Repeat after me, there is NO such thing as a subject!

One of my biggest pet peeves in the field of Japanese as a second language is the 「が」 particle being called the “subject particle”. This misleading terminology comes from my second biggest pet peeve, which is educators trying to artificially tie Japanese into English language concepts. I think one of the problems is that Japanese teachers, especially native speakers, really don’t understand their own language from a conceptual point-of-view and more importantly how it logically differs from English.

I can illustrate how stupid it is to call 「が」 the subject particle in the following simple dialogue.

Aさん: 原宿に行こうよ。
Bさん: なんで?
Aさん: クレープが食べたいから。

Looking at the last sentence, if 「クレープが」 is indeed marking crepe as the subject, we can only assume that Aさん wants to go to Harajuku because the crepe wants to eat. But that doesn’t make any sense! In reality, 「クレープ」 here is supposed to be the object of the sentence, the subject being Aさん, who wants to eat crepe.

The most simple conclusion, if you insist on thinking in English, is that the 「が」 particle can either represent the subject or the object of the sentence. But why would you use the same particle to represent something completely so different as the subject and the object? And to make things even worse, consider the following dialogue.


If you throw in the fact that the 「は」 can also be the subject OR the object, it’s no wonder that Japanese particles seem so confusing! It’s natural that students can never figure out the difference between 「は」 and 「が」 because it seems that either can be used to indicate the same things in English. This is where Japanese teachers should really beat into their heads that the concepts they’re looking for such as the subject does not exist in Japanese.

The subject traditionally indicates who or what is doing the verb in the sentence but 「は」 only indicates the topic. For example, 「今日は忙しい」 doesn’t mean that “Today is busy”, it means “As for today, [I, he, she, we, they] is/are busy.” Only when we translate into English are we forced to create the subject by context. In this case, the translation might be “I’m busy today.”

The 「が」 particle also does not indicate the subject, it only identifies the unknown. For example, 「クレープが食べたいから。」 is identifying that it’s because crepe is the thing that he/she/we/they wants to eat. In English, the subject would be “it” as in, “It’s because I want to eat crepe”. But because Japanese doesn’t even have a subject, there is no need for such a construction.

This is why I’ve been calling the 「が」 particle the “identifier particle” for the longest time, and you should too because that’s what it does. There is no such thing as a subject in Japanese so it makes no sense to have a “subject” particle. (Please feel free to do the double quote sign while saying “subject” in “subject particle”.)

For further reading, I highly suggest this blog post: 「日本語に主語はあるのか?」.

Bet you didn’t know it even existed, well… it doesn’t

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic ever since I first purchased the book 「日本語教科書の落とし穴」, which I first talked about over a year ago. (Wow, time does go by fast!)

Chapter 9 in the book talks about a very interesting topic that I had never really thought about before: the empty particle or 「無助詞」 as it’s called in the book. Like every other chapter in the book, this chapter begins with a small dialogue between the teacher and a student that illustrates the problem.


Have a hunch where the problem lies? (The bold font is a clue.) The book makes a distinction between particles that are simply left out (primarily in spoken Japanese) with situations where you leave the particle out in order to avoid the nuances of particles. In the case of 「これ召し上がってください。」, because the 「を」 particle has a distinctive function of making 「これ」 into a direct object, the sentence has a very strong emphasis on eating 「これ」. The book describes the nuance as 「これだけを召し上がってください。ほかのものは食べないでください。」 In other words, it essentially sounds like, “Please eat this,” which sounds kind of desperate when you’re offering someone something to eat.

Ok, so you might think to try the topic particle instead: 「これ召し上がってください。」. But again, this doesn’t work because the 「は」 particle also has its own function of making 「これ」 into the topic of the conversation as if you were saying, “As for this, please eat it”. The book describes the nuance as 「ほかのものは食べなくてもよいけれども、これだけは何としても召し上がってください。」

The most natural thing to do in this case is to not use any particles so that you can talk about something without any of the nuances and meanings that go along with 「は」、「を」、and 「が」.

