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I was trying to translate "May I pet the dog?", but I'm having trouble finding what word means "to pet".

  • Looking it up on jisho.org I get 可愛がる, but translating it back using various services gives me "can I love the dog?".
  • Trying Google Translate with some sample sentences, it either gives up and leaves "pet" in English in the middle of the Japanese text, or uses 飼う, which from my understanding is to keep a pet, rather than to physically pet it.
  • Trying translate.com (which apparently uses Microsoft Translator) with a sample sentence, I get ペットにする, which I can't corroborate anywhere else.

So given these options:

犬を可愛がってもいいですか?

犬を飼ってもいいですか?

犬をペットにしてもいいですか?

Are any of these correct? Which, if any, makes the most sense?

3 Answers 3

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If the question "May I pet the dog?" means "May I stroke the dog gently?", then none of the phrases you obtained from your sources look good.

「可愛{かわい}がる」 comes closest, but it is not really appropriate. The other two 「飼{か}う」 and 「ペットにする」 are simply out of the question. I will try to explain these verb choices later.

My own recommendations as a Japanese-speaker would be:

「なでてもいいですか。」

「軽{かる}く(or ちょっと)なでてもいいですか。」

「なでさせてもらってもいいですか。」

The verb here is 「撫{な}でる」 ("to stroke gently"). We would not use 「犬を」 at the beginning as it is another person's dog. Many of us would actually use 「ワンちゃんを」 instead. Using the plain 「犬」 in this situation could make you sound fairly cold and/or indifferent.

If you and the dog-owner, however, have already exchanged some words about the dog, you do not need to use an 「object + を」 at all. The dog-owner would not think that you were wanting to pet him/her instead of the dog. Japanese is a highly contextual language.

The problems with the phrases you have found:

「可愛がる」: A little too broad a word. It basically means "to treat with love/care". That is not quite the word you would want to use. It would make the dog-owner wonder what exactly it was that you were wanting to do with his/her dog.

「飼う」: That means "to keep (an animal at your home)". In essence, therefore, you would be saying "May I take your dog home with me?" You will sound like the weirdest foreigner.

「ペットにする」: This means "to make an animal one's own pet". It is just out of the question as 「飼う」.

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    Thanks for such a detailed answer! It all makes sense. I've never seen ワンちゃん before either. Good to know! Oct 22, 2019 at 9:24
  • Using just 撫でる without 軽く it's also ok?
    – Mauro
    Oct 22, 2019 at 11:22
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    "It would make the dog-owner wonder what exactly it was that you were wanting to do with his/her dog." → +1 for making me laugh. :D Oct 23, 2019 at 15:36
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It's funny because my mother language is not English (or Japanese) and I remember being very confused when I encountered for the fist time the English verb "to pet".

Because it's so imprecise ! Do you want to touch the dog ? Stroke the dog ? Play with the dog ? So it's the same in Japanese, "to pet" doesn't really exist, you just state what you actually want to do :)

So the most common way would be :

撫でてもいいですか? (to stroke)

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    English isn't my mother language either, but as far as I know if you asked to pet someone's dog and then started playing with it, it would be odd, since "to pet" implies to caress the dog, not to play with it; if you want to play with a dog you'd ask something like "Can I play with your dog?". So I think 撫でる could be pretty close to "to pet".
    – Mauro
    Oct 22, 2019 at 11:38
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    The English verb "to pet" is not imprecise at all. Mauro is correct: it only means "to stroke the dog gently" (source: Am a native English speaker).
    – adhanlon
    Oct 22, 2019 at 16:37
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In addition to 撫でる and よしよしする (良し) there is いいこいいこする (from 良い子).

Also, there is a variant of 撫でる which is 撫ぜる. From that is derived the word 撫ぜ撫ぜ(する) (not to be confused with the 何故-derived なぜなぜ, as in なぜなぜ分析).

By the way, if the pet comes to you and rubs itself against you, that is すりすり.

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    Any reason for presenting the uncommon/dialectal なぜなぜする without mentioning the more common/standard なでなでする?
    – Chocolate
    Oct 24, 2019 at 2:07
  • @Chocolate Though なでなでする is an obvious formation from なでる that anyone would likely understand regardless of how popular it is or not, my answer comes from personal experience.
    – Kaz
    Oct 24, 2019 at 17:59

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