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何を悩んでいるの
What is troubling you?

何をそんなに興奮しているんだ
What are you so excited about?

I keep seeing sentences like the above where verbs, which seem to me to be intransitive, are taking 何 as an object. Are these examples of a larger class of cases where this happens? Can someone please explain what is going on with the grammar here?

I feel that this question must be related but I doubt there is any accusatory tone in the examples I am looking at.

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    「悩む」のほうに関しては、「~を悩む」って言うこともありますね。明鏡国語辞典によりますと、悩む⑴〘自〙❶ ... 語法 〜ヲに〈悩みの内容〉を表す語をとって他動詞としても使う。「いかに生きるべきかを━」
    – Chocolate
    Jan 24 at 0:41

3 Answers 3

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As pointed out in the comment section, the first sentence is a plain transitive usage of 悩む.

For the second sentence, I do feel an accusatory overtone similar to that in 何にやついているんだ explained in the linked question:

  • そんなに興奮しているんだ → The speaker doesn't feel good or bad about that fact that the listener is excited, but he is simply curious why the listener is excited.
  • そんなに興奮しているんだ → The speaker is dubious and/or annoyed, and he thinks there is nothing the listener should be excited about.

Both of these would be translated into English as "What are you so excited about?", but they are slightly different in Japanese, and the 何を version is closer to a rhetorical question. (The difference is not huge. The former can sound accusatory depending on the context.)

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  • Can you think of a good/any translation of 悩む that sounds transitive? I'm struggling. Presumably it works with non-questions as well, e.g. 怖い猫を悩んでいる would be "scary cats worry me"? But in English 'scary cats' is the subject not the object. I guess "to worry" is not an accurate/direct translation. Is there a better way to think about it, or should I just accept it and move on? Jan 24 at 20:01
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    @user3856370 を悩む is usually used with a noun clause including an embedded question. If you are troubled by a cat, you have to say 猫悩んでいる. As Riolku said, several verbs related to emotion have a tricky transitive usage, but it's hard for me to generalize as a rule.
    – naruto
    Jan 25 at 7:13
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を can indicate the cause of some human emotion, as in:

メリーは父の死を悲しんだ

"Mary was saddened by her father's death"

Or:

私は浩の大学入学を喜んだ

"I was happy about Hiroshi's entering college"

Note that yes, these verbs are still intransitive.

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  • These sentences are perfectly correct, but you cannot say something like 娘の誕生を興奮した, 大学合格を興奮した and such.
    – naruto
    Jan 24 at 5:07
  • Do you suppose that's because those are transitive verbs
    – Riolku
    Jan 24 at 5:54
  • At least jisho.org says 悲しむ is transitive, but I'm not sure if this can be cleanly categorized. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that 悲しむ is an old wago and を in classical Japanese had a wider range of usages.
    – naruto
    Jan 24 at 6:08
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They're probably bitransitive verbs. You can say, for example:

学校を休みました。(transitive)
家に休みました。(intransitive)

It happens in english too.

She is eating (intransitive)
She is eating the cake (transitive)

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    「家に休みました。」って言わないですね。。「家で休んでいました。」とか?
    – Chocolate
    Jan 24 at 2:49

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