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Below stand two examples of the structure NをNに. I feel confident that I understand the meaning of both sentences, but I am having trouble identifying a verb that I can associate with the Nを. I am familiar with cases where を marks the temporal or/and spatial space through which some transition takes place and that this is probably the case in both examples, but in both I remain confused about the verb that describes the transition.

1)働いているアリを横目にただ動き回っているだけのアリたちがいる。

Am I correct in thinking that the verb associated with the を in 働いているアリを横目に is 動き回る because the work-shy ants are seen 横目に of the grafters? But then, if the sentence is simplified to:

1b) 働いているアリを横目に黒いアリたちがいる。

then the terminating いる seems to be the only possibility for the verb. Or perhaps 1b makes no sense(?)

2)15歳の子供たちを対象に32カ国で行われた国際調査。

Here I suppose that the を in 15歳の子供たちを対象に marks the abstract space of the 15 year-olds, but what about the associated verb? Is it 行う? Here again, the sentence could surely be simplified to something like:

2b) 15歳の子供たちを対象に国際調査だ。

in which case is the associated verb だ?

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In both cases, you could think the verbs associated with (modified by) NをNに are omitted, which may be the reason you feel the existing verbs (動き回っている/行われた) are 'not clearly associated'.

  • 働いているアリを横目にして(見ながら) putting/looking at working ants in the corner of the eyes
  • 15歳の子供たちを対象にして making 15 year-olds as targets

That said, you can think 動き回っている/行われた is the associated verbs.

  • wandering about with working ants in the corner of the eyes.
  • conducted with 15 year-olds as targets.

Either way, 1b/2b are lacking both of the potential modified verbs and unnatural. 1b may be barely possible but 2b is ungrammatical.

The closet alternative to 2b would be

  • 5歳の子供たちを対象にした国際調査だ.

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