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I was attempting to write the following sentence in Japanese: That should help stop the infection that is causing the cough.

I came up with:

それは咳をさせる感染を止めることを手伝うべきです。

But it got corrected to:

それは咳をとめる薬です

I can understand making things more brief. I definitely don’t think I was 100% right. I feel like there is too many uses of を. But with this type of correction I cannot tell how wrong my original explanation was.

So how wrong was I? How should these explanation type sentences be written?

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  • I feel like 'stop the infection' sounds a little weird even in English
    – Angelos
    Mar 4, 2023 at 14:48
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    べき is also an inappropriate translation for “should” in this context, since the English sentence uses it in the sense of a conjecture or likely guess.
    – jogloran
    Mar 4, 2023 at 15:25
  • @Angelos To my UK English speaking ear 'stop the infection' sounds perfectly natural. I see you are also UK though, so I wonder why you think differently. Mar 4, 2023 at 17:21
  • @user3856370 Well technically the symptoms are the result of the immune system and not the infection itself, and I don't tend to use the word 'infection' casually over 'sickness', 'illness', or 'disease', so I suppose when I run into maybe I expect a more precise phrasing. Not quite sure, though
    – Angelos
    Mar 4, 2023 at 20:15

1 Answer 1

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It's more about idiomaticity and collocation than the usage of を.

感染

To me, 感染 is a one-shot event and if that happens, it is not something you can stop (in this sense infection sounds to me the same, perhaps in line with Angelos's comment; or at least 感染 is not a good word for infection here). So 感染を止める is not idiomatic. It would mean at best the spread of infection.

咳をさせる

More properly, it would be 咳を引き起こす

助ける

In the sense of being useful, 役に立つ is the only choice. Or 助けになる could be used, but sounds less natural.

べき

Roughly, べき means obligation and はず means the speaker's confidence. Here it is the latter - so it should be はずです.

So, although それは咳をとめる薬です (or それは咳止めです) is more natural, an okay version of the sentence retaining as much of yours as possible would be

  • それは咳を引き起こす病気を治すことに役立つはずです

One general point is that inanimate subjects + action would be much less common in Japanese. So X would help... usually needs rephrasing if you want to say it naturally in Japanese.

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  • Regarding your last remark, wouldn't the inanimate 薬 in それは咳をとめる薬です also the subject of an action (とめる)?
    – Kaskade
    Mar 5, 2023 at 10:32
  • This may be difficult to explain, but I do not understand how the natural version is just それは咳をとめる薬です (That's medicine that stops a cough) or それは咳止めです (That's cough medicine). I know それ is never explicitly stated, but it seems odd to just assume it's cough medicine and cut off the remaining information when this other information implies otherwise. 1/3 Mar 5, 2023 at 16:49
  • Just as an example, if I were to say 病院に行きました。抗生物質をくれました。(I went to the hospital. They gave me antibiotics.) right before everything. Saying それは咳をとめる薬です afterwards doesn't make sense, since for me, the それ (That) points back to 抗生物質 (antibiotics) or the overall event of going to the hospital and getting those antibiotics, which is not cough medicine. 2/3 Mar 5, 2023 at 16:49
  • Maybe that proceeding information changes things overall or maybe this is a larger problem involving context swapping. But I'm trying to highlight that それ's purpose is being lost / misstated, which feels very wrong. Especially, when the medicine's true purpose or job is to really stop (kill) the infection. The cough is just a symptom / side effect of having the infection. This somewhat leads me back to part of my original question, how should you or how is the purpose of something explained? Regardless of whether it's an animate or inanimate thing. 3/3 Mar 5, 2023 at 16:49
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    @Tylersanzura I think the comment about それは咳を止める薬です being more natural is just in contrast to how unnatural the original sentence was. It wasn't a claim that it naturally carries the same information.
    – Leebo
    Mar 6, 2023 at 0:42

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