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国の研究によると、今年日本の近くの海に来るさんまは、今まででいちばんとれなかった去年より少なくなりそうです。
According to the country's research, the amount of sanma coming to the seas near Japan this year seems to have decreased compared to last year where ???

I assume 今まででいちばんとれなかった is a relative clause modifying 'last year' but I'm struggling to make sense out of it.

Literally I translate it as "up until now most not harvested". So overall I think the message is that last year they caught the least number of fish ever, and this year is predicted to be worse. Is this correct?

I think I normally see いちばん with an adjective (rather than a verb) so I'm finding it a little confusing. Could you please provide a few simple examples of いちばん used with a verb so I can get a better feel for its use? Does it only work in relative clauses?

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    That's why people differentiate between parts of speech and parts of sentence. You can't translate parts of speech in Japanese into corresponding parts of speech in English in hope it would make a comprehensible sentence. For 眠れない夜 would you use "cannot sleep night"? – macraf Aug 21 '17 at 23:28
  • I want to play golf the most. ゴルフが一番したいです。 – user25382 Aug 21 '17 at 23:36
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    ↑「一番したい」↓「いちばん行きたい」「一番乗りたい」・・・なんでみんな「~~たい」(形容詞型助動詞)? 「私が一番食べた。」「あなたが一番食べなかった。」「私が一番勉強した。」「お母さんが一番心配してます。」「彼女が一番輝いている。」とか・・・ – Chocolate Aug 22 '17 at 0:24
  • @Chocolate Thanks for the examples. I'm still struggling with the meanings though, e.g. does 「あなたが一番食べなかった。」 mean "You didn't eat the most" or "You ate the least"? (these have different meanings if there are more than two people). How would I say the other one? – user3856370 Aug 24 '17 at 6:59
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    「あなたが一番食べなかった」「君が一番勉強しない」「あの人が一番心配してなかった」 etc... は、"~~did the least" の意味(total negation)のような感じがしますね。。。"~~didn't ~~ the most" (partial negation)は、「一番~~ しなかった」「一番~~したわけではない」とかですかね。。 – Chocolate Aug 24 '17 at 11:39
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Your interpretation about the message is correct.

一番 is actually an adverb in this situation, and it is modifying the verb 取る. In many other situations however, you often find it modifying an adjective instead, i.e "一番いいサッカーゲーム" hence why it might be confusing.

Here are some examples:

"いまいちばん行きたい国は、日本です。" from j-nihongo.com

"一番乗りたい車" (self made)

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    "it's used as the latter more frequently together with adjectives to form a relative clause, i.e "一番いいサッカーゲーム" <-- 一番 in 一番いいサッカーゲーム is an adverb modifying the adjective いい. 一番いい modifies サッカーゲーム. Compare: このサッカーゲームが一番いい。 – Chocolate Aug 24 '17 at 0:28
  • @Chocolate なるほど。教えてくれてありがとうございます! 答えを修正します !(^^)! – Amerain Aug 24 '17 at 1:54
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I'd translate it as something like...

今年...今まででいちばんとれなかった去年より少なくなりそうです
This year fewer samma appear to have been caught than last year for which the catch had been worst of any previous year.

A few points to note here.

  • I've treated 今までで as "any previous year"
  • I use the noun catch where the Japanese uses the verb とる, and I've ignored the potential, which I think just sounds weird in English, though it makes sense in the Japanese.
  • I translate いちばん as "worst" (capturing the negative from とれなかった

Essentially I find いちばんとれなかった difficult to translate somewhat literally directly into English: hence my "worst catch".

Technically 今までで means "up until now". But in this context, we looking at catches per year, and the year which this phrase is coupled with is 去年. So, that would make it essentially "up until last year". Again, we're talking about catches per year, thus I boil this idea down to "any previous year". Perhaps a bit of stretch, it's definitely not literal, but I think it preserves the spirit of the Japanese.

Another possibility, since I've noticed a number of native speakers commenting on my misreading of adverbially clauses and their scope, the 今までで could be referring to "Up until now" of this year rendering the translation as

This year's catch, up until now, looks like it's going to be smaller than last year's catch which had been the worst

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    This year's catch, up until now, looks like it's going to be smaller ---(細かいことを言うようで申し訳ありませんが、)「今年日本の近くの海に来るさんまは、・・・去年より少なくなりそうです。」のところは、"The number of Samma coming to the seas near Japan will be smaller than last year" ってことを言ってると思うんですけど・・・。つまり「去年の収穫は今までで最悪だ」と言ってますけど、「今年の収穫」については述べてないです。 – Chocolate Aug 21 '17 at 23:49
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Your sense of seeing 一番 + adjective is not completely incorrect, and the general gist of your understanding is correct. The pattern that applies to 一番 + adjective also applies to 一番 + noun, and what you're seeing here is not necessarily 一番 + verb, but rather 一番 + modified noun:

いちばんとれなかった去年
Worst year for catch last year

So, applying this sort of meaning to this modified noun:

国の研究によると、今年日本の近くの海に来るさんまは、今まででいちばんとれなかった去年より少なくなりそうです。

According to the country's research, this year (so far) is seeing less catch in Sanma in the seas near Japan, even less so than the worst catch (on record) of last year.

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