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国{くに}が今年{ことし}の3[月]{がつ}に調{しら}べると、「[特定]{とくてい}[技能]{ぎのう}」で[働]{はたら}いている人{ひと}は3987[人]{にん}で、考{かんが}えていたよりずっと少{すく}ないことがわかりました。

I’m having difficulty figuring out how と is used here. From past experience it can be:

  1. conditional
  2. conjunctival (as in “and”)
  3. Quotation

I don’t think it can be used to link two phrases or clauses so that’s that out of the window.

I would imagine the quotation と would be towards the end of the sentence to quote what precedes it.

So only the conditional remains but I doubt it fits here... unless it means 調べると means: If the “country” looks up March of this year... they understand that the number of special skill workers are constantly diminishing?

But my question: Is there a way to tell the と apart at a glance?

Source
The sentence above is from this article: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/k10012450361000/k10012450361000.html

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By the time I'd read as far as と I was over 99% certain this was a conditional. Why?

It couldn't be 'and' because that can only modify a noun/noun phrase and we have a verb.

It could have been a quote, but "X said that the state will investigate in March this year" sounds oddly specific. Besides which, who is X? I don't think it could be the state itself. I would expect that to use 国は rather than 国が. And, there is no context for X to be anyone else. Though not mandatory, there is also no verb that you would associate with a quote. No 言う, 思う etc. There is a 考える but that's way too far away in the sentence.

That leaves a conditional. Now if your trying to translate this as 'if' I can see you confusion. That really wouldn't make a lot of sense. In a context like this it is better translated as 'when' or 'upon' i.e. "When the state investigated in March this year there were ...' or 'upon the state investigating in March this year there were ...'

But to be honest, the above is all nonsense. The real reason I know it's a conditional is simply from experience. I have seen 調べると so many times that it's just what I expect. The more you read the easier this will get.

A couple of other points:

The 分かる in this sentence is better understood as realised/discovered.

ずっと here is an intensifier. It is 'much' rather than 'continuously'. so 考えていたよりずっと少ない is 'much smaller than expected'.

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