It’s true – kind of – but it is one of the most clumsy and unhelpful explanations in the long history of clumsy and unhelpful explanations that Western “Japanese grammar” has racked up.
It is also dangerous because it tends to fuzz up the nature of the all-important ga-particle (the core of every Japanese sentence) even more than the textbooks have fuzzed it up already.
This video lesson will explain what is really going on in these sentences and how it is much simpler and more intuitive than the standard explanation leads you to believe.
I am putting in some further explanation for people who want more details, and if you want still more, this note sparked a very full and interesting discussion in the YouTube comments section which you may want to read. I’ve pinned the thread to the top so you can find it immediately.
A quick nerdy note for those interested
I am not saying that “Ga can become no in subordinate clauses” is untrue. I am saying that it is an unhelpful description for the following reasons:
1. It gives a very abstract and complicated appearance to what is essentially a very simple and intuitive phenomenon. If you don’t happen to know what a subordinate clause is already, it is useless. And it isn’t a good idea to learn what a subordinate clause is just for the purpose (as I am sure many people do) because…
2. If you do know what a subordinate clause is, it is still inadequate and confusing because the point really isn’t that the clause is subordinate. The point is that it is adjectival. Using the general term “subordinate” just serves to make it fuzzy.
3. (And this is the crux of the matter) It gives the impression that ga is suddenly replaced by the unrelated particle no for no very apparent reason (other than “it just is, so learn it”). It also gives the impression that there is perhaps “another no” that means something completely different from the usual no. Actually no is doing something not all that different from what it usually does. We are in fact using the possessive/attributive function of no to attribute an (already stated or assumed) action or state to an already known person or thing. So in terms of practical grammar it does tend to de-emphasize the adjectival clause (marking it as “old news” as it were and throwing the spotlight more firmly onto the thing it is describing).
4. It just adds one more little twist to the process of obscuring ga. Ga is the heart and foundation of Japanese grammar, and Western descriptions seem to be almost willfully throwing obstructions in the path of understanding the very key to the language. Of course there is nothing willful about it but it there might as well be. While this is nowhere near as damaging to the foundations of Japanese understanding as saying that koohii ga suki desu really means “I like coffee”, it just helps to muddy the waters of ga that little bit more. Maybe not such a quick note after all. ごめんなさい。