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彼には 子供が 六人 います - He has six children.

I'm used to thinking of に as "at", or at least in a sense of goal or direction (ex.: 買い物に行く), but here it doesn't seem to work in that sense and I don't understand its role in the sentence. What does the に do here and how would you translate it?

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「彼には 子供が 六人 います。」 - "He has six children."

Have you REALLY compared the two sentences? While "He has six children." is a valid translation of the Japanese sentence, it is nowhere near a literal translation.

"He has six children." The subject is 'He'.

「彼には子供六人います。」 The subject is 「子供」. Therefore, it is directly followed by the subject marker 「が」.

Last time I mentioned this fact in another thread, some people here seemed to think I was crazy, but I will say it again with confidence. "He has six children." is just a "translation" and it is even a good one in the sense that it makes perfect sense in English, the target language of this translation. It is, however, not what the original says as far as sentence structure goes.

This 「に」 is actually fairly close in meaning to "at" the location marker. The original sentence literally means "As for at/around him, six children exist." Wouldn't that make good sense in and of itself? I am not asking if it sounds natural in English. We can always fix a translation to make it sound natural. All I am trying to do is to prove that 「に」 in the original is essentially the same as the English "at" in this context.

Whether or not the word "at" could naturally appear in the English translation that everyone would agree on is of a secondary nature.

  • 彼には子供が六人います=彼に関しては – Sonny365 TANAKA Jan 24 '17 at 4:21
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    「彼には子供が六人います」は「彼に関しては、『子供が六人いる』と言う事実があります。」 なので、その主語は“彼”です。 『子供が六人いる』だけに注目すれば、この文の主語は“子供”です。 「彼には秘密があります」の主語も“彼”です。 もし「秘密があります」だけの文であれば、“秘密”が主語になります。 – Sonny365 TANAKA Jan 24 '17 at 4:27
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    ^ But... the subject of the sentence 「彼に関しては、『子供が六人いる』と言う事実があります。」 is the noun (phrase)「(子供が6人いるという)事実」... since the subject for the verb あります is 事実... and the subject of the sentence 「彼には秘密があります」 is 秘密... since the subject for the verb あります is 秘密... が is the subjective case particle... – Chocolate Jan 24 '17 at 7:11
  • (cont.)「 主題 (topic/theme)」(topic particle「は」で示される) と、「 主語 (subject)」(格助詞/case particle「が」で示される) を、混同されているような気がします・・・(例えば「象長い」では、「象は」←主 、「鼻が」←主 。「は」が格助詞でないことはもちろんご存知でしょう)。「主題の『は』」については、国語辞典にも説明が載っていると思います。明鏡には載ってます – Chocolate Jan 24 '17 at 10:44
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The situaion of the typical usege of 「には」 could be the following. (I'm not good at writing English, but I believe you can understand the situation.)

「最近の日本人の夫婦には子供はひとりかそれ以下です」
Nowadays, Japanese couple has one or less children.

「でも、彼には子供が六人います」
But in his familiy, he has six children.

「彼には=彼の場合には(as far as he is concerned)」

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