694 - ことになる (has been decided that)

When I taught English back in Tokyo, I had a lot of students―usually men in their forties―that were only living in Tokyo because of work, while their families lived back in Kyoto, Osaka, etc. These guys were spending several precious years of their lives away from their loved ones just because, well, their company told them to.

Maybe I'm biased, but I had a hard time understanding their passive acceptance of the situation. When I asked them about it, they usually said that they wanted to go back home, but they had no choice.

One of them tried to enjoy Tokyo by going to a new ramen restaurant every Saturday for lunch.

Another one told me that he just played games on his iPhone in his free time. Nothing else to do―none of his family or friends were in Tokyo.

And all of them seemed to light up when they talked about their recent or upcoming trips home.

In a similar situation, I can't help but think that I'd quit and find a new job near my family. Or I'd get my family to come with me (although many said they didn't do this because the assignment was "only" five years or so). But I might not be an accurate representation of my culture. Maybe people where I'm from would do the same, if their companies told them to. I don't know.

In any case, when something that is out of our control has been decided, we can use this grammar:

JLPT N4: ことになる (has been decided that)

Before reading this lesson, I'd go back and review this one: [NDL #386] - JLPT N4: ことにする. ←That grammar is used when something is your own personal decision.

ことになる, on the other hand, is used when other people have decided things for you.

Here's an example:

しゅっちょう で サンパウロ に いく ことになった ので、 ポルトガルご の あいさつ を べんきょう しています。
I have to go to São Paulo for work, so I’ve been studying Portuguese greetings.
Literally: “business trip + で + São Paulo + に + go + has been decided that (=thing + に + became) + because, + Portuguese (language) + の + greetings + を + studying + am doing.”

I was tempted to translate that sentence as "It has been decided that I'll travel to São Paulo for work, so..." I mean, I think that sounds fairly natural in English.

If I were actually saying this, though, I'd probably just go with "I have to go to São Paulo for work, so..."

You'll notice that most of the translations for example sentences in this lesson are not explicitly saying "It has been decided that..." If we translated ことになる that way every time, I think we might be saying "It has been decided that..." too often. I suppose this type of translation dilemma comes down to personal tastes, though.

As long as we're conveying that the "going to São Paulo for work" was out of the speaker's control, I think we're OK on the translation.

Here's another example:

きんじょ に けいむしょ が できる ことになって、 すこし ふあん です。
They’re going to build a prison in my neighborhood, and I’m a little worried about it.
Literally: “neighborhood + に + prison + が + be built + has been decided that (and) (=thing + に + become [and]), + a little bit + uneasy + です.”

The decision to build a prison was not made by the speaker. This decision was made by other people.

👷 Construction 👷

Let's all be thankful that the pattern for ことになる is relatively straightforward:

V ることになる
V ない ことになる

Note that なる can be conjugated a number of ways.

For example, we've already seen it in plain past tense (~た) form and the て-form, and here we see it in the polite past tense (~ました) form:

じゅぎょうちゅう は、 けいたい の でんげん を きらなくてはいけない ことになりました。
We now have to turn off our cell phones during class.
Literally: “during class + は, + cell phone + の + power + を + must turn off (=must cut) + has been decided that (=thing + に + became).”

So, I said that the action coming before ことになる is something completely out of the speaker's control, right?

Well, that's only partially true.

To give an example, the teacher of a class might say this:

こんかい から、 えいご の テスト で じしょ を つかえる ことになりました。
The use of dictionaries during English tests will be allowed from now on.
Literally: “this time + from, + English (language) + の + test + で + dictionary + を + can use + has been decided that (=thing + に + became).”

We play around with verb tenses to make things sound more official (and less negotiable) in English, too, right?

The above sentence is quite different from saying, "I'll let you use dictionaries during English tests from now on."

With "will be allowed," it sounds like this decision was made by multiple teachers in a meeting or something.

So, yeah, that makes sense.

What makes less sense, however, is the way in which ことになる can be used when describing your own decision in a sort of distant or indirect way.

An example:

らいねん の はる に、 まことさん と けっこん する ことになりました。
Makoto-san and I will be getting married next spring.
Literally: “next year + の + spring + に, + Makoto-san + と + marriage / wedding + do + has been decided that (=thing + に + became).”

Perhaps the speaker is announcing to her coworkers that she will be marrying Makoto-san. By using ことになる, her announcement sounds a bit indirect and therefore appropriate for this somewhat formal situation. Perhaps it would be better to translate it as "Makoto-san and I have decided that we will get married next spring."

Let's be careful not to translate it like this, though: "It has been decided that I will marry Makoto-san next spring." This isn't an arranged marriage or anything. The speaker herself decided that she will marry Makoto-san.

Moving on:

たのしみ に していた ライブ が おこなわれない ことになって、 ざんねん です。
The live show I’d been looking forward to got canceled. How disappointing.
Literally: “had been looking forward to (=looking forward to + に + was doing) + live show + が + will not be held + has been decided that (and) (=thing + に + become [and]), + disappointing + です.”

See that 残念です at the end there? I always have such a hard time translating phrases like that.

The following, while perhaps closer to the Japanese, just didn't sound right to me:
- I'm disappointed that the live show I'd been looking forward to got canceled.
- The live show I'd been looking forward to got canceled, and I'm disappointed.

I would have liked to translate it as:
- The live show I'd been looking forward to got canceled. Bummer.

But that would be too casual!

In the end, I went with "How disappointing," at the risk of it sounding stronger than 残念です.

Last one!

おかあさん の しごと の つごう で、 ことし の おしょうがつ は こうれい の ハワイりょこう に いけない ことになった。
Because of my mom’s work, we can’t go on our usual New Year’s trip to Hawaii this year.
Literally: “mother + の + work / job + の + circumstances + で, + this year + の + New Year’s + は + established practice / custom + の + Hawaii + trip + に + cannot go + has been decided that (=thing + に + became).”

We already has an N3 lesson on ことになっている, which is quite similar to this grammar point: [NDL #366] - JLPT N3: ことになっている.

While ことになる is used when referring to a decision, ことになっている is used when referring to a rule, custom, etc.

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