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Consider

どうやって償いをしたらいいのでしょうか。

How can I make it up to you?

For some reason this is a particularly difficult sentence for me to understand how the translation has been derived. My first guess:

(どうやって)(償いをしたらいい)(のでしょうか)。

(how does)(if reparations are done, is-good)(it seems)?

->

How can it be done so that (it would seem that) (if reparations are done, it would be good)?

->

How can it be done so that it would seem like things are good between us?

->

How can I make it up to you?

Another approach is to consider it piecewise:

  1. 「(償いをしたらいい)」 means "if reparations are done, it would be good".
  2. Adding 「のでしょうか」 to the end makes it "it seems that if reparations would be done, it would be good, no?"
  3. Adding 「どうやって」 to the beginning makes it "how is it done so that if reparations would be performed, it would be good?"
  4. Converting this into idiomatic English makes it "how can I make it up to you?"

Perhaps this is more intuitive. Is this more or less correct? Or is there something about the grammar/the way I'm parsing this out that isn't quite right?

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  • 2
    I agree with 1,3,4 but for 2 I interpret のでしょうか as a polite question marker.
    – Jimmy Yang
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 7:18
  • Meaning it doesn't convey the "it seems.." meaning?
    – George
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 7:58
  • 2
    I think you should try to learn to understand sentences without chopping them up like that.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 8:18
  • 1
    Or at the very least not trying to fit every segment into a hyper-literal English translation.
    – Leebo
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 8:28
  • 2
    Partially related on the どう...たら part (which used to confuse me): japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/44141/… Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 9:03

1 Answer 1

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The problem is that in English, we cannot put question words in subclauses like that, so let's replace どう with そう. We split the sentence like this:

  • そうやって償いをした - I made it up to you like this
  • そうやって償いをしたら - If I made it up to you like this
  • そうやって償いをしたらいいのでしょうか。- If I made it up to you like this, would it be good?

Now introduce どう: "What would it be, that if I made it up to you like that, it would be good?"

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  • Thanks for your answer. One other thing this made me realize is that のでしょうか modifies only いい (forming "this would be good?"), whereas before I thought (for some reason) that のでしょうか binded to the whole conditional 償いをしたらいい.
    – George
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 16:09
  • 2
    @George Um? のでしょうか refers to everything before it (whole どうやって償いをしたらいい). That's what an explanatory-の does, isn't it? I think you have run into the same problem here. Similar examples are "それは誰が書いた本ですか?" (Who wrote that book?), "誰が描いた絵なら買うのですか?" (Who would you buy a painting by?)
    – naruto
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 3:00

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