OK, here’s an example sentence from a grammar lesson.
It basically means, “No matter how many times I warn Tom, he doesn’t listen, and so I’m in a fix.”
My question, which a couple of Japanese teachers have not been able to explain so that I understand, is how do we know in this sentence that the person who’s in a fix is “I” rather than “Tom”?
My first instinct upon reading this sentence was to translate it as “No matter how many times I (or someone) warn Tom, he doesn’t listen, and so he’s in a fix.” But that’s just wrong. The Japanese speakers who’ve looked at it with me say it’s obviously the speaker who’s 困っている. But they can’t really explain why. They laugh and say, it can’t be Tom! He doesn’t care!
What’s the clue in the grammar or usage? I have often thought that there should be a Japanese textbook for intermediate learners with the sole focus on explaining who is who in sentences like these which are obvious to native Japanese speakers, and less so for people like me.
Reckon it’s because you can’t directly use emotive verbs or adjectives about someone else in Japanese. I’m not Tom, I have no idea whether he’s troubled or not.
Yeah, you would need to say something that expresses how you arrived at this conclusion. So hearsay, visual evidence, etc. You can’t just declare that someone feels a certain way with nothing else. And all of those kinds of things have their own grammar points.
Ahh, this makes sense. Thanks, guys! This was probably just too obvious (to them) for my Japanese speakers to mention.
Also, I guess I was thinking of 困る as plain fact rather than a feeling, sort of like how in English I can say that someone is in trouble without knowing how they feel. But as my wife said, 困る is difficult to translate into English directly. So I’ll keep in mind that it describes an emotional state more than an objective state.
(Also, it seems that “I’m put out” might be a better translation than “I’m in a fix” because as I understand it, in this sentence it implies annoyance more than being in trouble or being troubled.)
But what if Tom is aware that he doesn’t listen, but doesn’t know how to fix it and tells me directly that he is distressed?
Then you would say that you heard it from him.
Always cite your sources.
OK, that was indeed a tidy answer. Unfortunately, upon further discussion, it might not be quite correct.
But before I get to that, I just wanted to point out a rather interesting paper I came across called “Grammatical and Lexical Characteristics of Japanese Emotion Sentences” written as a University thesis in English by Rie Hasada:
I found it pretty fascinating as a detailed discussion of emotional language in Japanese and the grammar around its use.
So, back to my main point, I discussed 困る again with my wife and whether it’s really an “emotional verb” per se. Maybe it is, but she said it’s perfectly acceptable to observe it in someone else and say, for example, トムは困っている。if you can see that he’s in trouble. (This is unlike トムはうれしい which is not grammatically correct for the reason stated earlier).
A more detailed example sentence which I took from the Jisho app (and verified that it’s good Japanese) is the following:
The campers were hard up for water because their well had run dry.
Here, it’s clear that キャンプをしていた人 is the subject, and it still (apparently) makes sense if you rearrange it to say something like キャンプをしていた人が使った井戸は干上がったので、困った。
So anyhow, the best I way I can understand it is that if there is no other specified subject, it’s understood to be the speaker, which in my original sentence is apparently clear from the beginning: トムさんはいくら注意しても. That 注意しても already implies that the speaker is the subject doing the warning. At least this is the best I understand it at this point. (If @TofuguKanae was available to offer an opinion or some clarity, I’d be very grateful).
Your point about the subject is also true of course, but I’m not so sure that 困る is universally treated as a “non-emotional” state or however we want to call it.
From what I’ve heard 困る can be either, at least it feels that way to Japanese people. If someone is hanging out of a burning building waving their arms for help, I think that feels like the “obvious” 困る that wouldn’t need to be explained. Just by looking you can tell, they’ll die if they aren’t helped. You don’t need to know how they feel to judge them 困っている.
But if someone gets a test back and they scored a zero on it, there are people would would be concerned and there are people who wouldn’t give a crap. In that case, I think Japanese people would attach something to 困る, they wouldn’t just treat it like the burning building situation.
Maybe that’s just some Japanese people’s personal feelings and not an actual grammatical classification of the word, but to me your example certainly felt more like the latter than the former.
And maybe because this is a nebulous example sentence floating in a void, it’s acceptable to say it could be either when you have no other information. But I would still personally lean toward treating it as an emotional state in that sentence.
So how can we express the sentiment “No matter how many times I warn Tom, he doesn’t listen, and (because of that) he got in trouble” ?
