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One of my dictionaries tells me that 世話になる means 'to receive a favour', but another dictionary gives this as an example 「おばさんの世話になりました」which it translates as "I was looked after by my aunt". I guess in this example I can't treat 世話になる as a verb because you can't write nounのverb, so what is the best way to understand this construct?

In another example I see

くまがたいへん世話になった人...

The person from whom the bear received a favour (my translation)

I think I'm happy with the grammar in that one.

My question is how do I use 世話になる correctly? How can I say

Bob received a favour from Alice,

Bob helped out Alice

and

Bob was looked after by Alice

Please also help me to understand the grammar in each case. And if at the end of that you're still feeling generous with your time, how does 世話をする fit into the picture. Many thanks.

  • The formula <~の名詞+動詞> is often used where <verb ~> would be used in other languages. Just get used to it. 人の世話をする=人を世話する, 人の手伝いをする =人を手伝う, 英語の勉強をする=英語を勉強する. なる is the passive/intransitive version of する. So 子が親の世話になる is more or less similar to 子が親に世話される, 子が親に世話させる, 子が親に世話してもらう, etc. – Yang Muye Jul 16 '15 at 18:47
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My first reaction upon reading this question, honestly, was to say to myself:

"Why would you use English 'translations' of the Japanese phrase for its grammar analysis?" (I said that in Japanese, though.)

「世話{せわ}になる」 vs. "to receive a favor" or "to be looked after"

"To receive a favor" is in active voice and "to be looked after" is in passive. To me at least, that should be a problem big enough to prevent you from a good and fair analysis of 「世話になる」, which is always in active voice within Japanese.

Notice that I am not questioning the accuracy of the two translations. They are actually OK. I am only saying that we should not be mislead by the coexistence of two grammatically different translations.

The super-literal translation of 「世話になる」 would be "to become trouble to/for". While you may never use that in actual translation from Japanese, but I feel it is imperative that you know that that is basically what the phrase means to Japanese-speakers. 「世話になる」 is not some idiomatic expression.

「A + は/が + B + の + 世話になる」 (B is the care-taker.)

= "A becomes B's trouble." (super-literal)

= "A receives a favor from B."

= "A is looked after by B."

Now, using 「世話をする」 instead of 「世話になる」,

「B + は/が + A + の + 世話をする」 (B is the care-taker)

= "B looks after A."

= "A receives a favor from B."

= "A is looked after by B."

Regardless of the situation/context, basically, you could express any "someone-helps-another" sentences using the two patterns above using 「なる」 and 「する」.

Let us look at your examples.

"Bob received a favour from Alice."

= 「ボブはアリスの世話になった。」

≒ 「アリスはボブの世話をした。」

"Bob helped out Alice."

= 「ボブはアリスの世話をした。」

≒ 「アリスはボブの世話になった。」

"Bob was looked after by Alice."

= 「ボブはアリスの世話になった。」

≒ 「アリスはボブの世話をした。」

TL;DR:

It is all about 「なる」vs.「する」.

「(Care-Receiver) + は/が + (Care-Provider) + の + 世話になる。」

「(Care-Provider) + は/が + (Care-Receiver) + の + 世話をする。」

  • First time I've seen 世話 translated as trouble, and the first translation that's ever made sense. That is the key to my understanding. Thanks. – user3856370 Jul 17 '15 at 21:22
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Here is my two cents:

Bob received a favour from Alice -> Bob は Alice に 良{よ}くして貰{もら}った

A verbatim translation of "to receive a favour" is "好{こう}意{い}を受{う}ける" but I advise not to use this expression unless you are talking about romantic situations between the two.

If you are inclined toward "世話になる", you can say "Bob は Alice の世話になった".

Bob helped out Alice -> Bob は Alice を 援{えん}助{じょ}した

If you are inclined toward "世話", you can say "Bob は Alice の世話をした".

Bob was looked after by Alicee -> Bob は Alice に 面{めん}倒{どう}を見て貰った

Here again, you can say "Bob は Alice の世話になった".

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