I wonder if there usual/fixed phrase to say "to cause a problem"? I find self-made 問題を起こす to be inappropriate/unnatural in some way...


By far the most commonly used expressions would be:

  • 「~~が問題{もんだい}引{ひ}き起{お}こす」 and

  • 「~~が問題原因{げんいん}となる」

Neither one would be any better than the other.

To introduce a more formal way of saying this, we also say:

  • 「問題~~起因{きいん}する」

With this expression, the grammatical subject is the "problem". It is not the thing/phenomenon/person as in the first two expressions listed at the top.

Regarding your phrase 「問題を起{お}こす」, it is indeed a very common and natural-sounding verb phrase. It is, however, closer to "to create a problem" in meaning than to "to cause a problem".

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