Sounds reasonable to me to start with sameトムさんはいくら注意しても、言うことを聞かないので, but how to finish it and make it clear that it’s トム that is now 困っている ?
But yeah, implicit subject switch are the worst, I still remember this post in the short grammar topic featuring a super fast implicit subject switch just after a て-form and it was the same kind of confusion.
Not everything can be dissected and reasoned through. Sometimes you just gotta feel.
Personally I never would have thought to interpret your original sentence to mean that Tom is the one in trouble. Can’t explain why, unfortunately. Once you get enough exposure to the language you’ll probably be able to know things without being able to explain them too. This isn’t the kind of thing you can learn from a textbook, no matter how advanced.
Interesting thread but above my level of understanding of Japanese as I would have missed the subtlety of who was troubled. I looked up 困る in my online dictionary (Shirabe Jisho) and they helpfully had this example:
From which I can only conclude that people called Tom should be avoided as they are always either in trouble or causing it!
I think you just need to make the subject explicit:
Also though, I think from the context it makes a lot more sense if the speaker is bothered, since the implication is that when someone doesn’t listen and does whatever they want, other people are the ones that get bothered. You could also make Tom the explicit subject and use the passive tense to avoid redundancy like
“No matter how many times he’s warned, Tom doesn’t listen so bad things are always happening (to him).”
That’s just my take on it though.
I mean, is it really so bad to just refer to him again?
Seems fine to me, at least when spoken.
I’m kind of under the impression that 困る is used when the person can’t find a way to deal with what’s troubling them (I could be wrong of course).
Which leads me to the following thoughts regarding the sentence トムさんはいくら注意しても、言うことを聞かないので困っています. I think the speaker is Tom’s senior at work or maybe a teacher who has to take responsibility for Tom’s behavior or mistakes. In Japan I don’t think juniors warn their seniors, so I think the person speaker has to be a higher rank. Also, I don’t think Tom isn’t troubled, because if he was I think he would have made adjustments to his behavior after being warned all the time.
Anyways, this is my theory why Tom isn’t troubled.
Just asked my wife. She said that if you wanted to show that トム was in fact 困ってる, that it would be better to rearrange the entire sentence to say
Suggestion from my own wife if you wanted to say that トム was the one who didn’t know what to do:
If it makes anyone feel any better, for fun I ran these sentences through Google Translate and Apple’s new translation service, and they both bungled it, although Apple’s service had at least comprehensible output. Here’s Google’s attempt at the original sentence: “Tom is in trouble because he doesn’t listen to what he says, no matter how careful he is.”
But I think it could be Tom’s friend (i.e. not a superior) who’s speaking and is troubled by Tom’s unwillingness to heed the friend’s warnings.
And your theory that Tom couldn’t be the troubled person in this case certainly corresponds to the Japanese speakers I’ve consulted. 困る though has such a wide variety of translations into English, that it’s difficult (for me) to know whether the person is troubled, annoyed, in a bind, or just doesn’t know what to do. I had originally assumed that after ignoring repeated warnings, Tom found himself in a bind. For example, if Tom ignores the teacher repeatedly warning him to study, it’s Tom who finds himself in trouble at exam time, not the teacher. (Although after all this discussion, I’m beginning to get why the sentence wouldn’t be phrased that way in that case.)
Google doesn’t handle implicit subjects well. Deepl seems to be a bit better at guessing them, especially if you give it some context
Deepl is quite impressive compared to google translate, but it still mistranslates the original sentence completely: “Tom is having trouble listening to me no matter how much I warn him.”
Thanks for mentioning Deepl. I hadn’t heard of that one before. But as @Arzar33 mentioned, it so far isn’t able to figure out who’s 困っている in this case. And yes, giving it context might be helpful. It might have been helpful for me too, but native Japanese speakers don’t need it to figure out who is who in this sentence.
Results from Bing Translate:
“Tom is in trouble because he doesn’t listen to me no matter how careful he is.”
Results from Apple’s Translator (which is actually the closest, though it misses a bit of nuance):
“Tom doesn’t listen very carefully, so I’m in trouble.”
But Apple’s app isn’t all that great either. When I feed in my wife’s sentence where Tom is the one who’s in trouble:
I get this:
“Tom didn’t listen to me, so I was in trouble.”
However when I change nothing in the sentence but exchange トム with 田中, I get this:
“Mr Tanaka was in trouble because he didn’t listen to me no matter how much he said.”
Conclusion: humans don’t have to worry about the robots quite yet.