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Several years ago, I was taking a Japanese course and was given an assignment to translate an English sentence of my choosing. (There was probably more to the assignment than that, but I don't recall.) I chose a joke to translate:

"If God didn't want us to eat animals, why did he make them taste so good?"

Attempting to translate the first part of this sentence, I rephrased it slightly as "If God didn't want animals to be eaten" and tried to work it out in steps:

eat - 食べる

be eaten - 食べられる

want to be eaten - 食べられたい

not want to be eaten - 食べられたくない

did not want to be eaten - 食べられたくなかった

if did not want to be eaten - 食べられたくなかったら

I was pretty proud of the result, but my (native Japanese) teacher didn't understand it. He laughed after I explained in English, but didn't offer to provide a correct translation--and I didn't press him for one since I felt a bit silly in front of the class.

Ever since then, though, I've been wondering exactly what language rule(s) I broke that made my effort incomprehensible. Can someone explain what the problem is? And what would be a correct translation of the joke?

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    This verb conjugation by itself is perfectly natural and common (it can be even more complex). You probably made a mistake elsewhere in the sentence, such as a misuse of an implied subject. What was your full sentence? – naruto Nov 18 at 0:00
  • It's been so long I couldn't say with any certainty. My best guess would be 神様は動物が食べられたくなかったら, [...] – Sean Nov 18 at 7:47
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    If that's the case, you've made a mistake regarding indirect passive and explanatory-no. 「神様は動物食べられたくなかったのなら、なぜ動物をこんなにおいしく作ったのか」 would be fine. – naruto Nov 18 at 10:43
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I think your mistake is that

"If God didn't want animals to be eaten"

and

"If God (or animals) didn't want to be eaten"

don't mean the same thing at all.

The latter case is how we would translate the sentence you gave.

If you wanted to say "A doesn't want B to 〜" you would have to say something like:
・AはBに〜してほしくない
or
・AはBに〜しないでほしい
with the latter having a stronger feeling associated with it.

So,

eat C - Cを食べる

not eat C - Cを食べない

not want B to eat C - BにCを食べないでほしい

didn't want B to eat C - BにCを食べないでほしかった

if A didn't want B to eat C - AはBにCを食べないでほしかったのなら

and plugging in for A, B, and C:

If God didn't want us to eat animals - 神様は我々人類に動物を食べないでほしかった(の)なら

Additionally, as @naruto points our in his/her comment, there is nothing wrong with the phrase 食べられたくなかったら, if used in the proper context.

  • 日本語には間接受け身があるので「神様は(人間に動物を)食べられたくなかったなら」という文は一応作れると思います。質問者がそれを意図しているのかがよくわからないのですが… – naruto Nov 18 at 7:02
  • おっしゃる通りですね。ただ質問者の英訳からすれば多分そういうのを考えてなかったやろうと思って。まあ@narutoさんの最初のコメントに対してどう答えられるか気になりますね。 – sbkgs4686 Nov 18 at 7:19

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