Confusion about the subject of the verb

Wanikani says that 気に入る means “To Take A Liking, To Be Pleased, To Be Happy”.

But then the examples seem to show that the thing that makes happy is the subject: ネックレス気に入る 、プレゼント気に入る

So wouldn’t it be more precise to translate the verb as “to please, to make happy”? I know Japanese has this thing about reversing the role of the subject compared to English, like わなる. In the case of わかる there’s probably no good analogy in English (“to be understood?”), but it seems like in the case of 気に入る there is, isn’t it? Why not “to please” or “to be pleasing” or “to make happy”?

The third example is confusing me, because it says:

少年が気に入る
the boy’s pleased with, to like the boy

Am I wrong that these two English phrases mean opposite things? Either the boy is pleased with something or somebody likes the boy. So which is it?

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No, because the subject is the thing you’re pleased with.

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Yes, but this is how these are usually translated, because the other way doesn’t usually make sense in English. Just think of 好き, technically it means “being likeable/favourable”, but you don’t translate “あなたが好き” as “you are likeable [to me]”, but “I like you”

So while in practice this means “to be pleasing” or “to make happy”, it’s just not how it’s going to be used in practice.

This does seem somewhat wrong, though I see it translated as “The boy likes it” elsewhere as well, so not sure

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Wiktionary provides “Usage notes” explaining this: 気に入る - Wiktionary, the free dictionary

I guess in the end it’s a case of literal translation versus natural translation. You’ll find similar oddities in other languages who have these “backwards” constructions for “to like”, which is rather common for some reason:

нравиться - Wiktionary, the free dictionary (Russian has tones of those, like мне холодно, literally “it’s cold to me” but it just means “I’m cold”).

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gustar#Spanish

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/plaire#French

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/placeo#Latin

The problem in all those situations is that translating this by “xxx pleases me” is just awkward and unnatural in English. It matches the grammar better, but the semantics are off.

Notice that the wiktionary is not consistent in the way it defines these words in various languages, although it generally at least makes a note of how they often translate to “to like” with the person liking in the dative and object as subject.

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Doesn’t this prove my point? If the subject is what you’re pleased with, then the verb should be translated as “to please”:

ネックレスが (subject) 気に入る
The English equivalent is:
The necklace (subject) pleases me (object)

In the English sentence “I’m pleased with the necklace”, the subject is I.

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The Japanese literally means “X enters my mind”.

But 気 is not just a cold, intellectual, kind of “mind”; it is also related to feeling.

It is not the same, but you can compare to the English idiom “X is in my heart” to tell that you are fond of X.

Those idioms are not about a mere characteristic of X, but about the relationship/feeling about X.

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But would you say that “the necklace pleases me” and “I like the necklace” mean exactly the same thing in English?

If you do then what you say makes sense, if you don’t then “the necklaces pleases me” is probably not the most accurate translation.

I’m not a native English speaker but “the necklace pleases me” does not mean the same thing to me.

It’s a bit as if one said “勉強する should not be translated as ‘to study’ because it’s ‘to do the study’” or something like that. It’s kind-of true, but it’s not particularly helpful to understand what the word means.

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I’m not a native English speaker either :person_shrugging:
Now that I think about it, in most other languages that I speak, the thing being liked is usually the subject. Which makes me think that maybe this is why this bothers me: Wanikani reverses the Japanese structure, which makes sense to me intuitively, into an English structure that doesn’t add any value to my intuition. But I understand why Wanikani is doing it. I’ll just add the translation that makes sense to me as a user synonym.

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Yeah unfortunately is a fairly common situation with Japanese that you’ll have to get used to. Often the idiomatic way to say something in Japanese doesn’t really match English grammar and attempting to twist it to match will just make it more confusing usually.

In Japanese things “do” a smell, you “pull” the flu, you don’t say that you’re looking forward to something, you say that “there is anticipation” etc…

And that’s not even getting into the nuances and usage of transitive/intransitive/passive/causative verbs.

The good news is that usually if you know the rough meaning of a verb it’s not too complicated to make sense of it in context. If you read 彼はこのセーターが気に入らなかった you’re not likely to understand it as “this sweater does not like him”! Of course if you actually have to produce the language that’s a different story.

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Mmm. Personally I recommend not trying to translate this kind of idiomatic expression into another language in your head; instead concentrate on some simple uses of it that you can keep in your head. (This works better with Anki style “do I know this?” SRS than "type a translation " SRS, of course.)

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I agree completely, “getting used to it” in my mind meant “not translating and just accepting it for what it is”.

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The concept of the subject of sentences is a perennial source of confusion for learners of Japanese, especially when coming from Western/European languages like English. I would highly recommend watching at least one video by Cure Dolly on the subject (no pun intended! :sweat_smile: ) where she emphasizes that Japanese as Japanese works a bit different than English (and most European languages). Here are a couple of good ones.

[Note: Some folks find her accent/voice difficult or annoying. I highly recommend turning on subtitles in the player, because she always provides complete subtitles and they will help clarify everything she is saying.]


This video explains that the が particle (which always marks the subject) is central to every Japanese sentence (even if sometimes it doesn’t appear!)


This one goes further to explain the idea of the ‘invisible pronoun’ ∅, aka the ‘zero pronoun’, which when marked as the subject with が is denoted ∅が , and called ‘zero ga’.


Finally, this one goes into more depth, especially for the purpose of untangling the confusion around the は (topic) particle and the が (subject) particle.

As for this confusion, I will again refer you to another Cure Dolly video. :sweat_smile: The previous videos about が marking the subject are a pre-requisite for this video, so if you really want the full answer, you’ll need to understand the points expressed in those videos first. But once you do, then this video will be much easier to understand also.

This video explains a major difference between Japanese and, in particular, English (although probably including many other European languages), which is this preference in English for the subjects of sentences to be animate beings, while in Japanese it is common to find inanimate beings to be the subject of sentences. In particular, she applies this to the expression of ‘desire’ in Japanese vs. English. And near the end of the video she explains a point which may shed light on how 気に入る may work differently depending on who/what is marked by as the subject by the が particle. Instead of me explaining it myself here (I only learned it myself recently! :sweat_smile: ) I’ll let you hear it from Cure Dolly herself. Watching this one really cleared up a lot of confusion for me, so I hope it is also helpful for you and anyone else.

Cure Dolly and Wanikani are two of the main reasons why I decided that it might be fun to study Japanese! :sweat_smile:

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In English, if someone buys you a necklace and you wear it every day, this means you have taken a liking to it. So this can still be seen as the correct verb when looking at it from that point of view. “You have taken a liking to the necklace that has been purchased for you”.

My understanding is that nowadays there are roughly two patterns to use 気に入る

(Aは)Bが気に入る. A takes a liking in B (A is a person)
AがBを気に入る. A takes a liking in B (A is a person)

The first one was originally the standard pattern, typical japanese way of using intranstive for non-volitional feeling, as if the thing someone takes a liking is doing the work “B enters the ki of A”
The second is more recent, but like をすき is getting more common. Maybe in this second pattern 気に入る got somewhat lexicalized as a single transitive verb ? Maybe also an influence from the ~を~に pattern?

So I think without context “少年が気に入る” can both mean:

(人は)少年が気に入る Someone takes a liking in the boy
少年が(人・物を)気に入る The boy takes a liking in something/someone

In the two other examples (ネックレスが気に入る / プレゼントが気に入る) the word marked by が is not a person so there is no ambiguity.

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