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Before asking this question, I've done a good amount of research. I learned that させてもらう conveys the nuance of "allow me to do" or "I'll have you let me do X" or "I'll take the liberty of doing X" or even "May I?" However, in my native language, we rarely use causative forms, and learning them in English was a bit of a struggle too. That's why it's so hard for me to wrap my head around this concept.

If someone says: Context: a coworker about doing a project on her own. 自分でやらせてもらうことにしました

What does she really say?

A friend of mine (a Japanese friend) told me to think about it as "もらう = you're thankful" and "させる = you let yourself do sth because you don't want to burden other people" So, technically you're grateful for taking the burden from other people. Well, in the work context it seems just fine. But then I saw this sentence.

私はそれを参考にさせてもらうよ。 I can't apply her logic at all to this one.

Help!

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  • 1
    Related questions here and here – Mindful Feb 4 at 14:25
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    This pattern confuse me a lot too. I've read both of the links given by @Mindful before. They give good information but they seem specific to the particular context. Every time I see させてもらう it seems to confuse me in a new way. A comprehensive analysis of the phrase would be extremely helpful. – user3856370 Feb 4 at 16:03
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The literal meaning of 自分でやらせてもらうことにしました is indeed "I decided to have you allow me to do it myself", but usually it can be translated to English simply as "I decided to do it myself" or "I decided to take the liberty of doing it myself".

I hope you can get what's happening by comparing the following sentences logically:

  • 食べろ Eat it!
  • 食べさせろ! Let me eat it! / Allow me to eat it!
  • 食べてもらった。 Someone ate it (which pleased me).
  • 食べてもらおう。 Let's have someone eat it (for me).
  • 食べさせてもらった。 Someone allowed me to eat it (which pleased me).
  • 食べさせてもらおう。 Let's have someone allow me to eat it (for me).

But you don't have to translate a fixed pattern like this literally. Remember English Let's as in Let's go is also technically causative.

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I see much more “thankfulness” in the second sentence than in the first.

The first sentence is an indirect and supposedly humble-sounding way of saying 自分ですることにしました. Often times the speaker is not thankful or anything (although there may be cases when they really are). This use of させてもらう is often heard particularly in business settings. I personally don’t like it and never use it myself (definitely not with 〜ことにする) because it sounds to me like the speaker is shunning responsibility for their own decision.

The context of the second sentence must be that the listener (or someone else) gave the speaker some information or source of information and the speaker has decided to “thankfully” use it as a reference. This should be more straightforward than the first usage.


[EDIT]
The even more supposedly polite form of させて[頂]{いただ}く is more often used in business settings than させてもらう.

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For a quick equivalency, think of

させてもらう

as "take liberty of"

"I took liberty of turning your photo to the correct orientation to make it easier to view" 見やすいように写真の向きを修正させてもらった。

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  • Please note that, in manga, anime and dramas - it's often used in a hostile context. Like, お前の剣は、池に捨てさせてもらったよ。はっはっはっはっは! I took liberty of throwing your sword into the lake. Mwahahahaha. – Jun Sato May 6 at 4:26
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I think I get it now. I hope it will help others as well.

させる alone can be translated as "let" or "make."(causative forms)

てもらう is not a causative form in Japanese, but many English resources translate it to "get someone to do sth," which is a causative form. That's kind of misleading. I always think about it as "receiving a favor" and the focus is on the "action", not "person" (~てくれる focuses on the person)

ことにする means "to decide." However, "to decide" means "to influence someone so that they make a particular choice" as well. It's like saying "I want to you to ~”  There's even a causative form in English with this verb, "decide someone to do something."

自分で (myself) やらせて (and let me do it) もらう (do me a favor) ことにしました (I want you to/ I'll influence you to)

私はそれを参考(as a reference) にさせて(and let me use it それ) もらう(do me a favor)よ

Another thing to consider is that させてもらう may sound like you're looking for permission, but you're not really; you somehow know you'll hear "yes, you can do it" from your speaker. It's not something you'd say to your boss tho. Friends and coworkers, yes.

Would that be ok, If I did it myself? That could be an English equivalent. It doesn't match the Japanese version at all. It's a question, but you somehow know you'll hear "yeah, sure."

The second conditional in English sounds quite indirect and therefore polite. Japanese people like to be indirect and polite and we need a structure that will convey such nuances. If I were to translate Would that be ok, If I did it myself? back to Japanese, I'd probably go for たら or ば because that's a conditional structure in Japanese. However, させてもらう gives off the nuance of "I kind of made the decision that I'll do the thing myself, and I'm just letting you know guys I'll do it. But since I don't want to come across as bossy I will use a structure that will make you think it's a question, but it's not, but still, you'll say yes as I expected." (I'm not sure if that makes sense to you, it does to me.)

It is better to "translate" concepts and contexts, not words. Polite structures to polite structures even if grammatically/linguistically they don't match.

A note regarding させてもらう in anime/manga. In anime/manga, it can be used in an aggressive, assertive manner as a fancy way of saying that you'll have your way in something, either do it yourself or make the other side do something.

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