Here’s another example from the book.


Again, there is no suitable particle for 「コーヒー」 in this sentence if all you want to know is whether there is any coffee left. 「コーヒーまだある?」 sounds like you want start a conversation about coffee and 「コーヒーまだある?」 sounds like, “The coffee! There’s still some left?” Any time you want to call attention to something minor without making a conversation out of it is a good candidate for the empty particle. Situations such as realizing you’re out of cash at the cash register and asking your friend, “Hey, do you have money on you?” (お金、持っている?) or flipping through an album with someone and saying, “Hey, look at this.” (ねえ、これ、見て。) are good examples.

Another great example is when there is no strong relationship such as, 「誕生日、おめでとう」. You don’t want to say, 「誕生日おめでとう」 (As for your birthday, congratulations) or 「誕生日おめでとう」 (Your birthday is the thing that is congratulatory) because there’s nothing specific or particular about the birthday that you want to congratulate. You just want to say, “Hey it’s your birthday. Congratulations.” without any specific relation between the two.

Based on the context, if all the particles add a meaning or emphasis that you don’t want, you’re better off not having any particle at all.

Debunking yet another myth

Students often ask their Japanese teacher, “Sensei, I noticed that in real life people leave out particles a lot. Is that Ok to do?” Whereupon the teacher will always reply, “Yes grasshopper, people leave out particles sometimes but you are not ready for that yet. You should use particles every time because it is more proper and correct.”

Actually Sensei, you obviously haven’t thought enough about the empty particle because sometimes it is not correct to insert a particle. Ahhh, I love the sound of myth debunking in the morning.


It is interesting to think about the empty particle, and when you can and cannot use particles. But as I mentioned in the beginning, I didn’t even think about the empty particle until I read this book. Ultimately, omitting particles is something that naturally comes with conversation practice and doesn’t require deep analysis to get right. What it all boils down to in the end is getting a firm grasp on what each particles mean so that you know not to use them when they say something you don’t mean.

Part 2 on the non-existent 「たい」 form rule

In the previous post, not only did I to get away with being too lazy to finish what I was writing but I managed to make it an excuse for more comments. I’m a genius! The only downside is the increased pressure to actually come back and finish what I started. (As you can see, I easily managed to withstand the pressure for almost a full week.)

Rule? What Rule?

Getting down to business, I noticed that a couple people commented that they did not know there was a rule saying that you can’t use 「を」 with the 「たい」 form. You’re right, there is no rule! Forget I said anything! (Waves hand) These are not the rules you’re looking for… this is not a real post.

Gah! They’re all the bloody same!

There were some people that said they couldn’t tell the difference between 「を」, 「が」, and 「は」, so let’s take a look each example sentence from the last post.

1) 続き読みたい。
2) 続き読みたい。
3) 続き読みたい。
4) どうでもいい。

The way I see it, 2) and 3) are nothing special. They just go back to the original question of what the difference is between 「は」 and 「が」. In my very first post, I mentioned that the 「が」 particle is used to identify something unknown to the speaker or listener. So 2) is simply identifying what somebody wants to read. It’s like saying, “Oh you want to know what it is that I want to read? Well, it’s 「続き」”. A more literal translation would be, “「続き」 is what I want to read.” When people say that 「が」 places emphasis on 「続き」, that’s just another way of saying the same thing. The problem with the word “emphasis” is that you can emphasize anything by saying it with a heavy accent. With 「が」, it may seem like emphasis is being added to the thing you’re identifying but that is just a side-effect of the true meaning of 「が」.

As for 3), the 「は」 particle indicates that we are talking about 「続き」 as a topic. 「は」 works well for situations where you want to discuss, describe, or talk about a specific topic. For example, 「続きは読みたいけど、まだ読めない」 talks about 「続き」 as a topic; saying that you want to read it and that you can’t yet (because I’m writing it right now).

