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In this sentence:

[父]{chichi}[親]{oya} [が]{ga} [昔]{mukashi} [宝くじ]{takarakuji} [に]{ni} [当たった]{atatta} [こと]{koto} [を]{wo} [話した]{hanashita}。

[当たった]{atatta} is a verb taking the object [宝くじ]{takarakuji}. So why is [に]{ni} used in this place and not [を]{wo}? Isn't [を]{wo} more correct, as it marks the object?

If translated literally, doesn't [宝くじ]{takarakuji} [に]{ni} [当たった]{atatta} mean "won to the lottery" instead of "won the lottery"?

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2 Answers 2

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The verb "ataru" is intransitive. It takes an indirect object, not a direct object. The indirect object is marked by "ni".

The English verb "win" is transitive (in the context of "win a lottery"). It takes a direct object.

The transitivity of the verb "win" in English has no bearing on the Japanese verb. They are just totally separate from each other. What makes "win" a translation of "ataru" in this context is just the fact that, in English, "win" is the verb that is used. In Japanese, in the same context, "ataru" is used. But there is no reason to think they should be the same transitivity as each other.

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The verb [当]{a}[た]{ta}[る]{ru} has many "meanings" translated to English, but there is a core sense in them of being on target, hitting a bullseye, being exactly right. It's an intransitive verb in all of these cases, even though we would need transitive English verbs to translate them - it is vital to keep in mind that languages are not just arbitrary collections of labels for an agreed-upon set of concepts; they reflect the thought processes of their originators and the evolution of those world views, in a cultural context, over centuries if not millennia.

My guess about the underlying idea is that the "target" isn't seen as a direct object in Japanese because the action of 当たる isn't about the striking, but the precision. Winning a competition, or a one-on-one contest, would normally use a different verb [勝]{ka}[つ]{tsu} (although this is also intransitive!); but 当たる makes sense for a lottery, I think, because the point of a lottery is that you're trying to guess numbers and get them exactly right. (English can make a distinction as well; it would be strange to say that you "defeated" or "were victorious over" a lottery.)

Perhaps "be accurate" works as a gloss for the central meaning. That's intransitive in English, too.

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    I totally get your point, but it's funny that "being accurate" is really an imaginary thing when playing the lottery, since winning is a matter of pure luck rather than skill. The same can be said of English with expressions such as "hitting the jackpot" (if it's in a game based on luck).
    – jarmanso7
    Jul 29, 2023 at 22:06

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