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To me it seems that 毎日働かせる has two possible meanings:

  1. Every day (I) make (him) work. (So I issue this order to him every day) OR,

  2. (I) make (him) work every day. (So maybe I only issue this order once and he has to work every day).

Which one does it mean exactly? What if I want to distinguish the two meanings in Japanese?

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    Lack of realistic necessity aside, they are indistinguishable like English I make him work every day.
    – sundowner
    Mar 18, 2023 at 7:52
  • I feel that in this case every day modifies work, not make.
    – sofeshue
    Mar 19, 2023 at 1:41
  • That's the same for the Japanese sentence, too. The point is rather that (1) issuing an order every day is unlikely and (2) however unlikely it is, there is nothing wrong to interpret the sentence that way.
    – sundowner
    Mar 19, 2023 at 2:06

3 Answers 3

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It could mean either of the two depending on context.

You could convert it to a two-verb construction 働くように言う. If you put 毎日 before it, the sentence is still ambiguous. But if you put it before 言う, it unambiguously modifies that verb.

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I think the modifier is more likely to modify the main action than the causing action, but there is some ambiguity. Also, it's not just about frequency modifier.

私は彼を在宅で働かせた。 ("He" was probably working from home. Or, it's a bit of a stretch, but not impossible to read it as saying "I" was working from home supervising "him".)

The ambiguity doesn't often manifest because other facts in the context and common sense make it clear. To clarify your intention in a stand alone sentence, you will probably want to use different words and constructions.

私は彼に働くよう毎日言い、彼はそうした。 (split two actions into two separate verbs)

私は彼に毎日働くよう言い、彼はそうした。

私は彼に在宅での仕事をさせた。 (nominalize the main action)

私は在宅で、彼には仕事をさせた。

(I feel like 彼はそうした is necessary in the first two because otherwise whether "he" did it or not is unclear.)

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From a grammar perspective, the two sentences are EQUIVALENT, and there's actually no difference grammar-wise. Why? Because doesn't matter in English or in Japanese, every day or 毎日 is an adverb(副詞), which modifies the verb, which is to make (someone) work or 働かせる.

Putting the adverb before or after the verb in English is only a matter of emphasis and choice, and does not affect the meaning of the sentence, as they still modify the same verb. In Japanese however, due to the SOV structure, you are required to put the adverb before the verb, aka the verb has to come at last. English is SVO so the adverb can come both before and after.

Example:
I eat every day. Every day I eat.
毎日食べる。

While you get 2 options for English, you get one for Japanese. Unless you want to talk like Yoda and then none of the SOV SVO stuff would matter and you can throw word orders around. This could happen in casual speech.

Talk like me, you must. (no longer SVO in English)
俺は食べる、毎日。(The adverb now comes after)
毎日食べるよ、俺は。 (Even the subject can come after in casual speech)

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  • I couldn't agree. In English, we got two verbs "make" and "work", and "every day" could modify either of them by looking at its proximity to the verb it modifies. So if "every day" is put in front, it modifies "make"; and if put at the end, it modifies "work". But this flexibility seems lost in Japanese since there is only one verb 働かせる. In your example, there is only one verb "eat', so the position of "every day" does not matter.
    – sofeshue
    Mar 19, 2023 at 1:12
  • I see, but while we have two verbs in English, there is only one verb in Japanese to express the same concept. As such, there is no confusion as to which verb 毎日 modifies, since there is only one verb to modify. (働かせる) In other words, we shouldn't even compare the Japanese sentence with the English "I make him work every day", coz the comparison doesn't make sense as the number of verbs do not align.
    – dvx2718
    Mar 19, 2023 at 3:00

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