Finally, we get to real question, “When or why would we want to use 「を」?” The answer is so simple, you’ll want to ask for your money back. (I’ll do that as soon as I get some money to begin with.)

Use 「を」 when you don’t want to use 「が」 or 「は」.

「を」 is very neutral and simply says, “this is the object” without all the extra nuances of 「が」 or 「は」. If I say, 「りんごを食べたい」, all I’m saying is “I want to eat an apple.” There’s nothing else to infer. The apple is the object of my desire and that’s it. With 「は」, you are inferring, “Well, on the topic of apples, yeah, I want to eat it. Maybe not other stuff but apples, sure. As long as we’re talking about apples, I feel like it’s something I want to eat.” With 「が」, you are inferring, “You know what it is that I want to eat? Apples. Yeah. I thought about all the other stuff but no, an apple is what I want to eat.”

Thinking about these distinctions can make you feel confused and make Japanese seem complicated. Often times, one or more particles will make sense but can’t be used in other situations. Context will sometimes clear up which particles you should really be using. However, when the context is vague enough to allow multiple choices, it’s really important to get a sense of what each particle is really saying in order to decide how you want to come across to other people.

As for 4), c’mon, let’s be nice. You wouldn’t be reading this if you really thought that, right?


In reading the comments, it was obvious that some of you knew what each particle meant. Some of the answers are not exactly how I phrased things but describing these particles perfectly in English is impossible because the words don’t exist. So as long as you have a feel for how each particles work, that’s all that matters in the end.

And finally, yes Laura, I do have a girlfriend. What a strange question. Why do you ask?

Ssh, don’t tell anyone but… you can use 「を」 with the 「たい」 form

I remember reading or hearing a long time ago that you can’t use the object particle 「を」 with the 「たい」 form of the verb. (If you are unfamiliar with the 「たい」 form, click here.) Now that’s complete rubbish but I can see where the logic came from. When a verb is converted to the 「たい」 form, it becomes an adjective describing that somebody or something wants to do the verb. Grammatically, it conjugates and works just like any other adjective. Subsequently, because the object particle describes the object of an action, it doesn’t make any sense to have an adjective have a direct object, ie “Bob big apple”. So in conclusion, using the object particle with the 「たい」 form is grammatically incorrect because the 「たい」 form is an adjective. You should use 「が」 or sometimes 「は」. So all was well, and we could flog students for making that mistake in peace.

But reality tells a different story. Maybe it was modern Western influence on the language or maybe some crazy grammar-fanatic educators forgot to check reality when creating the rule. I’m not an expert on the history of Japanese linguistics so I don’t really know. But whatever the case, all I know is that people today use the 「を」 particle with the 「たい」 form all the time.

I can already see the next question about to come out of your mouth. You want to know what the difference is between using 「を」 and something else right? Well, I’m going to see if anybody is still reading this blog by letting you peeps try to figure it out in the comments. I’ll write the answer in an another post.

Here are some example sentences for you to chew on.

1) 続き読みたい。
2) 続き読みたい。
3) 続き読みたい。
4) どうでもいい。

“Overflowing with leftover goodness…”

I love to write about parts of Japanese that are almost always left out of the standard Japanese language curriculum. This usually applies to vocabulary that can be considered “inappropriate” for the classroom. I also like to talk about topics where the explanation is usually glossed over or oversimplified because the concepts are too difficult to explain in English. I say “bah humbug!” to all that, which is why you can come here after class to get the full, unadulterated version.

So when I thought back to Japanese 101 and the time the teacher told us to only use the negative with 「あまり」 I thought, “Hey, wait a minute!” I now know that you can use 「あまり」 with the positive, the only difference is that you get the opposite meaning of the negative version. Makes perfect sense, right? Of course things aren’t actually that simple, so read on if you want to get the full scoop on 「あまり」.

