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While studying I came across this short 会話{かいわ}: A: この本をもらってもいいですか? B: ええ、いいですよ。どうぞ。

A was translated as: "Can I keep this book?" Now, I've learned that もらう means to receive (something). I would have thought that another word would be used for "keeping" or "taking ownership" of another object. Am I wrong?

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Please re-check the sentence. Likely もらって(も) or もらったら. –  Dono Nov 27 '12 at 14:30
@Dono: You're right. Slight typo. Thanks. –  dotnetN00b Nov 27 '12 at 15:09
Not meant to nitpick, but you will still need to change moratTA to moratTE to make it grammatical. –  Dono Nov 27 '12 at 15:19
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2 Answers

Though もらう does have a similar meaning to "receive", that doesn't quite tell the whole story. Used as a normal verb (not an auxiliary) as in your example, the most [first two definitions] are as follows:

  1. 贈【おく】られたり頼【たの】んだりして受【う】け取【と】り、自分【じぶん】のものとする。「金【かね】を―・う」「便【とよ】りを―・う」「賞【しょう】を―・う」「元気【げんき】を―・う」「勇気【ゆうき】を―・う」

  2. 頼【たの】んで手【て】に入【い】れる。得【え】る。「許可【きょか】を―・う」

The most important part of these definitions is (in my opinion) 「自分のものとする」 (to make something one's own). So although the meaning of "receive" is certainly included in there, it also overlaps with "take", "accept", and "acquire".

In this particular instance, the question 「もらっていいですか」 is asking if it is really to accept the book, i.e. to make it A's own.

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もらっていい(ですか) is a pretty common way of asking for something, and I would translate it either as "can I keep this" or "can I have this?" As you said, もらう is receive, so it's not hard to see how this actually works out.

There are several ways to ask for something, each with its own nuances, but using もらっていい will generally mean an explicit change of ownership. If you want to make it more polite, いただけますか will also have the same sort of connotation.

On the other hand, if you want to ask for something without keeping it, you can use a variety of other verbs directly relating to what you want to do, like その本を見ていいですか? or 使っていい? If you want to keep it general, you can say, for example, この本を貸してくれますか? or 借りていい?, meaning "would you lend" and "can I borrow" respectively.

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先生から本をもらった still seems to suggest a change of ownership to me, though I certainly could be mistaken. –  rintaun Nov 27 '12 at 15:36
Actually in reflection I'm kind of debating this one, but my gut tells me it could be both. If a more knowledgeable person than me has a more authoritative ruling on this I'll edit it accordingly. –  ssb Nov 27 '12 at 15:42
I second @rintaun. –  dainichi Nov 28 '12 at 1:05
OK, I went ahead and edited it out. I think I was connecting it in my head too much with the English sentence "I got a book from my teacher" that it was affecting my intuition... –  ssb Nov 28 '12 at 1:17
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