Japanese particle confusion:  人「?」手伝ってあげる

By | May 12, 2016

All human-made languages are built from rules, upon which are piled on exception after exception (at least in the languages I have studied).

In this post I’d like to go over a confusing usage of a Japanese particle that I’ve stumbled across in my own speech several times.

What particle do you think fits in the following sentence:

  • 人「?」手伝ってあげる。  (hito 「?」tetsudatte ageru)

Let’s try to reason out what might be a good guess here. Typically, the 〜て+あげる form is used when doing an action for another person. While often that person is the listener (i.e. the person that is being spoken to) and is omitted, in some cases it can be specified. For example:

  • 友達に掃除してあげる。

So, based on this pattern, you might think ”に” is a good guess for the original sentence in question.

Next, let’s take a look at the verb 手伝う “tetsudau”, which means “to help”. It typically uses the “を” particle to describe the thing that is being helped with, i.e.:

  • 掃除を手伝う。

(掃除 = “souji”, “cleaning”)

If you do some research, you’ll find out that を is also used when you are helping a person. This was a surprise to me (I expected に to be used before a person that is being helped) because is a bit different than helping with an action (like 掃除).

Based on this, now you might think ”を” should be used in the sentence in question (人「?」手伝ってあげる). However, because “に” is generally used before the receiver of an action you might still feel “に” is more appropriate.

The correct answer is that “を” is in fact the correct particle in this situation, yielding:

  • 手伝ってあげる。

Another example of this pattern is the verb 助ける (“tasukeru”, “to help, to save”), which takes ”を” before the person being helped with and without あげる. For example:

  • 友達を助ける。
  • 友達を助けてあげる。

So, I think the pattern to remember here is that when you use the 〜て+あげる form, you keep the particle which was used before あげる was added.  However, if the verb by itself (without あげる) doesn’t typically have a person as the object or target, you just use “に” before the person when you add it to the phrase containing あげる.

As an example of the latter case, take the verb 考える (“kangaeru”, “to think”) which typically doesn’t take a person as an object. So if you want to express thinking about something for a specific person, you would use に before the person, not を.

  • 友達に考えてあげる。

Of course, depending on the flow of conversation, the “友達に” can possibly be omitted completely.

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One thought on “Japanese particle confusion:  人「?」手伝ってあげる

  1. Uneu

    Interesting. I will have to exercise this.

    Do you also happen to have a lesson on the use of てあげる, てくれる and てもらう?
    While I know the main usage of these expressions it is the nuances that drive me a little crazy because different people say different things, for instance, some say that てもらう implies that you asked for a favour, but others don’t say anything in particular about it. If someone could clarify this that would be awesome.

    Thanks for the lesson.


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