Sorry, we’re all out of whatever it is you’re looking for

「あまり」 is a pseudo adverb/adjective version of the verb 「あまる」(余る), which means for something to be left over. So, when you use 「あまり」 with the negative, you are essentially saying there is nothing left over. For example, 「あまりよくない」 literally means there is no “goodness” left over. Ok, so that doesn’t make much sense. A more natural definition would be the one we all learned in Japanese 101, “not very” or “not that much”. However, it is useful to know where 「あまり」 originally came from to see how the meaning changes if we don’t use the negative tense.

Those leftovers are excessive, man!

If the negative tense means there’s no leftovers, the opposite would obviously mean that there are leftovers. In other words, something is so excessive that there are leftovers you can’t deal with. As opposed to 「あまりよくない」、 「あまりにいい」 means that something is so good that the goodness is just overflowing with leftovers. For example, 「あまりにいい天気」 means “weather that is excessively good”. This is slightly different from 「天気がよすぎる」 meaning that the weather is too good, which has a negative connotation. 「あまりにいい天気」 just means that the weather is really, really good. It’s so good that the goodness is just overflowing and the leftover goodness is just strewn about all over the floor.

1) 天気があまりよくないので、散歩するのをやめた。
– The weather wasn’t very good so I quit going for a walk.

2) あまりにいい天気だったので、1時間も散歩をしました。
– The weather was so good that I took a walk for a whole hour.

You may have noticed the positive version uses the 「に」 target particle as in 「あまりいい」. This is normal because you need to use the target particle in order to make adjectives into adverbs such as 「上手に」 or 「簡単に」. The irregularity instead comes from the lack of any particles for the negative case. I first described 「あまり」 as a pseudo adverb/adjective because you don’t need to use any particles when using it with the negative tense. It is very similar to 「同じ」, which also doesn’t require any particles to use as an adverb/adjective. Words like 「あまり」 and 「同じ」 are difficult to categorize for this reason. However, with 「あまり」, when you are using it for the non-negative tense, the normal rules apply and you do need attach the 「に」 particle in order to use it as an adverb.

A) 日本語はあまり難しいよ。
– Japanese is so difficult, you know. (grammatic error)

B) 日本語はあまり難しい。
– Japanese is so difficult.

A) ほら、難しいでしょ!
– See, it is hard!

More fun with 「あまり」

Since we’re having so much fun, I thought I’d mention a couple other things related to 「あまり」. First, because the Japanese are always trying to come up with easier way to say things, we have the casual equivalents: 「あんまり」 and 「あんま」. I would say 「あんまり」 is used even more than 「あまり」 in conversational Japanese while 「あんま」 sounds a bit masculine due to it’s short length.

1) 時間があんまりないんだよね。
-Hmm… there’s not much time.

2) 時間があんまないんだよな。
-Hmm… there’s not much time.

As for using this slang for the non-negative case, while googling for 「あんまりに」 did yield a sizable number of results, 「あんまに」 didn’t turn up much so I suggest using 「あんま」 only for the negative tense.

Finally, 「余」, the kanji for 「あまり」 is also used in a some very useful words like 「余裕」 and 「余計」. 「余計」, in particular, is a word you’ll see all the time once you learn it. It’s very useful for when somebody says or does too much. Essentially, you can use it to tell people that it’s none of their business.

1) 余計なお世話だよ!
– None of your business! (lit: You’re unnecessarily taking care of me!)

2) 余計なことを言うんじゃいよ。
– Don’t say things that are none of your business. (lit: You don’t say unnecessary things, you know.)


As we have seen, there is a lot more to the word 「あまり」 than what is normally taught to beginning Japanese students. I suspect this is the case because 「あまり」 is most often used with the negative tense and covering any more would confuse the poor students. Apparently, Japanese students are very easily confused and should not be exposed to the scary parts of the language so that they can stay in their safe and comfortable cocoon of polite, “proper” Japanese (whatever that means) .

