Level 8: Translation of 対する

I have a question about the vocabulary item 対する and its translation in Level 8. I’ve searched previous threads and I think the word itself may have been discussed, but I don’t think this particular point has come up before. Apologies if it has.

The main translation for 対する in level 8 is “to compare with”. Other accepted translations are “to face each other, to oppose, to compare, to contrast, to contrast with”, and the mnemonic is introduced as follows: “When you do (する) versus you’re putting two things together to compare with each other”, referring back to the 対 kanji.

Interestingly, none of the three example sentences for this vocabulary item use “to compare with” as a translation (or any of the accepted alternative translations for that matter) and only in one of those sentences a comparison is being made.

From my understanding, 対する is a rather special verb in that it’s almost exclusively used in a construction like Nに対するN, often lacking an object of “comparison” in the way it would be used in English. I’ve selected a few example sentences from jisho.org to illustrate the point:

  1. に対する義務だけで教会に行きます。I only go to church out of duty to my mother.
  2. 彼らは罪に対する罰を受けるべきだ。They should face a penalty for their crimes.
  3. 彼は地震に対する準備ができている。He is ready for an earthquake.
  4. 彼は片親の家族に対する同情がない。He has no sympathy for single parent families.

In all these instances (and the vast majority of example sentences on jisho.org are similar), 対する doesn’t translate to a verb in English at all, but instead becomes a preposition that is governed by the noun (or adjective in English) that 対する precedes in Japanese.

In fact, there’s no good way of reformulating any of these sentences in English to include the verb “to compare with”, yielding a translation that changes the meaning of the sentence and/or has questionable grammar, e.g. *He has no sympathy compared with single parent families.

There are uses of Nに対するN that would be translated as “compared with” or “in contrast to”, such as in the example below that I’ve sourced from learnjapanesedaily.com, but it remains a limited usage of a specific construction rather than a fully fledged verb:

  1. 去年に対する今年の冬はなんとなく暖かいです。In contrast to last year, this winter is so wam.

So I was wondering if it would make more sense to change the vocabulary item to the actual grammatical construction rather than the verb alone and change the translation of the item so it becomes less misleading. I think a learner wanting to express what “to compare (with)” does in English would more frequently use forms of 比べる or even 匹敵する instead of 対する. But perhaps I’m wrong?

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I don’t think this is necessarily true. に対する is a bit of a specialized usage that has its own nuance that does not represent the wide usage of the verb. Weblio has lots of examples showing its use in phrases as facing, opposing, confronting, resisting, etc.:

I do agree, though, that ‘to compare with’ is probably not the best primary meaning to teach.

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I think in all these examples with the use of に before 対する it only has the meaning of “for; in regard to; per” as mentioned here https://jisho.org/search/対して instead of "“to compare with”.
The link doesn’t mention the “suru form” of に対 but the “Te-form.”. Maybe this helps a bit?

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Weblio does, though:

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I’m not so sure actually. Almost all example sentences I can see that have the meaning of opposing, confronting, or resisting are actually examples of 反対する or 敵対する that happen to come up for the search term 対する because the Weblio search isn’t very sensitive and the other two verbs include that string of characters.

I’ve only gone through the first six or so pages of the results, but the meaning “to face” doesn’t seem to occur too much either (I think I saw two or three instances) and is often 相対する, which comes up for the same reason. Unless I’m overlooking something.

It’s interesting that it would only list the て-form, especially since the four examples I quoted in the original post are from their collection of example sentences and they have a lot more containing に対する is used to mean “for” etc.

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Actually they have an entry for に対する too in Jisho https://jisho.org/search/に対する%20
Maybe they should have listed the examples you gave only at this entry to avoid confusion?

Maybe this is a case where a monolingual dictionary would be better?


The very first meaning in both are ‘二つの物が向かい合う’ which aligns with the primary meanings given both on Jisho and Kenkyusha of ‘to face’. Entry number 4 on Weblio is where you also get the meaning as comparison and contrast. Entry #4 on goo lists ‘立ち向かう。’ which is where the oppose or fight against meaning comes in to play. Nearly every entry aligns pretty well to the ordering of meanings taken from Kenkyusha here:

Just wanted to say, since the first post talks about Jisho sentences a lot… Those come from Tatoeba. They can be written by anyone of any language level, and can be written by someone trying to achieve some other goal than write a Japanese dictionary example sentence, so while it’s possible for them to be used for some things, I wouldn’t use them to draw conclusions about the language.

