N1 questions

I am currently studying for the N1 exam and there is a text of the 2012 sample test that I have difficulties to understand completely. It begins with this sentence:


More or less I can imagine what it is about but not good enough to being able to translate it. There are some translations in the internet but I can’t understand how this part 我が身が生涯に望み and this part 知り得ることは this part are related to each other.


Don’t 望み (as in 望んで) and 知り得る both refer back to 我が身が生涯?

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我が身が I
生涯に望み、hope in my lifetime
知り得ることは、things that I can know
世界中を旅行しようと、even if I travel the world
何をしようと、or do anything
小さい。 are little

The things that I can hope to know during my life time, even if I travel the world or do anything, are limited.

Not totally sure but sounds about right. The comma is what bother me, 生涯に望み知り得る looks like one single nominal group attached to こと


Not sure if you’ve already seen this but there are some native explanations here.

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Thank you, I saw that. It doesn’t help me with analyzing the grammar of this sentence. It seems to me like a fragment.

Eg 小さい is talking about 知り得る事 no?
Small? Wouldn’t 少ない better explain that?

Where is this expressed in the sentence? For me it looks like there is no connection between the first two parts…

Or is it a fragmented writing style like:

The desire of my life, knowledge, neither travelling the world nor trying anything, is small.

I think it is because of the に right? What I expect from my life, not the expectation of my life maybe. 生涯に望みます=知り得ること。?

I think it’s a literary style thing. It’s not about the number of things I can know, more the scope of things that I can know.

That would be の望み, に should be understood like ‘in’ imo. Also, 望む is closer to ‘hope’ than ‘desire’. In fact, it can also means ‘prospects’: 将来よくなりそうな見込み。将来に寄せる期待。
So something more like ‘what can be expected from a lifetime’ I think.

It’s a pretty stylized sentence, may be focus more on the flow of it rather than looking for a literal translation.


What I am looking for is not what I was writing, sorry :sweat_smile: I think I am looking for an explanation of 生涯望み in the end, grammatically. I misinterpreted this as a noun, hope, which I think it is not.

Yea, pretty sure it’s the 連用形 (continuative form) of 望む


The comma is strange :grin:

Without comma I think it would be hard to parse, it would looks like a weird long compound verb “望み知り得る” or something. The comma make it clear that it’s a 連用形, like 『我が身が生涯に望み、(が身が生涯に)知り得る』ことは小さい.


I see, that’s true.

I think you might have already got it from all the other answers, but this would be my breakdown, particularly after checking the dictionary and the HiNative link:

Literal grammatical analysis (segment by segment):

Literary (not literal) translation attempting to preserve tone and structure:

Translation in more readable, everyday English:

So in other words, particularly since there’s only one が that’s not part of a set phrase in the first half, only one noun-modifying (aka ‘adnominal’=連体形) form before こと, and no other nouns after 我が身, everything before こと is a single phrase that modifies it. I think you know that 〜しようと(も)is an N1 or N2 structure that is equivalent to 〜しても, and I don’t think it appears outside of literature. If you take all that together, knowing that 望み is just a form for linking to another declinable (i.e. verb or adjective), also known as a continuative form (連用形), then you should be able to deduce the meaning of the sentence.


In my limited exposure to the renyoukei, I was instructed it resembles either noun-like structures or the te form in function without the restriction of a chronological link. In this case then it looks like 望み and 知り得る both refer to こと. Two separate phrases could read either 知り得ること or 望むこと. By putting 望む into the 連用形, you just have a way to make one phrase with two verbs nominalized by the same こと.


Thank you, that threw me off. に sometimes could have other meanings and I am bad at particles in the sense that I tend to overread them first and make my own interpretation.

I love your analysis :heart_eyes:
The problem is, that there are some explanations that go like " hoping to know" and I didn’t understand where it comes from.

That’s what my husband also said. I cannot ask him Japanese questions often and only after I have prepared a little because otherwise he just brushes me off…
He said it is an abbreviation of 生涯に望む事 and 知り得ること and they are not connected in the sense of ‘hoping to know’.

