1

、...錠前破りの名人だって、手のつけようがない
Even expert lock breakers can do nothing about it.

This is my best effort at a translation from looking at example sentences using 手のつけようがない on Weblio.

I can't find this phrase in my dictionary, but it did have 手の施しようがない with a similar meaning.

1) Is there a good universal translation of these phrases that works in most cases?

2) Is there are difference between the two phrases?

3) Is there a sensible grammatical breakdown of these phrases, or should they just be learned as a set phrase? What does the verb つける mean in this case?

2

If you could not find them in dictionaries, that's because these are simple combinations of:

...and either of the following two set phrases:

  • 手を付ける "to start working on something", "to undertake", etc
  • 手を施す "to treat (a diseased/wounded person)", "to try to fix (a serious trouble)"

Therefore 手を付けようがない is closer to "I don't even know where to start" or "I can do nothing about it", whereas 手の施しようがない means "The patient/problem is helpless no matter what". Sometimes they are interchangeable, but sometimes they are not. For example you can say 手の付けようがないほど暴れる馬 but not 手の施しようがないほど暴れる馬 because the horse itself is not sick.

  • Is 手付けようがない a typo? I'm assuming these phrases use の because adding よう to the verb makes a noun, i.e. 付けよう is a noun. – user3856370 Jan 2 at 9:05
  • 1
    @user3856370 手をつけようがない is also fine. See: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/58049/5010 – naruto Jan 3 at 3:56

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