I was going to make a better title but eh, whatever

I think I learned 「別に」 probably around the same time I learned how to say “yes” and “no” in Japanese. That’s how awesome and useful this expression is. Unfortunately, it’s not the type of thing that’s taught in a classroom so I’m putting this one in the “Colloquialism” category, which is just my way of saying, “I take no responsibility for what you do with this stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong. 「別」 is an incredibly useful character and is used in a variety of perfectly legitimate words. I would definitely put it in the top 100 kanji list. For instance, 「別れる」 means to “breakup” or “to part from”, a word just as useful but not as harsh as 「振られる」, which means you were dumped or more literally, “shaken off” (ouch). Or just repeat the same character and you have 「別々」, which is essential for when you don’t want to pay for everybody else’s meal. (“Going Dutch” is, unlike Korea and China, customary and quite common in Japan.) And finally, we have 「別に」, the topic of today’s post.

Don’t try this at class

「別に」 is an expression that is very similar to 「微妙」, in many ways. It has a perfectly normal and standard usage but it can also be considered slang, if you use it a certain way.

A lot of people learning Japanese at school have probably already learned 「特に」, which means “especially” or “particularly”. It’s an useful expression particularly because you can use it with the negative to express a lack of preference.

A) なんか食べたい物ある?
– Is there anything you want to eat?

B) 特にないけど・・・
– Not particularly.

Now, that’s all fine and good but what if we wanted to express a lack of preference for positive answers, for instance, like the following dialogue?

A) Can I borrow this?
B) Whatever, sure.

In Japanese, when somebody asks you if something is ok to do, you normally respond with 「いいよ」 (or いいですよ). But 「特にいい」 doesn’t really work here, because it is not a negative response and you end up with, “It’s particularly good”. That doesn’t make much sense. So how do we translate the, “whatever” into Japanese? Well, why don’t we take a look at the following dialogue?

A) これ、借りていい?
– Can I borrow this?

B) 別にいいよ。
– Whatever, sure.

「別に」 actually means “apart from” but you don’t really need to include from what exactly. So you can use it in place of 「特に」 such as the first dialogue to say pretty much the same thing.

A) なんか食べたい物ある?
– Is there anything you want to eat?

B) 別にないけど・・・
– Nothing really.

The “nothing really” is a loose translation but it reflects the fact that you are literally saying, “nothing, apart from” and being vague about what exactly is separate.

If you were wondering how to express your apathetic, non-caring, and sketchy personality, 「別に」 is just the ticket.

A) 本当に行かなくてもいいの?
– Is it really ok to not go?

B) 別に行かなくてもいいよ。
– Whatever, I don’t have to go.

A) チョコが好き?
– Do you like chocolate?

B) 別に。
– Whatever.


So next time somebody is badgering you with questions, you can just reply with 「別に」. Make sure you say it with plenty of spit and a look of complete contempt while you’re at it. It’ll be like you’re saying, “Uh uh, whatever“, all shaking your head, with one hand on your hip and the other waving a index finger at your victim.

Oh wait, was this the part where I was supposed tell you not to do that?

Kansai people hate it when you say 「じゃん」

But who cares about them, right? That’s right, Tokyo all the way man. Whoo hoo! Sure people are cold and rude here but at least they don’t get into your business. And plus, Osaka is like a tiny, tiny version of Tokyo. (Let the flames begin!)

Ahem. Anyway, now that I got my usual pointless introduction out of the way, I once heard that 「じゃん」 was originally part of a regional dialect from… somewhere. Whether that’s true or something I just made up, this little expression has spread to gain enormous popularity in Tokyo and probably throughout the rest of the Kanto region and beyond. (I purposely made that vague because I have no idea how far this expression extends. But I’m sure it’s pretty far.)

In any case, it’s common enough that I decided to write a little about it describing what it means and how to use it. If you live in the Kansai region all I have to say is, “Ha Ha! You suck!”. But still, since you’ll hear this slang all the time in TV and movies, why don’t you just go ahead and read the rest of this post instead of hating me because I said you suck.

