LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Defining and Describing

Posted by Tae Kim

The various uses of 「いう

In the previous lesson, we learned how to quote a relative clause by encasing it with 「と」. This allowed us to talk about things that people have said, heard, thought, and more. We also took a look at some examples sentences that used 「と」 and 「言う」 to describe how to say something in Japanese and even what to call oneself. In this section, we will learn that with 「と」, we can use 「いう」 in a similar fashion to define, describe, and generally just talk about the thing itself. We'll also see how to do the same thing with the casual 「って」 version we first learned about in the last lesson.

Using 「いう」 to define

Vocabulary

  1. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  2. これ - this
  3. 何 【なに/なん】 - what
  4. 魚 【さかな】 - fish
  5. この - this (abbr. of これの)
  6. 鯛 【たい】 - tai (type of fish)
  7. デパート - department store
  8. どこ - where
  9. ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)
  10. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) - to know
  11. 友達 【とも・だち】 - friend
  12. 英語 【えい・ご】 - English (language)
  13. 意味 【い・み】 - meaning

In the last lesson, we briefly looked at how to introduce ourselves by using 「と」 and 「いう」. For instance, we had the following example, which Alice used to introduce herself.

  • はアリスいいます
    I am called Alice. (lit: As for me, you say Alice.)

This sentence pattern is probably one of the first things beginner Japanese students learn in the classroom. In this case, the verb 「いう」 doesn't mean that somebody actually said something. Rather, Alice is saying that people in general say "Alice" when referring to her. While using kanji for 「いう」 is perfectly acceptable, in this case, since nothing is actually being said, using hiragana is also common.

This idea of describing what a person is known or referred to as can also be extended to objects and places. We can essentially define and identify anything we want by using 「という」 in this manner. As you can imagine, this is particularly useful for us because it allows us to ask what things are called in Japanese and for the definition of words we don't know yet.

Examples

  1. これは、なんいうですか。
    What is this fish referred to as?
  2. このは、いいます
    This fish is known as "Tai".
  3. ルミネというデパートどこあるか、知っていますか?
    Do you know where the department store called "Lumine" is?
  4. 友達」は、英語「friend」という意味です。
    The meaning of "tomodachi" in English is "friend".

Using 「いう」 to describe anything

Vocabulary

  1. 主人公 【しゅ・じん・こう】 - main character
  2. 犯人 【はん・にん】 - criminal
  3. 一番 【いち・ばん】 - best; first
  4. 面白い 【おも・しろ・い】(i-adj) - interesting
  5. 日本人 【に・ほん・じん】 - Japanese person
  6. お酒 【お・さけ】 - alcohol
  7. 弱い 【よわ・い】(i-adj) - weak
  8. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  9. 本当 【ほん・とう】 - real
  10. 独身 【どく・しん】 - single; unmarried
  11. 嘘 【うそ】 - lie
  12. リブート - reboot
  13. パソコン - computer, PC
  14. こう - (things are) this way
  15. そう - (things are) that way
  16. ああ - (things are) that way
  17. どう - how
  18. 再起動 【さい・き・どう】 - reboot
  19. あんた - you (slang)
  20. いつも - always
  21. 時 【とき】 - time
  22. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) - to come
  23. 困る 【こま・る】 (u-verb) - to be bothered, troubled
  24. 人 【ひと】 - person
  25. 結婚 【けっ・こん】 - marriage
  26. 出来る 【で・き・る】 (ru-verb) - to be able to do
  27. 幸せ 【しあわ・せ】 - happiness
  28. なる (u-verb) - to become
  29. 思う 【おも・う】 (u-verb) - to think
  30. 大学 【だい・がく】 - college
  31. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  32. 意味 【い・み】 - meaning

We learned how to use 「という」 to describe what something is known or referred to as. However, we can take this idea even further by attaching two relative clauses. At this point, 「いう」 is so abstract that it doesn't even really have a meaning. When a relative clause is encapsulated with 「と」, you must have a verb to go along with it and 「いう」 is simply being used as a generic verb to enable us to talk about any relative clause. This allows us to describe and explain just about anything ranging from a single word to complete sentences. As you can imagine, this construction is quite useful and employed quite often in Japanese.

Examples

  1. 主人公犯人だったいうのが一番面白かった
    The most interesting thing was that the main character was the criminal.
  2. 日本人お酒弱いいうのは本当
    Is it true that Japanese people are weak to alcohol?
  3. 独身いうのは、だったの?
    It was a lie that you were single?
  4. リブートいうのは、パソコン再起動するいうことです。
    Reboot means to restart your computer.

We can abstract it even further by replacing the relative clause with a generic way of doing something. In this case, we use 「こう」、「そう」、「ああ」、and 「どう」, which when combined with 「いう」 means "this way, "that way", "that way (far away in an abstract sense)" and "what way" respectively.

Examples

  1. あんたは、いつもこういう来るんだから、困るんだよ。
    It's because you always come at times like these that I'm troubled.
  2. そういう一緒仕事するのは、だよね。
    (Anybody would) dislike doing work together with that type of person, huh?
  3. ああいう結婚できたら、幸せなれる思います
    I think you can become happy if you could marry that type of person.
  4. 大学行かないって、どういう意味なの?
    What do you mean, "You're not going to go to college?"

