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"He said, 'he said'," he said.

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Performing an action on a subordinate clause

In the section about modifying subordinate clauses, we learned how to treat a subordinate clause like an adjective to directly modify a noun. We will extend the functionality of subordinate clauses by learning how to perform an action on a subordinate clause. Obviously, we cannot simply attach the 「を」 particle to a subordinate clause because the 「を」 particle only applies to noun phrases. We need something to encapsulate the subordinate clause into a unit that we can perform actions on. This is done by making a quoted phrase.

While in English, you can just add quotes and a comma to make a quotation, Japanese requires attaching 「と」 at the end of the quote. This is completely different from the 「と」 particle and the 「と」 conditional. Unlike quotes in English, we can perform many different types of actions on the quote besides the standard "he said", "she said", etc. For example, we can perform the action, "to think" or "to hear" to produce phrases such as, "I think [subclause]" or "I heard [subclause]" This is very important in Japanese because Japanese people seldom affirm definite statements. This also why we will have to eventually cover many other types of grammar to express uncertainty or probability.

The direct quote

We'll learn the simplest type of quoted phrase, which is the direct quote. Basically, you are directly quoting something that was said. This is done by simply enclosing the statement in quotes, adding 「と」 and then inserting the appropriate verb. The most common verbs associated with a direct quote would be 「言う」 and 「聞く」 but you may use any verbs related to direct quotation such as: 「叫ぶ」, 「呼ぶ」, 「呟く」, etc. This type of quotation is often used for dialogue in novels and other narrative works.


(1) アリスが、寒い」と言った
- Alice said, "Cold".

(2) 今日授業ない」と先生から聞いたんだけど。
- It is that I heard from the teacher, "There is no class today."

The verb does not need to be directly connected to the subordinate clause. As long as the verb that applies to the subordinate clause comes before any other verb, you can have any number of adjectives, adverbs or nouns in between.

(1) 寒い」とアリスが田中言った
- "Cold," Alice said to Tanaka.

The interpreted quote

The second type of quote is the quote along the lines of what someone actually said. It's not a word-for-word quote. Since this is not a direct quote, no quotations are needed. You can also express thoughts as an interpreted quote as well. By using this and the verb 「思う」 you can say you think that something is so-and-so. You will hear Japanese people use this all the time. You can also use the verb 「考える」 when you are considering something.


(1) 先生から今日授業ない聞いたんだけど。
- I heard from the teacher that there is no class today.

(2) これは、日本語言いますか。
- What do you call this in Japanese? (lit: About this, what do you say in Japanese?)

(3) は、アリス言います
- I am called Alice. (lit: As for me, you say Alice.)

In an interpreted quote, the meaning of 「言う」 may change as you see in examples (2) and (3). Actually, as you can see from the literal translation, the meaning remains the same in Japanese but changes only when translated to normal English. (We'll learn more about various ways to use 「いう」 in the next lesson.)

Here are some examples of thoughts being used as quoted subordinate clauses. In example (5), the question marker is used with the volitional to insert an embedded question.

(4) カレー食べよう思ったけど、食べる時間なかった
- I thought about setting out to eat curry but I didn't have time to eat.

(5) どこ行こう考えている
- Now, I'm considering where to set out to go.

Unlike the direct quotation, which you can just copy as is, if the quoted subordinate clause is a state-of-being for a noun or na-adjective, you have to explicitly include the declarative 「だ」 to show this.

(1) は、これだと言いましたか。
- What did he say this is?

(2) 高校生だと聞いたけど、信じられない
- I heard that he is a high school student but I can't believe it.

Notice how 「だ」 was added to explicitly declare the state-of-being that is highlighted in the English translation. You can really see how important the 「だ」 is here by comparing the following two sentences.

(A) これだと言いましたか。
- What did [he] say this is?

(B) 言いましたか。
- What did [he] say?

Using 「って」 as a casual version of 「と」

You may be surprised to hear that there is a shorter and casual version of the quoted subordinate clause since it's already only one hiragana character, 「と」. However, the important point here is that by using this casual shortcut, you can drop the rest of the sentence and hope your audience can understand everything from context.


(1) 智子来年海外行くんだって
- Tomoko said that she's going overseas next year.

(2) もうないって
- I already told you I have no money.

(3) え?って
- Huh? What did you say?

(4) 時間ないって聞いたんだけど、本当
- I heard you don't have time now, is that true?

(5) 時間ないって本当
- You don't have time now (I heard), is that true?

「って」 can also be used to talk about practically anything, not just to quote something that was said. You can hear 「って」 being used just about everywhere in casual speech. Most of the time it is used in place of the 「は」 particle to simply bring up a topic.


(1) 明日って降るんって
- About tomorrow, I hear that it's going to rain.

(2) アリスってすごくいいでしょ?
- About Alice, she's a very good person, right?

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This page has last been revised on 2006/9/10