I have a question about the translation of this sentence from uncle Vernon in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone:

Original Japanese: "あいつらは身から出た錆、魔法使いなんて変な仲間と交わるからだ …思ったとおり、常々ろくな死に方はせんと思っておったわ"

My translation: "They got what they deserved, because they got involved with those 'wizard' weirdos...Just as I thought, I thought there isn't always/usually a good/decent/satisfactory way of dying."

Published English translation: "Just what I expected, always knew they'd come to a sticky end."

I don't quite understand how the text in bold comes together here to form the intended meaning. I'm not looking for a smooth translation, rather just trying to grasp how the Japanese comes together here.

Many thanks in advance.

  • 4
    Going back to front: 常々Xと思っておったわ (=常々Xと思っていたぞ) = "I've always thought that X!". せん is しない; Yはせん = = Yはしない = as for doing Y, they won't; it's an emphatic way of saying "they won't Y". Y here is Z-na 死に方, a way of dying that's Z. Z is ろくな = decent, respectable. Putting it back together: I've always known that they'd have no such thing as a decent death. Jul 2, 2017 at 16:12
  • Brilliant, thanks. I mistook せん for a shortened version of ありません despite having learned that months ago! Thanks for your help :)
    – user18083
    Jul 2, 2017 at 16:15
  • 3
    Perhaps I'm nitpicking a bit, but Japanese is not the original and English is not the translation. Unless JK Rowling secretly wrote the books first in Japanese and then had them translated into English, it's English that is the original and Japanese that is the translation.
    – A.Ellett
    Jul 2, 2017 at 17:56
  • 1
    @leoboiko Why did you post it as a comment?
    – naruto
    Jul 2, 2017 at 20:46
  • @naruto you're right, that's an answer. Guess I was feeling insecure. I'll reformat it below. Jul 3, 2017 at 13:51

1 Answer 1


It parses as:

╔ 常々 ║ ╔ ろく-な ║ ╔╩═ 死に方-は ╠═╩═══ せん-と ╚ 思っておったわ

Or, in standard Japanese:

╔ 常々 ║ ╔ ろく-な ║ ╔╩═ 死に方-は ╠═╩═══ しない-と ╚ 思っていたぞ

Going outside in:

  • "常々 X と思っておったわ" = "I've always thought that X ".
    • What was X they always thought? That "Y はせん" (= "Y はしない"). This means "as for Y, they won't do"; it's an emphatic way of saying "they won't Y".
      • What is Y that they won't do? To die in a decent way ろくな死に方。
  • Putting it all back together: I've always known that they'd have no such thing as a decent death.

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