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I found these two sentences which seem to me to be quite similar in the translation but are constructed in a different way:

  1. 魚を食べる ぐらいなら 飢えたほうがましだ
    'I rather starve than eat fish.'

  2. よりも 死ぬほうがましだ。
    'To die is better than to be in shame.'

Can anybody explain about the difference? Sorry, my English isn't that good; maybe the translation of the sentences is bit poor.

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There is no difference in the structure of the two Japanese sentences. You should consider how the two English sentences are different. The first example is not translated as “To starve is better than to eat fish” because doing so makes the sentence sound like an absolute truth applicable to everyone, but it has nothing to do with the structure of the Japanese sentence. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 21 '12 at 12:44
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?? "I rather starve than eat fish" means 魚を食べるくらいなら飢える(or飢え死にした)方がましだ, no? (I mean... which are you saying is better, to starve or to eat fish?) –  Choko Feb 21 '12 at 13:31
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@ Sawa: Thanks for editing, looks much better like this:-) –  Pegasus Feb 21 '12 at 17:55
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@Pegasus Lol so you don't even remember the original Japanese sentence you wrote in your question. Last time I saw this thread it was 飢えるくらいなら魚を食べたほうがましだ, but nevermind, seems like Sawa-san or somebody has edited it. –  Choko Feb 21 '12 at 22:21
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Pegasus, Chocolate, TsuyoshiIto: In the original question, the Japanese sentence and the English translation did not match. The arguments were entirely switched. I wondered whether to fix the Japanese sentence to match the translation or to fix the translation to match the Japanese sentence. Seeing that people have commented based on the translation, I fixed the Japanese sentence. –  user458 Feb 22 '12 at 5:39

1 Answer 1

up vote 1 down vote accepted

まし is usually used to mean "preferable" in the "less bad" sense, i.e. you're choosing the lesser of two evils. ぐらいなら reinforces this point, i.e.

魚を食べるぐらいなら飢えたほうがましだ If I had to go as far as eating fish, starving would be less bad.

ぐらい can come after nouns as well, but with this specific nuance, it is not often used after nouns. So we could say

恥をかくぐらいなら死んだほうがましだ Dying is preferable to facing disgrace

However, if we're using the noun 恥, it would be more natural to rephrase to よりも (or よりは)

恥よりも死のほうがましだ Death is preferable to disgrace

By the way, your example sentence is comparing a noun to a verb, 恥 and 死ぬ. While maybe not exactly wrong, I feel rewriting 死ぬ to the noun 死 sounds better.

Beware that ぐらい can also be used in the opposite sense, to reinforce that something is easy or small (like "only"). In this sense, it's used after nouns as well

ちょっと待つぐらいならいい I don't mind waiting (if it's only) for a bit
ケーキ五個ぐらいなら食べられる If it's only 5 cakes, I can eat them

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Is the kanji 恥 read はじ or じょく? Please consider putting in furigana if you can. :) –  Dave M G Feb 22 '12 at 3:06
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@DaveMG jigen.net/kanji/24677 How did you come up with じょく? Maybe you're thinking of 辱? –  dainichi Feb 22 '12 at 3:17
    
じょく comes up as one of the readings for 恥 in WWWJDIC. –  Dave M G Feb 22 '12 at 6:46
    
Thanks, dainichi! –  Pegasus Feb 22 '12 at 9:52
    
@DaveMG Should be 「はじ」. Looking at the context (the other item being compared is a Japanese-style usage of 死,) can often also help you make your guess on readings. –  summea Feb 25 '12 at 7:51

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