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I always get a bit confused with だろう, which I've asked about before. In my other question, I got the impression that たろう meant a certain amount of assertion, and だろうか left some room for uncertainty.

This sentence is at the end of a longer piece of text in my JLPT practise book:

教師{きょうし}のアドバイスに耳{みみ}を傾{かたむ}ける必要{ひつよう}もあるのではないだろうか。

I took it to mean something like, "Should we necessarily listen to the advice of teachers?" The rest of the text, too long to reproduce here, explores two sides of an issue, which the teachers are on one side of. So I thought it reasonable that the author is leaving it to the reader to decide if they want to agree with the teachers or not.

However, from the content of the questions, it seems that the book is telling me that the person who wrote the above sentence definitely sides with the teachers.

So, is だろうか more assertive than I thought it was?

Would it be more accurate to translate it as: "We should definitely listen to the advice of teachers."

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It seems that …のではないだろうか is covered in JLPT level 2, and there are many webpages explaining that it means “I think that it might be the case that ….” I do not know how you are studying Japanese, but you may want to make some change in your studying method. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 30 '11 at 13:30
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DaveMG: Completely misguided? I do not know. But you simply cannot learn a language just by solving exercises. You need exercises with explanations. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 30 '11 at 14:01
    
DaveMG: Sorry, I am not interested in your sarcasm. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 1 '11 at 2:22
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I don't think that comparing だろうか to だろう in terms of assertion strength is the right approach. Try tearing the sentence down and rebuilding it...

  • (X する) 必要もある。 = There is also a need to X.
  • (X する) 必要もあるのではないか。 = Isn't there also a need to X?
  • (X する) 必要もあるのではないだろうか。 = Isn't there perhaps also a need to X?

The first is a bald statement. The second is a rhetorical question, which might be more literally translated "Is it not the case that there is also a need to X?" It is TECHNICALLY possible that listeners/readers might respond "Indeed, that is not the case. There is no need to X whatsoever," but that would not be expected, in English or Japanese.

The third, the version used in your target sentence, is the same sort of rhetorical question, but ない has changed to ないだろう. (You could also use なかろう [a bit old-fashioned/informal] or ないでしょう [more polite].) In other words, the "not" in "is it not the case" has changed from straight assertion to pseudo-tentative/hedged assertion. And I say "pseudo" because here the "tentativeness" is just a politeness strategy, exactly like the "perhaps" in my translation.

Compare this to the version using just だろう:

  • (X する) 必要もある。 = There is also a need to X.
  • (X する) 必要もあるのではない。 = There is no need to X, either.
  • (X する) 必要もあるのではないだろう。 = (I put it to you that) there is no need to X, either.

(That last one might also be translated as a rhetorical question -- "There is no need to X, either, right?" -- but the implied answer is completely opposite from the ないだろうか version as you can see.)

So you can see that the だろう and だろうか versions are as different as the ない and ないか versions. This is what I meant when I said, at the top, that comparing だろう and だろうか as if they worked the same way but indicated different levels of certainty is the wrong approach.

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Insightful answer. However, it still seems to me that the level of assertion in "Isn't there perhaps also a need to X" is not that high. Though I guess it still indicates that the speaker believes it to be true, but isn't going to push it on the listener. –  Dave M G Dec 1 '11 at 8:01
    
Yes, exactly: the author is fully confident that they are right, but they are using a strategy of eliciting agreement (via rhetorical questions) rather than making assertions. –  Matt Dec 1 '11 at 8:27
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It's a tentative statement, not an assertion of fact, but the writer's opinion clearly shows through.

I like "Perhaps (there is a case to be made that)..."

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The use of のではないだろうか I think you understand as 'isn't it the case' or 'it might be the case'.

What may be confusing is that だろうか can used for casting strong, questioning doubt on the preceding text. So this use is actually fairly different and almost opposite of だろう and のではないだろうか.

For my source, surprisingly I don't see that many online examples, so I'll copy out of an old unicom 実力アップ jlpt 2 kyuu book.

だろうか -

文の形は疑問文だが、否定が強い。(反語)

1.お金で愛情買うなんて、そんなことできるだろうか。

2.あんなうそつきの人の言うことを信じていいだろうか。

3.彼のように無能な人間が、いったい社長になれるだろうか。

It seems like right before だろうか there often comes a potential form of the verb, but that is not always the case, as seen in example 2.

And in fact, when I looked だろうか up in the index it was listed as だろうか(できるだろうか)

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You've hit the nail on the head with "What may be confusing is that だろうか can used for casting strong, questioning doubt on the preceding text." That is exactly what throws me. SO do you think it's safe to say that だろうか is uncertain, but のではないだろうか is certain? –  Dave M G Dec 1 '11 at 7:57
    
I'd say most だろうか uses that are not(できる)だろうか are more uncertain, but (できる)だろうか as in the above examples is almost certain negation by the speaker, stronger than のではないだろうか. –  jlptn1 Dec 1 '11 at 8:22
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