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I was asked to translate the following sentence:

弟は友だちの大きいくるまで学校に行きます。

I first split it up (in my head) so it looks easier to read, whilst recognising the particles.

友だち 大きい くるま 学校 行きます。

And then this was easy... until I stumbled across a slight problem; I know that this must be one of the following sentences when translated, but I don't know which one.

  • My younger brother went goes to school in my friend's big car.
  • My younger brother went goes to school in his friend's big car.

How do I tell which sentence is the correct one? (I think it's the first one, but am not too sure.)

  • 1
    行きます went <-- 時制が・・・ – Chocolate Sep 3 '18 at 3:05
  • @Chocolate Ahhh, thanks for that. It should be "goes to and not went to" if I understand you correctly; and it is correct, anyway, because I remember my teacher talking about that, so thanks! – Mr Pie Sep 3 '18 at 3:13
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    For me tomodachi no ōkī kuru is enough to pick your second sentence :) – paulplusx Sep 28 '18 at 5:38
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    @paulplusx thanks for that! I was so focused on the first, I didn’t think about the second :P – Mr Pie Sep 28 '18 at 5:43
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The topic particle "は" leaves some room for interpretation, but in general, everything that follows it--and is not specifically indicated otherwise--is in relation to the "thing" (could be person, place, activity, etc.) indicated by the "は".

With that in mind, the correct translation is the second one (My younger brother goes to school in his friend's big car.) because the question of whose "friend" is it? is answered by the overall topic of the sentence (the younger brother).

But that's just my two cents.

  • Hello, @Lukas, and welcome to the Japanese Stack Exchange! I intended on sharing your opinion to my teacher and check whether or not it is correct, but I went away on a school camp and now it is Friday. Would you enjoy waiting an entire weekend for this answer to be accepted? I don't know. So considering the amount of upvotes, I will take your word for it; and so... congratulations! Your first answer will be your first accepted! Well done! :D – Mr Pie Sep 7 '18 at 10:09
2

There is no way to know the sentence is ambiguous, without context it could mean either way.

But, taken out of context, the first interpretation should be "his friend".
弟 is the topic of the sentence, so everything in the sentence must be about 弟.
So the very first assumption is that 友だち refers to a friend of 弟.

  • Thank you for your answer. @Lukas 's answer essentially asserts the same idea, but this is still a good answer nonetheless. (+1) :D – Mr Pie Sep 25 '18 at 14:15

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