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I was surfing online for Japanese articles and chanced upon this sentence: 初めて飛行機に乗ったうちの子どもは静かに座っていられませんでした which translates to: my child who sat on a plane for the first time, couldn't sit quietly.

A question that popped in my mind immediately was, if I were to say: 初めて飛行機に乗ったうちの子どもは静かに座れませんでした wouldn't this mean exactly the same thing? If so, under what circumstances would one be preferable over the other

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This is essentially about the difference between 座る and 座っている.

座る refers to a motion: "to sit down (from a standing position)" or "to have a seat". Thus 静かに座る means to sit down slowly without making a noise, as opposed to throwing yourself into a seat. 静かに座れなかった is its negative-potential-past form, but this is not what you want to say.

座っている refers to a state (the result of the motion): "to be in a sitting position" or "to stay seated". 静かに座っている means to stay seated quietly. 静かに座っていられなかった is its negative-potential-past form.

  • Makes sense, thanks for the clear explanation – Newbie May 10 at 0:24
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I might be mistaken, but I think 初めて飛行機に乗ったうちの子どもは静かに座っていられませんでした means that the child was unable to stay seated quietly during the flight and 初めて飛行機に乗ったうちの子どもは静かに座れませんでした describes the more acute situation of not being able to sit down and be quiet (short action).

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