On a side note, I’d like to mention that this is one of those topics that is easier to explain verbally but for now, I’m just going to go with a written explanation. I leave it up to you to get out into the Japanese speaking world to learn how this expression actually sounds in real life.

Ok ok, get to the point!

Simply put, 「じゃん」 is an abbreviation of 「じゃない」, the negative conjugation for nouns and na-adjectives. However, this only applies to 「じゃない」 used in the following fashion.

-Because [he’s] a salaryman, doesn’t [he] do a lot of overtime?

The important thing to note about the example above is that 「じゃない」 here is actually confirming the positive. In fact, a closer translation is, “Because he’s a salaryman, he probably does a lot of overtime.” But it’s still a question so there’s a slight nuance that you are seeking confirmation even though you are relatively sure.

「じゃん」 is a shorter slang for expressing the same type of thing except it doesn’t even bother to ask a question to confirm. It’s completely affirmative in tone.

In fact, the closest equivalent to 「じゃん」 is 「じゃない」 used in the following fashion.

1) まあ、いいじゃない。
– Well, it’s probably fine (don’t you think?).

This type of expression is the only case where you can attach 「じゃない」 directly to i-adjectives and verbs. Once you actually hear this expression in real life, you’ll see that it has a distinct pronunciation that is different from simply using the negative. Plus, you have to realize that this type of 「じゃない」 sounds rather mature and feminine, unlike 「じゃん」, which is gender-neutral (and arguably inclined toward younger speakers). (Ha! And you thought Japanese was easy!)

Like the above, specialized use of 「じゃない」, you can also attach 「じゃん」 directly to verbs and i-adjectives as well as the usual nouns and na-adjectives. Because slang is usually created to make things easier, it’s not surprising that the rules for using 「じゃん」 are so lax and easy.

Finally, let’s get to the examples. Hopefully, you can see that 「じゃん」 is basically saying something along the lines of, “See, I’m right, aren’t I?”

1) ほら、やっぱりレポートを書かないとだめじゃん
-See, as I thought, [you] have to write the report.

2) 誰もいないからここで着替えてもいいじゃん
-Since there’s nobody, it’s probably fine to change here.

Example Conversation
A) たかしくんは、ここにいる? – Is Takashi here?
B) 知らない。- Dunno.
A) あっ!やっぱ、いるじゃん!- Ah! See, he is here!

There’s also another variation which attaches the question marker as well. The meaning is mostly the same but it adds more to the questioning, confirming tone.

A) 駅の近くにカラオケがあるじゃんか。- There’s a karaoke place near the station, right?
B) うん。- Yeah.
A) あそこのすぐ隣だ。- It’s right next to there.


So, let’s recap on what 「じゃん」 is and how it’ s used.

1. Though derived from 「じゃない」, 「じゃん」 is always used to confirm the positive.
2. It can be attached to the end of any sentence regardless of whether it ends in a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb.

Ok, the explanation was confusing but actually using 「じゃん」 should be a piece of cake!

What did 「っけ」 mean, again?

Ha ha, I’m so clever because if you translate the title of this post into Japanese, it uses the same expression that the question is asking about, thus creating a paradox and opening a blackhole in some alternate universe… or something like that.

…As you can tell, I’ve been too lazy to come up with any real content or finish any of the 20-some drafts I have waiting to be worked on. So I put together this simple post about 「っけ」. Still, it’s a simple and very useful expression, so I feel like I can give myself a pat on the back on this one.

「っけ」 is essentially a simple sound you put at the end of a sentence when you are asking about something that you are trying to recall but can’t seem to quite remember. If you want to say, “What was that thing again?” in Japanese, this expression will do just the trick. It’s also perfect for those tip-of-the-tongue type moments.

As I mentioned, you can see an example of 「っけ」 in the title of this post itself.

– What did 「っけ」 mean, again?

You can also use 「っけ」 at the end of polite sentences as well. Though it adds a bit of a casual tone to your sentence, it should be fine if you are well acquainted with the person you’re talking to. It’ll at least add a little more color to the zombie style of Japanese you find in textbooks in any case.