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Perhaps I haven’t been expressing myself clearly because I’m not at all arguing that those meanings don’t exist or that they’re wrong. Even if there’s just one example in the Weblio corpus or given as an explanation in the dictionary, they’re obviously correct. I was more referring to the frequency of one meaning or usage of 対する versus others.

A Weblio corpus search is at least a somewhat reliable indicator and if I’m not mistaken, 対する occurs a lot more often in the Nに対するN form than in its other forms in the results. I’m not at a proficiency level to decide if that’s the case definitively so I’m more than happy for others to weigh in on the frequency aspect.

So yeah, my suggestion is not to scrap the additional meanings that WaniKani offers or to ignore that it also means all those things as well, but to take a closer look at “to compare with” as its main meaning and to potentially draw more attention to Nに対するN – provided it’s correct to say that it occurs in that construction a lot. Since it’s a level 8 item, you’re introduced to it before you learn 比べる to say “to compare”, while simultaneously learning 反対(する) as “to oppose”. So I felt that the way 対する is introduced may leave early-stage learners ill-equipped to fully understand the usage of 対する (since all three WaniKani examples actually use the Nに対するN construction) or the most common ways to express “to compare”, “to oppose” etc.

This is why I keep trying to point out nearly every dictionary orders the meanings that I mention as some of the very first ones. Most dictionaries tend to weigh the order of meanings by what is consider the most primary meanings. If Nに対するN really was the most frequently used meaning and usage, it seems odd that no dictionaries list this at the top, no? Instead, nearly every one puts some form of “二つの物が向かい合う” as the first entry.

I don’t know that you can necessarily say that. Those examples can be ordered fairly randomly and interleave multiple usages without any seeming ordering.

Also if it helps any, the primary meanings of 対する from the last time the JLPT N3 vocabulary list was published also listed to face, to confront, to oppose as its meanings. I would expect the JLPT test makers would also be prioritizing testing on the most frequent and common meanings.

I think this is a case of where WK is ok with letting you learn the primary dictionary definition and learn the other stuff through grammar* study.

Because this really does mean “to compare” when you look at it literally even if the actual meaning is different. There’s almost an implied I in the「母に対する」phrase.

Literally: (My) duty compared to my mother because of, I go to church.

Translation is inherently imperfect.

*Side Note

This is frequently called grammar study when they teach the 「~に対する」construction but it’s not really grammar. It’s interpreting a turn of phrase.

The grammar is as basic as it can get with just 「noun+に+verb」

You’ll learn that in the first week of study.

But that’s just a personal pet peeve of mine.

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I’m more than happy to accept that Nに対するN may not in fact be the most common usage of 対する, and again, my proficiency level doesn’t make me an authority. Thanks for the JLPT N3 list reference in any case.

And while I don’t want this to go back and forth unnecessarily, I’d like to point out that even if we ignore the frequency question, “to compare with” remains an awkward main translation at best since none of the three WaniKani example sentences contain that translation. Also, if Nに対するN is indeed less frequent than the other usages of 対する, it may not be helpful to use Nに対するN in all three examples and not provide a single examples of 対する as a plain verb.

I would argue that this usage of に対する (as well as the other usages I quoted above) come from the base meaning of “二つの物が向かい合う”, as quoted by jojokojo. Translation is indeed imperfect, but the duty towards my mother, his sympathy (or lack thereof) for single parent families, or his earthquake preparedness express something facing something else, not a comparison.

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I agree that the 2nd and 3rd WaniKani example sentences have no hint of “compare” in them, but the first example


Is comparing the amount of egg white to yolk. Yes, the word “compare” is not used, but it’s not completely different like the other uses.

But, I also am not really sure what the goal of the thread is. To suggest that they use a different main meaning? Just to let you know, they are unlikely to stumble upon this and take action on it, but they might add it to their list of changes to consider if you email them.

EDIT: Oh, at the end you do say you want to suggest a change, but in the reverse of what I imagining.

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That’s true but that’s just another abstraction layer because it literally means both, among other things, at the same time with different nuances coming to the fore based on usage. And at that point you just have to pick one and run with it. :wink:

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