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Why is the direct object taking を in (1) and に in (2)? What are basic rules that drive these two sentence constructions?

(1) 叔母は父を頼っている
'My aunt is counting on my father's help.'

(2) 農民は収入を[牧羊]{ぼくよう}に頼っていた
'The farmers depended on sheep-farming as their source of income.'

I am not sure of the technical terms but there is clearly a bit more going in (2). However the farmers in (2) are relying on sheep farming in the same way that my aunt is relying on my father in (1).

I think (1) could be amended as (3) to comply with the same grammatical rules as (2):

(3) 叔母は援助を父に頼っている
'My aunt is counting on my father for support.'

but I still do not understand how/when/what grammatical rules are being used.

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I think this is because there are two ways to use "depend on" even in English. (1). X depends on Y. (2) B depends X on Y. (1) corresponds to your first sentence and (2) your second. – Flaw Aug 5 '12 at 16:09
I am not sure but in (2) I think you mean "B depends on X for Y". – Tim Aug 5 '12 at 16:19
Farmers depend on sheep farming for income. Farmers depend their income on sheep farming. – Flaw Aug 5 '12 at 16:21
@Flaw: Perhaps this should be: "Farmers depend on income from sheep farming"? This would fit the sentence structure described in my second comment under Sawa's answer below. – Tim Aug 6 '12 at 23:29
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The role of 父 in (1) and 牧羊 in (2) are not the same. 父 has volition, and can be an agent of some helping activity on its own will, whereas 牧羊 is something to happen. In fact, you cannot have 牧羊 in the position of the を-phrase in (1).

* 農民は牧羊を頼っていた

Also, (3) is actually ungrammatical. in order to express the intended meaning, you have to say


Conclusion is that, 頼る has two different constructions with different meanings:

  • AがBを頼る "A relies on B's activity"
  • AがCにDを頼る "A relies on event C for D"

The fact that they are different can be made clear by the fact that the former meaning can be expressed by the predicate 頼りにする, but the latter cannot.

* 農民は牧羊を頼りにしている

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"彼らは収入を牧羊に頼っていた They depended [relied] on sheep-raising as a source of income." comes right out of the goo JE dictionary, but it makes no sense to me either. If I didn't know the meaning of 牧羊, I'd think it was an adverb. I found this on a Japanese version of this site(nihongo-online.jp/tree02/treebbs.cgi?kako=1&log=3402), but it is too much for me to handle: No.3402  Re:「(人)を頼る」の「頼る」は自動詞か。 国語辞典では、「頼る」は自動詞となっていますし、「薬に頼る」「地図に頼る」は自動詞だと思うのですが、「(人)を/に 頼る」、たとえば「親戚を頼って日本へ来た」「‌​試験のとき、友達に頼る」という場合、受身形にもな、他動詞のように思えます。みなさんのお考えはいかがですか. Many comment links follow. – medmal Aug 5 '12 at 19:14
@sawa: Thank you. Can I clarify the following? 1. If the use of 頼る in sentence one is the same as the expression を頼りに then I can see 牧羊 cannot be used but why do you describe the objects as activities or volitional in nature? If sentence #1 is the same as を頼りに then the object can be either animate (eg 父)or inanimate (eg 地図 or つえ: 祖父はつえを頼りにして歩いている。Granpa walks with the aid of a cane.) And, incidently, isn't sheep farming an activity? [Cont'd in next comment] – Tim Aug 6 '12 at 16:25
[Cont'd from previous comment] 2. Most importantly, I still can't relate sentence #2 to any written grammatical principles/sentence pattern for the use of indirect objects/agents (if that is the role 牧羊 takes). The closest I can find is: 「ジェーンは山本先生に生け花を習った。」from p293 of Makino's DBJG. If this the case then possibly sentence two is equivalent to saying: "The farmers rely on income from sheep farming?" を = on (Makino's "spatialを, o2", DBJG p349) and に=an agent in a "receiving construction" (DBJG p293) similar to から. Does this make any sense or have I missed something? (よろしくお願いします) – Tim Aug 6 '12 at 16:56
The Japanese site I linked to seems to have agreement on に頼る being always correct and を頼る being OK for human direct objects. I didn't see anything that would imply that "father's money" is human. I think the sentence is a mistake that creeped into the Tanaka corpus and goo. The Tanaka corpus is the example set Breen's WWWJDIC site uses for examples (and everyone uses Breen). It is known to have mistakes. It seems to have only 2 examples with inanimate direct objects vs many more that follow the standard rules. Is there a problem with 叔母は父の援助する収入に頼っている and 農民は牧羊の収入に頼っていた? (real question) – medmal Aug 6 '12 at 18:52
@Tim 頼る and 頼りにする are different. The sentence is not equivalent to "the farmers rely on income from sheep farming". – user458 Aug 6 '12 at 23:06

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