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A recent question I asked on Hinative showed that たい can be used when talking about other people's feelings and still be natural.

https://hinative.com/en-US/questions/21298937

According to the Japanese native user who answered the question, both「友人Aは辛いものを食べたい」and 「友人Aは辛い物を食べたがる」are natural sentences despite the former using たい to talk about what 友人A wants.

I'm not really sure why this is...?

The user's explanation is that both are explaining to the person that I am talking to, 友人B, that 友人A likes spicy things in slightly different ways.

Yet other sources straight up say you can't do this the former? Not sure what's going on here.

Furthermore, I have an extended question, and that is that if たがる is supposed to be used over たい when talking about other people's feelings because we can't truly understand other people's feelings...

Then can we also not say something like 「友人Aは辛い物が好きだ」because there'd be no way to know whether spicy things are actually likable to 友人A?

The user on Hinative says that this is also a natural sentence and that me saying this is simply leaving how assertive I am about this statement up in the air. While adding そう or らしい makes it clear that I am not saying this statement as a fact.

If we cannot make a definite statement about other people's feelings in Japanese because we are not them, then why is 「友人Aは辛い物が好きだ」allowed?

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  • There is a popular manga かぐや様は告らせたい and some others with 3rd person + たい.
    – sundowner
    Feb 26 at 13:48
  • I think it's a common exception for writers writing fiction since the author CAN be inside the character's heads.
    – ItsCheif
    Feb 26 at 16:27

1 Answer 1

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Let’s evaluate naturalness in polite style first because plain style hides some of the unnaturalness.

Suppose you are discussing with someone which restaurant to choose for your next gathering. Taro is absent but he will also be at the gathering. You decide to convey his preference to another person.

You would probably say either one of the following.

  1. 太郎は辛いものを食べたがっています。

Taro may or may not have directly told you that he wants to eat spicy food for this particular occasion, but he was certainly giving off that impression last time you spoke to him about the matter. If this information turns out to be incorrect and he later tells you that he didn’t want to eat spicy food, you would probably argue with him, pointing to the earlier behavior or words of his that made you assume he wanted to eat spicy food.

  1. 太郎は辛いものを食べたいみたいです。
  1. 太郎は辛いものを食べたいようです。

You may or may not have heard this from Taro or someone else, but you somehow got the impression that Taro wants to eat spicy food. If this information turns out to be incorrect, you would probably have to accept the blame because it was your judgment, after all. #3 sounds more formal than #2.

  1. 太郎は辛いものを食べたいそうです。

This is hearsay. (Note the い before そう.) You have certainly heard this from Taro or someone else. If the information turns out to be incorrect, you would probably blame the source while feeling somewhat responsible for conveying incorrect information without verifying it.

  1. 太郎は辛いものを食べたいらしいです。

This is similar to #4, but you are rather indifferent to the accuracy of the information. If it turns out to be incorrect, you don't have a clear source to blame and you definitely don’t want to take the responsibility yourself.

Now, suppose the discussion is going the other direction, and you decide to remind them that Taro wants to eat spicy food by reiterating it. You might say:

  1. 太郎は辛いものを食べたいです。

In all these sentences, 食べたい is used in a subordinate clause with an expression that conveys some mood. I for one cannot think of a realistic context where the following straight assertion truly sounds natural.

? 太郎は辛いものを食べたいです。

It only sounds natural in a rather artificial context where you are describing Taro with complete objectivity like a voice-over narrator in a documentary video.

Now, back to plain style. If 太郎は辛いものを食べたい sounds natural in some contexts, I would say it is because it works as a substitute for at least some of the more complete sentences above.

On the other hand, the following is a natural statement about Taro’s, more permanent, preference.

太郎は辛いものが好きです。

If Taro has declared that he likes spicy food, it is fact enough for you. You don’t need to assume anything.

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  • Thank you for the response, could I ask for more clarity? So say that Taro and I are at a restaurant. Taro says "I want to eat spicy things". The waiter comes over. If I wanted to put Taro's order in for him, would I say 「太郎は辛いものを食べたいです」or 「太郎は辛いものを食べたがっています」? I heard that たがる means "showing signs of", but if the man is present and sitting right there and literally just said he wants to eat spicy food, does that change anything? Why can we accept that he says he likes spicy food (太郎は辛いものが好きです), but can't accept that he says he wants to eat spicy food?
    – ItsCheif
    Feb 26 at 6:49
  • Also, do you think the user on Hinative said that 「太郎は辛いものを食べたいです。」is "natural" as in- "it is grammatically correct"? Not that you would actually use this in day-to-day conversation?
    – ItsCheif
    Feb 26 at 6:50
  • My main confusion here is why we have to use たがる when talking about other peoples feelings (since the logic is that we cant feel them despite the fact that they told us), but we don't need to use そう or らしい or anything else to vague-en up 好き, as if we know whether or not they actually like a thing.
    – ItsCheif
    Feb 26 at 6:52
  • 1
    @ItsCheif - I believe you asked about 友人Aは辛いものを食べたい on HiNative, not 友人Aは辛いものを食べたいです. In any case, I cannot speak for some stranger on the net. There is really not much point in asking WHY 好きだ is good and 食べたい is bad. They are two different expressions. It’s just that you don’t get to assertively state someone else’s feelings. Their likes and dislikes are closer to their permanent traits.
    – aguijonazo
    Feb 26 at 7:54
  • I don't see why there's a difference between having a です or not. Having the です just makes it formal right? As for the 好きだ and 食べたい, I guess Japanese people just have a different idea of what's subjective and what's not huh.
    – ItsCheif
    Feb 26 at 8:37

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