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So I was studying through this book called 日本語生中継 and there was this question where you're supposed to choose the inappropriate word among others. And I got stuck at this sentence:

私は、パソコンが(得意だ.わかる.上手だ.)

The book says the correct, or rather, incorrect answer, was 上手だ. But I don't seem to understand why, as all three seem correct to me. Anyone would be willing to share some light? Thanks in advance.

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パソコンが上手だ is understandable and actually used; you can see many examples by searching it in the web. However, I have to agree with the book in that パソコンが上手だ sounds less natural than パソコンが得意だ or パソコンがわかる to me. I am tempted to say that this is because パソコン is just a tool and not a skill by itself; using a PC is a skill, and パソコンを使うのが上手だ would have no problem. But then I cannot explain why the same argument does not make パソコンが得意だ unnatural. Hmm. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 14 '12 at 2:55
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1 Answer

I am a native Japanese speaker so I think I have been properly differentiating these two words unconsciously, but I couldn't really articulate what makes them different, so I looked up. Here I briefly summarize the article cited below.

The difference between 得意 and 上手 can be illuminated most when you translate into Japanese the following sentence: "This novel is well written."

この小説は上手に書けている。

この小説は得意に書けている。

While the former is perfectly natural, the latter is simply wrong. This is contrasting with the sentence from the OP. The question is, why the difference?

It appears that 得意 is used to describe the (good) skills to do/produce something, while 上手 is used to describe the results of the (good) skills put to use. In the example above, the former sounds natural since the novel is a product of the writer's skill. On the other hand, the latter does not make sense since the novel itself is not a skill; it's a product of a good skill. Perhaps, a similar reasoning leads a somewhat rigid Japanese language teacher to think that 私はパソコンが上手だ to be technically wrong, since a personal computer is not a product of skill itself.

However, I find it's totally natural to hear that sentence myself. After all, many Americans say "I don't have no money." While it's grammatically incorrect, it sounds natural and accepted to a certain group of people, right? :P

Seriously, in a way, 私はパソコンが上手だ is perfectly natural since you could argue that here it's totally expected that パソコン means パソコン(を使うこと), and a variety of skills can lead to using a computer well, such as drawing on Photoshop, programming games, making music, using Excel, etc. So the reason why we feel the usage is natural could be because our notion of using computer has changed. Computer can do a lot of things, and we attach a lot of different meanings to (using) computer. Just my feeble thought...

参照元: http://home.alc.co.jp/db/owa/jpn_npa?sn=28

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While I understand that it's perfectly natural to break some rules on daily spoken language, and also that it's a matter of adapting your ears to it, I just felt I needed a further explanation about this question, since the book's answer felt natural for me aswell =) Nevertheless, thank you for your answer! –  Rodrigo Pará Sep 16 '12 at 19:11
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