigating who was at the crime scene.
Don’na jōtai ni naru ka ni chūmoku shite kudasai.
Pay attention to what sort of situation it becomes.
Furui ka dō ka wo shiraberu hōhō
Method of investigating whether or not it’s old
Nai mono wa shōga nai desu ga, asu no jiten de hassō suru tammatsu wa raishū suiyō made ni Sapporo ni tōchaku suru ka ga shiritai desu.
The ones you don’t have can’t be helped, but I want to know if the devices that you will ship as of tomorrow will make it by Wednesday next week to Sapporo.
Grammar Note: The ending -tai ～たい is an ending that denotes personal want to do something, and it conjugates, interestingly enough, as an adjective. We will learn more about it later in IMABI.
No ka のか
In our last discussion on ka か, we learned that the no の in no ka のか adds weight to the question one is making. In other words, it makes your concern serious. Now, what determines the overall civility of your question is all based on what else is added to the sentence, but putting that aside, this same principle applies to embedded questions as well.
Sonzai igi wa nan na no ka oshiete kudasai.
Please tell me what exactly the meaning of life is.
Nani ga nani ka wa hotondo wakarimasen.
I hardly understand what is what.
Nani wo itte iru no ka wakaranai.
I don’t understand what you’re saying.
When you use ka か all on its own, the level of uncertainty you are portraying is more or less at about 20%. You aren’t sure, so you’re asking a question, but your level of uncertainty is neither pressing nor significant in the least. This helps explain the tone of all the examples of it thus far in this lesson.
Tsugi no aite wa dare ka wakarimasen.
I don’t know who my next opponent is.
Tsugi no aite wa dare na no ka wakarimasen.
I really don’t know who my next opponent is.
The use of no ka のか raises the level of one’s uncertainty to 50%. When the particle ka か is directly after a question word, it first and foremost shows that something is uncertain. As such, in Ex. 26 …the fact that one has an opponent is just what is uncertain about the situation. With the change to no ka のか, your attention is shifting toward suspicion as to who will really be one’s opponent.
Dare ga nusunda no ka shirimasen ka?
Would you happen to know who stole it?
Koko wa seisen shokuryōhin ga yasui no ka, sugoku konde imasu.
Whether it’s because fresh produce is cheap, but it is really crowded here.
Un’yō shite iru hito ga sukunai no ka, intānetto ni jōhō ga hotondo arimasen.
Whether it’s because there are few people running it, there is hardly any information online.
Question Word + ka か
In speaking of ka か attaching to questions to show uncertainty, consider the follow phrases that are created when “question + ka か” is not used at the end of the sentence.
Their parts of speech are just like the question words that make them up. Dareka 誰か, nanika 何か, and dokoka どこか can either be used as nouns or adverbs. This means that ga が and wo を will always be optional if applicable. Itsuka いつか and dōka どうか on the other hand are only used as adverbs and never take these particles.
Itsuka kitto, sekai ga hitotsu ni naru hi ga kuru.
Someday surely, the day in which the world becomes one will arrive.
Ano ko wa nendo de nanika (wo) tsukutta.
That child made something with clay.
Konshū wa, dan’na ga aru hon wo kai ni dokoka e itta.
This week, my husband went somewhere to buy a certain book.
Dōka yurushite kudasai.
Please forgive me.
Da ka だか
Say you are even more doubtful and or suspicious about the situation. In which case, rather than using ka か or no ka のか, you can actually use da ka だか. This is when it becomes appropriate to have the particle ka か follow the copula da だ. The level of one’s uncertainty with this is about 80%.
Da ka だか attaches to nouns and adjectival nouns with no modification done to either side. With other parts of speech, you will need to insert n/no ん・の between it and a verb/adjective, giving n da ka んだか・no da ka のだか.
Tsugi no aite wa dare da ka wakarimasen.
I have no clue who my next opponent is.
Boku wa, aitsu ga hontō ni on’na da ka wakaranai n desu yo.
I really have no clue if that guy is a woman.
Aite ga gei da ka wakaranai.
I sure don't know if my partner/the person (I'm dealing with) is gay.
80% uncertainty is not a guarantee. In the example below, the question posed is simply drawing the listener in to elicit a response for the speaker to then say yea or nay.
Kono yo de saikō ni kirei na mono wa nan da ka shittemasu?
Do you what the prettiest thing in the world is?
Nandaka 何だか can also be used as an adverb meaning "a little/somewhat/rather."
Kono hen wa nandaka shizuka desu ne.
This area is rather quiet, isn't it?
I'm a little tired.
N da ka んだか
Showing 80-100% indecisiveness/uncertainty is possible with n da ka んだか, especially in the pattern “A…n da ka + B…n da ka (A…んだか＋B…んだか).” The “A” and “B” can be a noun, adjective, adjectival noun, or verb. If it’s a noun or adjectival noun, you will need to place na な before n da ka んだか. For adjectives and verbs, this pattern becomes indistinguishable from the previous one, which is why it may or may not show absolute indecisiveness.
Yasui n da ka, takai n da ka, mō wakaranai n desu yo.
I have no idea if whether it’s cheap or expensive.
Shujinkō wa ittai dare na n da ka wakaranai.
I have no earthly idea who the protagonist is.
Sukunai n da ka, ōi n da ka wakaranaku naru yo na.
You end up not having a clue if there’s little or a lot of it, you know.
Particle Note: The particle na な at the end of this sentence is used similarly to ending a sentence with “you know” in English.
As you can see, using more than one n da ka んだか is used to show a desperate/completely indecisive “whether…or…” This, though, is used in the sense of making heads or tails of a situation, not as in presenting indecisiveness on a benign decision.
In the same light, all the other patterns shown in this lesson can be used the same way with various degrees of uncertainty implied.
|…ka…ka ～か～か||0~20%||Simply lists options.|
|…no ka…no ka ～のか～のか||50%||A rather confident yet uncertain “or.”|
|…da ka…da ka ～だか～だか||80%||Very uncertain and suspicious “or.”|
|…n da ka…n da ka ～んだか～んだか||100%||Completely indecisive “or.”|
As for “…ka…ka (～か～か),” the final ka か isn’t there if you’re just listing options of an action/situation unless you are actually questioning something. It’s when you list situations/actions that both ka か are needed.
Nama no suidōsui ka futtō shita suidōsui ka ocha ka, dore ga ichiban kenkō ni ii n desu ka?
Which is the healthiest, plain tap water, boiled tap water, or tea?
Mizu ka miruku wo nonde kudasai.
Drink water or milk.
Sushi ka sashimi wo chūmon shite kudasai.
Order either sushi or sashimi.
Kōen ni iku ka, depāto ni iku ka desu ne.
Either go to the park or go to the department store, right?
Tōkyō de wa otoko da ka on’na da ka wakaranai hito ga ōi no?
Are there are lot of people in Tokyo you can’t tell whether they’re a man or a woman?
Samui no ka atsui no ka wakaranai n ja nai no?
You don’t know whether it’s cold or hot (outside)?
Mō dare ga shinu n da ka, min’na shinu n da ka wakaranai.
I have no idea anymore who’s going to die or if everyone’s going to die.