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裁判で彼の無罪が確定しました。
His innocence was decided at the trial.

First problem: even though I've translated this sentence I still don't understand its meaning. Does it mean that the person was found innocent? Or does it mean that they debated his innocence at the trial and the outcome could still have been either innocent or guilty, and we just don't know the result?

Second problem: it seems strange to me to have a する verb for something that best translates in the passive. I'm used to the する/なる distinction where someone actively does something with する but things just happen by themselves with なる.

I've seen another example of a する verb being used passively recently (can't remember what it was now) so I assume it is quite common. Am I thinking about this in the wrong way can anyone shed some light on a better way to think about it?

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    Regarding the first problem, I'm curious to know what part of the sentence led you to the second interpretation.
    – goldbrick
    Jul 20 at 1:41
  • @goldbrick Purely from my lack of understanding of the verb and the English translation I chose. There is some ambiguity in the English. "Determined" can refer to process of deciding or the result of that process. In the former case the sentence could be interpreted as "His innocence (or lack thereof) was decided at the trial.". Admittedly, this is a slightly less likely option but not at all unreasonable, so I thought I had better clear my doubts. Jul 20 at 15:38
  • Ah I see what you mean now, thank you for taking the time!
    – goldbrick
    Jul 20 at 15:48
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Some verbs, some consisting of a noun and auxiliary する, work as both transitive and intransitive verbs, and 確定する is one such verb. It is used intransitively in your example with 無罪 being its subject. If there is no intransitive equivalent in English, the idea expressed by such a verb needs to be translated with a transitive verb either in the passive voice or, depending on the verb, with a reflective pronoun (e.g. itself) as its object. There seems to be nothing strange about that.

確定する may be more common as an intransitive verb. When it takes an object, it is often used in the causative form 確定させる.

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First, the verb is actually closer to "settle," but "decide" is also a translation I've found. So some liberty is being taken with the translation to make it sound more natural in English. I would go with the idea that the matter of his innocence has been settled, and it's implied he is found innocent due to the phrasing.

I think the biggest issue is that this sentence has a dropped topic (probably "the jury" or "the judge"). Another problem for translation is that が does not always mark the subject of a verb, and often marks what experiences the effect of the verb (or sometimes an adjective). The verb is an active verb as you stated, with an understood topic that's also acting as the subject. So a better translation would be something like "(Someone) decided his innocence at the trial."

Unfortunately, English can't drop the subject of a verb unless we use a passive verb to turn the object into a subject. Which is why this is translated as a passive verb construction in English. If the topic/subject had been kept, it would likely have been translated as a normal active sentence. I hope this helps.

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    無罪 is the subject of the intransitive verb 確定する.
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 19 at 23:09

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