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Particularly in the following phrases, what's the difference between どうしたらいい and どうしていい? The following both seem to mean something like "I don't know what to do":

  • どうしたらいいか分かりません
  • どうしていいか分かりません

Is there some difference between どうして and どうしたら which changes the nuance or meaning somehow?

Is どうしたらいいか分かりません stronger in meaning than どうしていいか分かりません?

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2 Answers 2

Looking at it backwards...

こうしたらいい
If I do this, good outcome.
こうしたらよくない
If I do this, bad outcome.

And...

こうして(は)いい
I can do this (because it achieves a good outcome).
こうしてはだめ
I can't/shouldn't do this (because it achieves a bad outcome).

So it kind of sounds like...

どうしたらいいか分かりません
I don't know what will achieve a good outcome.
どうしていいか分かりません
I don't know what I can possibly do. (OR...)
I can't figure out what I can/should do.

That's my best attempt at clearly capturing the difference between the two, but if you're still unsure, I do think that considering the feel of こうしたら? versus こうしては? can illuminate the difference somewhat.

I also feel like どうしたらいい is a little less immediate/urgent than どうしていい, but I'm not sure how to explain that difference well.

The difference is difficult to pinpoint, really...but I imagine it won't make a great difference most of the time, either.

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  • どうしたらいい 'what I am supposed to do, what I should do'
  • どうしていい 'what I am allowed to do, what I may do'
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