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Consider

この会社の社員だったら、あの大学で割引がもらえる。

I assume this means (in idiomatic English):

If I were an employee of this company, I could get a discount at that college.

But literally speaking, it seems to mean:

If I were this company's employee, a discount, within that university, is able to receive.

What's throwing me off in particular is:

  • 割引が: a discount (subject)
  • もらえる: to receive (potential form)

So doesn't this mean that 割引が貰える means "the discount is able to receive"? But don't want to instead say something like

私が割引をもらえる

I was able to receive the discount

Or is this one of those things where in Japanese it's just idiomatic to say "the discount is able to receive", which conveys the same idea as "I am able to receive the discount" in English?

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Key point

Verbs of potential in English describe a property of an actor: that person is able to [VERB].

Verbs of potential in Japanese describe a property of a thing: that thing is [VERB]-able.

The grammar and syntax, and an explication of the literal meaning

Compare:

  • EN: I can speak Japanese.
    This describes the actor, the one doing the action. The "I" in this sentence is able to do the action of the verb.
  • JA: 私【わたし】は日本語【にほんご】が話【はな】せます
        ↓ Literal breakdown
    I [TOPIC] Japanese language [SUBJECT] is speakable.
        ↓ As proper English, maintaining the Japanese meaning
    As for me, Japanese is speakable.
    Notice that the verb, 話【はな】せます, describes the subject 日本語【にほんご】 as "speakable".
        ↓ Fully idiomatic English
    I can speak Japanese.
    Idiomatic English shifts the focus from the thing, to the actor.

Sometimes you might see constructions like [PERSON][NOUN][POTENTIAL VERB]. Think of this along similar lines to the passive -- the [NOUN] is [VERB]-able by the [PERSON].

The sample sentence in the question

この会社の社員だったら、あの大学で割引がもらえる。

The key part you're struggling with:

割引がもらえる。

This is the same construction as above, just with an implied (and not explicitly stated) topic. We'll assume this is the first-person "I" here.

  • [私【わたし】は]割引【わりびき】がもらえる
        ↓ Literal breakdown
    [I [TOPIC]] discount [SUBJECT] is gettable.
        ↓ As proper English, maintaining the Japanese meaning
    As for me, a discount is gettable.
    Notice that the verb, もらえます, describes the subject 割引【わりびき】 as "gettable".
        ↓ Fully idiomatic English
    I can get a discount.
    Idiomatic English shifts the focus from the thing, to the actor.
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    Thanks for such a clear answer!
    – George
    Jan 8, 2023 at 16:00

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