I heard the phrase:


When I head the V1てV2, I assumed that Verb 1 (ひかれて)had actually happened and that Verb 2 (死にそう) was a consequence. But someone pointed out to me that the そう from Verb 2 also applied to Verb 1. In other words, that Verb 1 had not actually happened.

Japanese: その男の子が車にひかれて死にそうだった。

English 1: That boy was hit by a car and almost died.

English 2: That boy was almost hit by a car (and would have been killed).

Which (if either) is correct? Does the そう always modify preceding verbs in a double verb construction? Or is it a case where there is ambiguity?

Perhaps the addition of a comma (ひかれて、。。。)would indicate some difference?

  • 1
    From the way I see it, it does give a bit of ambiguity.. but lean on towards English 2. Maybe adding more context or switching the words around would help(to show the た). 車にひかれた、その男の子が死にそうだった。その男の子が車にひかれたんでさ、死にそうだったよ。その男の子が車にひかれたが、死にそうな状態になった。I don't think English 2 is restricted to only そう but also to other verbs : その男の子が車にひかれて死ぬところだった。うちに帰ってケーキを食べたい vs うちに帰ったらケーキを食べたくなった。I'm sorry if it doesn't help or is incorrect.(take this with a grain of salt) – Dekiru Jan 22 '20 at 11:40

This depends on the context.

Examples of そう applied to the combination of two verbs:

  • あの子は天才だ。将来は学者になってノーベル賞を取りそうだ
  • いつもの時間に家を出たら、強い雪が降ってきた。電車が遅れて遅刻しそうだ
  • 明日彼にこの話をしたら、彼はショックを受けて泣きそうだ
  • 転んで怪我をしそうな山道

Examples of そう applied only to the second verb (i.e., the first verb describes a known fact):

  • オリンピックが近づいて日本への観光客が増えそうです
  • 申し訳ありません、電車が遅れて遅刻しそうです
  • 正直に彼に話をした。彼はショックを受けて泣きそうだ
  • ぬかるんで滑りそうな山道

A comma tends to be used before the second verb if そう is applied only to the second verb, but you cannot rely on this too much.

  • その男の子は車にひかれて、死にそうだった。
    (sounds like the boy was actually run over by a car)

轢かれる is an event which is likely to cause a death (it's more serious than just being hit). Unless there is a comma, people tend to treat 轢かれる and 死ぬ as a set.

  • 1
    May be related: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/30534/5010 – naruto Jan 31 '20 at 0:23
  • In your sentence 電車が遅れて遅刻しそうだ, has 遅れて already happened? or seems like it will happen? – kandyman Jan 31 '20 at 11:30
  • Also you say that 轢かれる is an event which is likely to cause a death. This is different to the English 'get knocked down' which does not necessarily imply a nearly fatal event. So what is the appropriate Japanese expression for 'be knocked down (by a car)", ie getting hit by a car but not necessarily causing a fatality? – kandyman Jan 31 '20 at 11:36
  • @kandyman The first 遅れて is a speculation, the second 遅れて is a known fact. As for 轢かれて, perhaps I should have linked to an entry of monolingual dictionaries. Please see this for example. – naruto Feb 1 '20 at 2:35

I think the most appropriate translation is;


which means;

(RIGHT NOW) The (encoming) car is going to hit that boy; and he's gonna die!

I'm just a native speaker passing by, hope my answer can help.

  • 3
    The Japanese sentence is in the past tense (だった). I don’t understand why your translation is in the future tense (“is gonna”). Can you explain? – kandyman Jan 30 '20 at 21:36

If it were me, if the boy was almost hit, then I would say ひかれそう, therefore without further information/context, I would understand this to mean the former, which is to say the boy was actually hit and almost died.
By the way, 死にそう can have several meanings; 1) (literally) on the verge of death, or 2) (figuratively) very seriously injured but not technically/medically dying, so not necessarily "almost died" but that's off the topic I guess.

  • I don't understand what you mean. If he were almost hit you would say ひかれそう. But if he was actually hit but did not die (but almost died), what would you say? – kandyman Jan 31 '20 at 11:33
  • I'm sorry, I made a mistake in my response so I edited it. If the boy was actually hit but did not die (but almost died) I would say その男の子が車にひかれて死にそうだった and therefore I agree with your initial thought which is the English 1 interpretation. I also agree that そう can at times include the first verb, but I feel this is rare and not always clear among natives so we would clarify the precise meaning with the speaker. When in doubt I would take the "conservative" interpretation which is to assume the そう encompasses the second verb. I hope this answers your original question and your comment above – kankichi Feb 4 '20 at 11:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.