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Consider the following question which requires you to order four items in a sentence:

市民の _ _ _ _ 目指しています。
1. 街づくりを 2. 願いに 3. こたえる 4. しっかり

At first I answered it as

市民の願いにこたえる街づくりをしっかり目指しています

But it turned out to be

市民の願いにしっかりこたえる街づくりを目指しています。

I don't know why しっかり modifies the verb こたえる better than 目指す.

  • As the answer says, しっかり is a word that indicates a certain degree (scalar value). On the other hand, 目指す only indicates direction, which doesn't have scalar value itself (though you could sort choices of directions in rank order and regard it as a degree). – user4092 Apr 15 at 12:58
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    @user4092 Hmm, is there a linguistic test for scalar/nonscalar classification? Like maybe ◯完全に応える vs ✖︎完全に目指す...? – Darius Jahandarie Apr 15 at 15:23
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    @DariusJahandarie 「× 完全に目指す」であることは確かですね – broccoli forest Apr 16 at 9:14
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Good afternoon,

Though there are a few meanings to しっかり, I have always though of it to mean properly~ or firmly doing something. You can't properly have a goal towards something. But you can properly meet the demands of people. Which is why こたえる is better in this situation.

In this situation it also helps to know the word こたえる which means "to answer" but also means "to meet (e.g. expectations; demands)." お願いにこたえる translates to "To meet demands." こたえる with the に particle behind it is likely to have the "To meet" meaning instead of "To answer" meaning.

Sorry if my explanation is long and I hope this makes sense.

Good luck.

Edit: I noticed I didn't give any other verbs that go with しっかり as what your header was asking.

https://ejje.weblio.jp/sentence/content/%E3%81%97%E3%81%A3%E3%81%8B%E3%82%8A%E3%81%A8

This is from weblio and has a lot of examples with しっかり. A lot of the meanings will be the "firm" but I think it will give you a good idea on what verbs you are likely to see しっかり with.

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First, understand that しっかり can be used with a simple verb or a combined verb (using verb conjugation). Then only understand how verbs go well with しっかり.

しっかり読む。
To read properly.

しっかり仕事をする。
To do work properly.

しっかり modifies the simple verb 読む in the former and the combined verb 仕事をする in the latter. The latter sentence may be (mis)constructed as follows.

仕事をしっかりする。 △

仕事をしっかり[管理]{かんり}する。 ○
To manage the work properly.

仕事をしっかり終わらせる。 ○
To finish the work properly.

The しっかり that tries to modify verb conjugation する is less sensible than to modify combined verb 仕事をする. The former is missing "something" before する, or otherwise the sentence may be reworded as shown above. Then comes the question asked.

OP: I don't know why しっかり modifies the verb こたえる better than 目指す.

Given the sentence in question, しっかり goes well with the most relevant verb. こたえる is relevant to the subject, whilst 目指す is relevant to the speaker. With respect to the subject's possession, こたえる is the most relevant verb.

Q: 市民の ( __ ) ( __ ) ( __ ) ( __ ) 目指しています。
1. 街づくりを 2. 願いに 3. こたえる 4. しっかり

A: 市民の [(願いに)]{2} [(こたえる)]{3} [(街づくりを)]{1} [(しっかり)]{4} 目指しています。 ×
[We are] aiming [(properly)]{4} [(to respond)]{3} the citizen's [(request)]{2} [(of town-building)]{1}.

A: 市民の [(願いに)]{2} [(しっかり)]{4} [(こたえる)]{3} [(街づくりを)]{1} 目指しています。 ○
[We are] aiming [(to respond)]{3} [(properly)]{4} the citizen's [(request)]{2} [(of town-building)]{1}.

しっかり enhances 目指しています in the former A, and enhances こたえる in the latter A.

しっかり目指しています suggests that "aiming properly" will take side on the speaker, and that could mean enough to just listen and do nothing much about it (already counts as "to respond").

しっかりこたえる suggests that "to respond properly" will take side on the subject, and that could mean no longer enough to just listen but to do something about it. This can be understood as something might be done instead of a false promise.

The former A makes sense when used in a simple sentence as follows.

やりたいことを しっかり [目指して]{めざして}います。
[I am/We are] aiming properly towards what [I/we] want to do;
[I am/We are] indeed heading for what [I/we] want to do.

That means しっかり目指しています can be correct; however, the one in question is incorrect because that does not make sense with respect to the subject's possession 市民の(願いに), and not because of the combination of しっかり and 目指す itself.

Hence しっかりこたえる is indeed correct for the sentence in question.

Translation note 1: The translation text "to respond properly" is debatable when read in full sentence. Consider another sentence as follows.

この[回答]{かいとう}を (しっかり) ([確認]{かくにん}) してください。
Please [(check)]{A} [(properly)]{B} this answer;
Please [(check)]{A} this answer [(properly)]{B}.

The first pattern A B is most natural when the sentence omits the object "this answer", such that しっかり確認してください can just be translated as "Please check properly". The second pattern A ... B that puts the object next to the verb is more natural. With the first pattern, verb and adverb are placed next to each other like Japanese counterpart therefore easier to compare and explain.

Translation note 2: At time this answer was written, 街 on ウィキペディア noted that 「街」 has similar nuance to "downtown" despite not being linked to Downtown on Wikipedia. In terms of usage, "downtown" seems to be primarily American English, and otherwise "city centre" in British English.

The loose translation "town" makes better sense with "town-building" rather than "downtown-building" (unless someone else could suggest otherwise).

TL;DR しっかり goes well with the most relevant verb in the sentence, which is こたえる with respect to the subject's possession 市民の(願いに).

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    「目標にしっかり目指しています」はおかしいです。「~に目指す」ではなく「~を目指す」です。でも、「目標をしっかり目指しています」にしてもおかしいです。 – Chocolate Apr 22 at 1:47
  • @Chocolate してきしていただき、ありがとうございます。「目標を目指す」はよく耳にしますので、まちがってはないと思っていました。かんたんな例文にしたかったのですが、やはり「しっかり」がそうさせてくれないのですね。もっとふつうに書きます。 – clearkimura Apr 22 at 6:05
  • Eight revisions later: Known mistakes have been fixed and the answer is good enough to understand better. Meanwhile, downvotes without comment are becoming rampant again. Sigh. – clearkimura Apr 22 at 7:37

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