Have to take a closer look at 連用形. :sweat_smile:


Here, honestly, there are basically only two possible interpretations:
〜に望む = to expect/hope for (something) from ~
生涯に = in (someone’s) lifetime

The first interpretation looks very sensible, and is also what a lot of people answering on HiNative mentioned, but the problem is that 望み was used, so I don’t think – though I could be wrong – that 生涯に is limited to only the first verb, and probably is also relevant to 知り得る. That aside, while looking 生涯 up, I found examples that used it to mean ‘in (someone’s) lifetime’ even when the verb used wasn’t something like いる or ある. That’s when I decided it had to be something more general.

EDIT: Hm… honestly though, maybe both interpretations are possible. But then there’s the bit about travelling the world, which would be something that would take a lifetime, so 生涯 probably should apply to both…? I think travelling around a lot would definitely increase the number of things one would know about more than the things one could hope for, at the least.

This – in my opinion – actually just comes from English. It’s a very tempting interpretation, and I wanted to use it too, because ‘to hope to know’ (or just ‘to hope to do’ in general) is a very pleasant, poetic phrase in English. The problem is that the Japanese sentence doesn’t support that, because the ‘knowing’ bit (知り) doesn’t appear as part of an object or object phrase for 望む. That means that the knowledge we’re talking about isn’t being hoped for, and that means we can’t use ‘hoping to know’ as a translation.

The quick and short version is that this is the form that allows you to place other verbs or adjectives after the verb or adjective you’re using, and it’s often similar to the て-form in meaning. It’s used for making compound verbs, and can also function as a noun (with the major exception of old-fashioned phrases like 見るがいい, in which case it’s the 連体形 – not the 連用形 – that is working as a noun). There isn’t that much else you need to know, other than the fact that it also can be combined with various suffixes, which are often helper verbs (助動詞) like たい or なさい, but most of this is probably grammar you already know without the technical details.

Now, I know that there technically is a slight difference between 連用形 alone and the て-form, which is actually (historically) 連用形+て, but I haven’t found the time or motivation to finish reading the studies I’ve found on it. The one thing that I’ve noticed is that with the 連用形, there tends to be more of a break in the sentence, and the two actions feel more distinct, whereas with the て-form, I tend to feel like the actions are more closely linked and more likely to happen one after the other. For the 連用形, this is called the 中止法, which definitely seems to express that idea, and according to 精選版 日本国語大辞典, the actions described can be expressed either in the order of occurrence, or without any particular order in mind (which is the case here, I think).

If you want to read the study I’ve found, it’s here: https://hermes-ir.lib.hit-u.ac.jp/hermes/ir/re/8516/ryugaku0000900150.pdf

But it’s about 11 pages of Japanese, so I won’t blame you if you don’t feel like going through all of it. (I think the furthest I’ve gone in a study is about 7 pages, with lots of little bits skipped in between.) Still, the section on something like 連用形の二つの形 might be helpful. (The page is no longer loading for me, so I’m relying on my memory of what I saw just now. I hope I didn’t get the section title wrong.)


Thank you! That’s really helpful. I am going to read the study, maybe it’s a good training before going on with this text.

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I don’t know if you’ve looked at the rest of that text yet, but I found it through Googling and it definitely uses a lot of 連用形. You should get familiar with the form if you’re going to be reading a lot of literary texts, because you will be encountering it all the time.


Or even regular LN that try to sound literary. Ask me how I know :joy:

I am familiar with it but the explanation I heard so far was in language school where it was explained to be similar to テ形. I think they mentioned it is not completely exchangeable but didn’t explain the nuances of both so until now I just guessed like others seem to do as well.

It’s just that, if you continue reading that text, starting with the initial idea that it is talking about your ‘hope to know’ you can’t understand why it switches suddenly to comparing acquisition of knowledge to physical labor. Which makes sense if you are starting into it thinking about limitations of the physical world (which includes mental activity for the author obviously) in a more general sense. So I had to read that first sentence several time and so I found out that the explanation of this grammar I heard so far was not sufficient to understand it.

This happens often, I always have to relearn grammar points. The study @Jonapedia linked above explains other uses of the テ形 as well and it is quite informative. If someone is currently studying for the N2 or N1 I can recommend to read it.

I haven’t been fully following this conversation, but is anything about this usage different from the normal 連用形 usage where it’s used in place of て-form? I’m asking since you said this was an N1 question, but I always thought of this form as N3, and it probably shows up dozens (if not hundreds) of times in any given book.

When I read the sentence I assumed the relevant N1 grammar was the repeated しようと (mostly because I wasn’t familiar with it, even if the meaning was apparent).