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In my Japanese textbook, there’s a fill-in-the-blank question (and here I will modify it into a multiple-choice question for better comparison and contrast):

さっきから携帯電話を探しているのですが、

A. 見つかりません。

B. 見つかりませんでした。

C. 見つけません。

D. 見つけませんでした。

I have two questions about this sentence: the first is about tense; the second is about 自動詞・他動詞。

I filled in 見つけませんでした and tried translating it into English (which is not my mother tongue either):

I’ve been looking for my mobile phone for a while, but didn’t find it (or couldn’t find it).

The answer given is 「見つかりません」.

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見つかる is intransitive, "to be found/located". 見つける is transitive, "to find/locate".

  • A: 見つかりません = "it has not been found (so far / yet)."
  • B: 見つかりませんでした = "it was not found."
  • C: 見つけません = "I don't/won't find it."
  • D: 見つけませんでした (= "I didn't find it.")

見つかる is the normal verb used when you talk about the result of a search in Japanese. We don't usually say C and D. For example "24 results found" is "24件見つかりました" in Japanese.

Between A and B, A is the better option because the first half of the sentence indicates this person is still trying to find the phone. B sounds like the speaker suddenly gave up in the middle of the sentence, which is a little unnatural.

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  • I think your answer is correct from an "actual Japanese" perspective; but I have a vague feeling that, from a "textbook" perspective, they might have been aiming at C. Because A changes the sentence subject from "I" (am searching) to "cellphone" (isn't found), while C keeps it as "I" (haven't found it). In English, this would be a problem, but in Japanese it isn't; but I could easily imagine an English-native Japanese textbook writer expecting that to be the "best" answer for that specific reason. – Micah Cowan May 26 at 3:47
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    Also, I really hate tests that have multiple acceptable answers, but have some vague reason why the one they've chosen is better than the others... especially when there might actually be some controversy. @Mathis, were there any guidelines in the quiz as to what they're looking for in terms of "most fitting" answer? – Micah Cowan May 26 at 3:52
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    @MicahCowan 携帯電話を探しているのですが見つけません sounds terribly wrong. I can assure no native speaker would say this. – naruto May 26 at 9:42
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    @MicahCowan In the textbook, the answer is A. I had the same feeling as you, and that's why I posted the question here. – Mathis May 26 at 14:20
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    @Mathis If you want to use 見つける, you can say 携帯電話を探しているのですが、(まだ)見つけられていません. See the potential form and the perfect aspect. – naruto May 26 at 14:58

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