This morning I read a sentence translated as follows:

私は 部屋{へや} に かざる物{もの} を あげました。

I offered her things to decorate her room.

It made me think about the following different English sentence, which I would translate to the same sentence in Japanese:

In her room, I offered her things to decorate.

There was also this sentence which I thought wasn't as confusing as the previous one:

私は 旅行{りょこう} の 時{とき} 持{も}って行{い}く 物{もの} を あげました。

I offered her things to bring when she travels.

I assumed the absence of between 時{とき} and 持{も}って行{い}く was the reason that it couldn't be translated as follows:

While traveling, I offered her things to bring. (Doesn't make much sense, but it's just for the example)

I feel that I missed something. Those examples are actually easy to understand, but I fear that I could misunderstand more complex sentences.

  • For the first example, how do I know the first translation is the right one, and not the other one?

  • How can I differentiate between the time or place of the action, and what's just a part of the noun-modifier?

  • "I offered her things to decorated her room." Did you mean to type "decorate" rather than "decorated"? – Leebo Oct 1 '18 at 6:15
  • @Leebo yes, sorry, I just edited my question. – CCR Oct 1 '18 at 6:19

Note this important general difference between で and に when used to specify location:

  • で indicates location, except for location of existence.

    • eg: デパートで働いています。
  • に indicates the location where someone or something exists.

    • eg: その本は図書館にあります。 (ある is a verb of existence)

In your first example sentence, the verb is あげる. This is not a verb of existence, so you wouldn't use に to specify the location. Therefore, your second interpretation of the sentence is not possible.

In the second example sentence, the use of に after 時 is optional. Whether に is present or not does not change the meaning of the sentence. Whether it means "when she travels" or "when I travel" or "when we travel" (etc) is ambiguous, you just have to figure it out from context.

  • I feel that this answers the problem for the examples I gave, but what about longer sentences, other examples? I'm not sure I have the answer to my second question "How can I differentiate between the time or place of the action, and what's just a part of the noun-modifier?" – CCR Oct 7 '18 at 6:16
  • I think you need to rephrase that question, because it doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense because you can indicate a time/place of an action AS PART OF a noun-modifier, so the two choices are not mutually exclusive. eg: 私は駅に着いた電車に乗りました。I think your real question is about identifying sub-clauses. And for that problem, like hisao m said, you sometimes just need to use context. You can use other specific grammatical rules (like in my answer) to narrow down the possible meaning of the sentence. I don't know if there really is a general solution. – Nicolas Louis Guillemot Oct 7 '18 at 10:24

I know what you mean.
Unfortunately, Japanese sentences can be ambiguous, allowing multiple interpretations.
You have to find the interpretation that makes more sense, based on the context.
Unlike English, Japanese is highly dependent on context.

When parsing a sentence, in general you should try to find the longest clause possible.

For example instead of breaking apart (部屋に) (かざる物を), you should consider first the longest clause (部屋にかざる物を).

  • 2
    you should try to find the longest clause possible... you should consider first the longest clause (部屋にかざる物を)-- でも「私はホームレスに食べる物をあげました」なら「私は(ホームレスに食べる物を)あげました」にはならないでしょう?  どういう場合に「(XXに)(YYを)~~」にして、どういう場合に「(XXにYYを)~~」にするのかを説明してくれないと。。。 – Chocolate Oct 1 '18 at 23:18

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