Rephrasing and making conclusions with 「という

Vocabulary

  1. あんた - you (slang)
  2. 彼女 【かの・じょ】 - she; girlfriend
  3. 友達 【とも・だち】 - friend
  4. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  5. 何 【なに/なん】 - what
  6. お酒 【お・さけ】 - alcohol
  7. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) - likable
  8. ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)
  9. 生きる 【い・きる】 (ru-verb) - to live
  10. 多分 【た・ぶん】 - maybe
  11. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  12. 思う 【おも・う】 (u-verb) - to think
  13. お金 【お・かね】 - money
  14. もう - already
  15. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) - to go home
  16. 駄目 【だめ】 - no good
  17. 洋介 【よう・すけ】 - Yousuke (first name)
  18. 別れる 【わか・れる】 (ru-verb) - to separate; to break up
  19. こと - event, matter
  20. 今 【いま】 - now
  21. 彼氏【かれ・し】 - boyfriend
  22. いる (ru-verb) - to exist (animate)
  23. そう - (things are) that way

We can attach the question marker 「か」 to 「という」 in order to add a questioning element. This construction is used when you want to rephrase or redefine something such as the following dialogue.

Example Dialogue

A:みきちゃんは、あんた彼女でしょう?
A: Miki-chan is your girlfriend, right?

B:う~ん、彼女いう友達いうなんいう・・・
B:Um, you might say girlfriend, or friend, or something…

This construction is used all the time, particularly in casual conversations. It can be used to correct something, come to a different conclusion, or even as an interjection.

Examples

  1. お酒好きいうない生きていけない
    I like alcohol or rather, can't live on without it.
  2. 多分行かない思ういうお金ないから、行けない
    Don't think I'll go. Or rather, can't because there's no money.
  3. いうもう帰らないだめですけど。
    Rather than that, I have to go home already.

Rather than using 「か」 to rephrase a conclusion, we can also simply use 「こと」 to sum up something without rephrasing anything.

Example Dialogue

A:みきちゃんが洋介別れたんだって。
A: I heard that Miki-chan broke up with Yousuke.

B:いうことは、みきちゃんは、彼氏いないいうこと
B: Does that mean Miki-chan doesn't have a boyfriend now?

A:そうそういうこと
A: That's right. That's what it means.

Using 「って」 or 「て」 for 「という

Vocabulary

  1. 来年 【らい・ねん】 - next year
  2. 留学 【りゅう・がく】 - study abroad
  3. する (exception) - to do
  4. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  5. 智子 【とも・こ】 - Tomoko (first name)
  6. こと - event, matter
  7. 駄目 【だめ】 - no good
  8. 時間 【じ・かん】 - time
  9. ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)
  10. 出来る 【で・き・る】 (ru-verb) - to be able to do
  11. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  12. いい (i-adj) - good
  13. 皆 【みんな】 - everybody
  14. 私 【わたし】 - me; myself; I
  15. 今 【いま】 - now
  16. 彼氏【かれ・し】 - boyfriend
  17. いる (ru-verb) - to exist (animate)
  18. もう - already
  19. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) - to go home

As mentioned in the previous lesson, 「って」 is very often used in causal slang in place of 「と」, because it allows us to leave out the rest of the sentence and assume context (or just plain assumption) will take care of the rest. We already saw that we can use 「って」 to replace 「という」 as well. However, since we just learned how to use 「という」 to do much more than just simply say something, there is a limit to just how much you can leave out. In any case, 「って」 will allow us to leave out not only 「いう」 but also any accompanying particles as you can see in the following example.

Examples

  1. 来年留学するいうのは智子こと
    The studying abroad next year thing, is that Tomoko?
  2. 来年留学するって智子こと
    The studying abroad next year thing, is that Tomoko?

「だって」 is also another phrase that leaves out just about everything. By convention, it is used to express disagreement or dissatisfaction usually to whine, complain, or to make an excuse but you can't tell what it means just from looking at it. It is an abbreviation of something along the lines of 「とはいっても」 meaning, "even if that was the case".

Example 1

A:しないだめだよ。
A: Have to do it, you know.

B:だって時間ないからできないよ。
B: But (even so), can't do it because there is no time.

Example 2

A:行かなくていいよ。
A: Don't have to go, you know.

B:だってみんな行くって。行かないと。
B: But (even so), everybody said they're going. I have to go too.

In some cases, the small 「つ」 is left out and just 「て」 is used instead of 「って」. This is done (as is usually the case for slang) in order to make things easier to say. In general, this is when there is nothing before the 「て」 or when the sound that comes before it doesn't require the explicit separation the 「っ」 gives us in order to be understood.

Examples

  1. ことは、みきちゃんは、彼氏いないこと
    Does that mean Miki-chan doesn't have a boyfriend now?
  2. いうか、もう帰らないだめですけど。
    Rather than that, I have to go home already.

Since slang tends to be used in whichever way the person feels like, there are no definite rules defining whether you should use 「って」 or 「て」. However, 「て」 is generally not used to express what people have actually said or heard, which is why it wasn't covered in the last lesson.

  • みきちゃんが、明日こない
    (Can't use 「て」 for something actually said)
  • みきちゃんが、明日こないって
    Miki-chan says she isn't coming tomorrow.

Saying 「ゆう」 instead of 「いう

Vocabulary

  1. もう - already
  2. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) - to go home
  3. そう - (things are) that way
  4. こと - event, matter

Because the 「という」construction is used so often, there are a lot of different variations and slang based on it. While I do not plan on covering all of them here, you can check out casual patterns and slang in the miscellaneous section for yet even more slang derived from 「という」.

The last thing I'm am going to briefly mention here is the use of 「ゆう」 instead of 「いう」. In conversations, it is quite normal to say 「ゆう」 instead of 「いう」. 「ゆう」 is easier to say because it is simply one letter with a long vowel sound instead of the two different vowel sounds of 「いう」.

Examples

  1. ゆうか、もう帰らないだめですけど。
    Rather than that, I have to go home already.
  2. そうゆうことじゃないって!
    I said it's not like that (lit: it's not that type of thing)!