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I used to write long, compound English sentences until I was told that it was considered poor writing style. However, the more Japanese I read, the more I get the feeling that it is rather natural to have a long, (seemingly) complex sentence instead of the other way around. This often causes confusion for me.

What's worse, I sometimes find that the subject and the verb/verbs in a sentence disagree.

For instance, these two sentences seem to have perfectly clear subjects from the beginning:

1. (Source)

インドの警察当局は、NASA(アメリカ航空宇宙局)との取引をほのめかし、実業家からおよそ2,300万円をだまし取った疑いで、この親子を逮捕した。

2. (Source)

2人は、普段から生活保護費の変更処理を怠るなどしていたということで、2018年3月、机にある山積みの資料を整理したところ、今回の不正が発覚した。

While I can understand both sentences, I find myself losing sight of the subject halfway through. For case 1, it was the 親子 who performed ほのめかし. Yet, the subject of the whole sentence is インドの警察当局. I literally had to pause, and parse the sentence carefully again.

The same goes for case 2, where 2人 is the subject of the sentence, yet mid-sentence, 整理した appears, followed by 発覚した. I was scratching my head as to whom did the 整理 and 発覚. It couldn't have been 2人, the suspects. Again, I had to look it over to get the meaning right.

Question:
Is this reading issue I have right now a matter of lack of reading experience, or are the sentences themselves somewhat poorly written? Is this sort of writing and/or speaking style preferable for the Japanese language? By this style, I mean one in which the subject and the verb/verbs differ, causing possible ambiguity.

1 Answer 1

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These sentences are certainly a bad composition. However, you may have to settle down with it when time and space are limited because of the media.

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  • Thank you for giving me confirmation. I was afraid that the ambiguity was entirely on my part. I did not take conciseness into perspective though, as I had thought the news media ought to aim to be as clear as possible. Then, would you say that a better writer would try to avoid obscurity as seen in the examples above?
    – Yeti Ape
    May 13, 2018 at 6:15
  • If this is not too much trouble, would you kindly take the time to see one more example for me? I believe this is related to the topic:「彼女は気の利く女の子である印象を強く受けた。She struck me as a tactful girl.」While this is a rather short sentence, the same problem seems to occur again. Here I would expect 彼女 to be the one who has the impression, as は clearly marks the subject. However, the translation given says otherwise. I guess one could deduce from context, and arrive at the meaning given by the translation. Yet, if such is the case, wouldn't the sentence rather be "(私は)彼女が気の利く女の子である印象を強くうけた。"?
    – Yeti Ape
    May 13, 2018 at 6:39
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    Unless it's a description in narratives, Japanese grammar dislikes expressing other person's inner thought or emotion in indicative. In short, it's practically not ambiguous.
    – user4092
    May 13, 2018 at 17:45
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    When I wrote "bad composition", I just translated a word I came up with, that is, 悪文. In short, even though it's 悪文, it's no problem to native speakers and to be honest, I can't come up with better alternatives apart from explanatory ways.
    – user4092
    May 13, 2018 at 17:59
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    As for the はが problem, you are right. It should be at least 彼女は気の利く女の子である という 印象を…. However, that's not a major problem compared with the problem above and context.
    – user4092
    May 13, 2018 at 18:24

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