I am trying to understand how


could translate to something like

so that he would not have to see the legs

It's part of Metamorphosis by Kafka. A guy wakes up as a bug and trie to get out of his bed.

My guess so far is to parse it like the following:

  • 脚を見
  • ないで can be used to forbid something but with proper context can mean "without"
  • As explained here

もう when used in conjunction with a present tense does have that connotation in Japanese that the action should not be continued anymore [...]describing the situational/contextual setup or "feeling" of the situation

  • すむ means "to end"
  • ように is used as ように "trying to do something"
  • していた is just past progressive する. I suppose "past" because we want to achieve something ie being in a situation where something is done and "progressive" as a way to make the sentence more emphatic

I'm not sure to understand it right because the use of ないで + すむ sounds like a double negation to me.

  • 1
    も is what appears in the sentence, but you linked to a question about もう
    – Leebo
    Apr 16 '21 at 9:48
  • Just curious: すむ sounds like a negation how exactly? (Or one half of a "double negation" as you put it.)
    – Will
    Apr 16 '21 at 12:37
  • @Leebo I didn't notice it ! So this meaning doesn't apply to も?
    – xavier
    Apr 16 '21 at 12:46
  • @Will Maybe i could rephrase saying ないで and すむ sounds redundant to me here. "Putting and end" to something is not exactly the same as "doing without" but using both at the same time disturbs me
    – xavier
    Apr 16 '21 at 12:50
  • @xavier も and もう are completely different words. も is a particle and もう is an adverb.
    – Leebo
    Apr 16 '21 at 13:16

なくてもすむ or ないですむ is a phrase that attaches to verbs with the meaning of "get away without doing verb", e.g.

That car is cheap so I can get away without borrowing money

I'm not sure if the も is part of the set phrase or adds an additional sense of 'even' i.e. "get away without even doing verb". Maybe someone else can help with that.

So 脚を見ないでもすむ means "get away without (even?) having to see the legs".

Verb in dictionary form + ようにする is another set phrase that means "to make sure to do verb" (すむ is actually a verb). See this link. Although "get away with something" sounds rather passive and "make sure to do something" sounds a little too active so perhaps "try to do verb" would be better in this case.

Altogether we have the clunky translation of

He had tried to get away without seeing the legs

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