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I heard the phrase:

その男の子が車にひかれて死にそうだった。  

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?

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    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, 2020 at 11:40

3 Answers 3

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+50

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.

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    May be related: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/30534/5010
    – naruto
    Jan 31, 2020 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, 2020 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, 2020 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, 2020 at 2:35
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I think the most appropriate translation is;

(今現在【いまげんざい】)その男の子が(走ってくる)車に轢【ひ】かれて死にそう(な状態)だった

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.

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    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, 2020 at 21:36
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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.

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  • 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, 2020 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, 2020 at 11:50

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