– What is the mean of this word? (I am a zombie)

– What was the meaning of this word, again? (shoot, I forgot)

Don’t forget to add 「だ」 to nouns and na-adjectives

The only care you need to take in using this expression is to make sure to use the declarative 「だ」 when attaching 「っけ」 to nouns or na-adjectives.

Wrong) 今日は、何曜日っけ?
Correct) 今日は、何曜日っけ?
– What day of the week is it, again?

In fact, though it’s not required, 「っけ」 is generally used with 「だ」 and 「た」 for all parts of speech. In other words, it is usually in the form of 「だっけ」 or 「たっけ」. For i-adjectives and non-past verbs, you can use 「だっけ」 by adding 「んだ」.

1) 今日は行かなくてもいいんだっけ?
– Is it ok to not go today? (I can’t remember.)

2) これからどこへ行くんだっけ?
– Where are we going from here, again?

Just keep these points in mind and you should be well on your way to using this useful expression for all the times you forget what’s going on. (Which happens quite often in my case.)

– What is this again?

– Was there a door in a place like this? (I don’t remember one being here.)

– What time does class start again? From 1:00?

というか、I have to go

A friend of mine from college spoke in the most interesting fashion because she could seamlessly weave Japanese and English together in the same sentence. She would say things like, 「Meは行かないけど、Youは?」, which amused me to no end.

You see, she had attended American School in Japan, a school filled with students completely fluent in both Japanese and English, so I guess there was no problem speaking in a hybrid language that only 1% of the world’s population would understand. I know, it sounds like a great school to send your kids to because they will become bilingual automatically. The only problem is, unless you’re a diplomat or simply rich, spending a little less than $20,000 a year for tuition might be a bit tough on your wallet.

Anyway, to finally get to the point of this whole spiel, my friend and a bunch of us were chatting in the language lab when she suddenly realized that she had to leave. She promptly left the scene after saying (much to my delight) “というか、I have to go.”

Now, what did she mean by 「というか」 and why didn’t she just say, “I have to go” instead? How does adding that extra phrase change the meaning of the sentence? I previously discussed how to use 「と」 and 「いう」 to talk about the very thing itself. In this post, I’ll try to give you an idea of what 「というか」 means and when to use it.

Ok, to finally get to the point

「というか」 attaches the question marker 「か」 to 「という」, so it’s reasonable to assume that a questioning element is being added here. In fact, 「というか」 is used in order to indicate that you want to rephrase or express the same thing in a difference way. Literally, it means “I might say this or something else (in order to express what I’m trying to say) ” This expression is obviously the most useful in actual conversations when you might say something and want to rephrase yourself in mid-sentence. The order goes like this: [the first expression]というか[the same thing rephrased].

– Isn’t that not good, or to rephrase, serious shit? (read about やばい)

As you can probably tell, this phrase is great for when you’re not sure how to phrase something like the following example.

– Miki-chan is your girlfriend, right?

– Um, you might say girlfriend, or friend, or something…

That last example was very hard to translate but it should make perfect sense if you understand the fact that he is rephrasing how he defines Miki and adding the question marker 「か」 to show uncertainty.

This phrase is especially useful for people learning how to speak Japanese because I’m sure you’ve experienced plenty of times when you didn’t know the exact word for something in Japanese. With this phrase, you can throw out several alternatives that kind of get at what you’re trying to say.

というか、I have to go

Going back to the original question, why did my friend add 「というか」 when saying just, “I have to go” would have been perfectly fine? I think it’s important to realize that she was in the middle of a conversation at the time. Essentially, she wanted to rephrase what she was talking about in order to correct it into the fact that she had to go. In effect, this is equivalent to saying, “Hey, what am I talking about? I have to go.”

By using 「というか」, you can backtrack and correct things said earlier and at the same time imply, “Hey wait a minute, that’s not it!” This is especially the case when everything has already been said and you are starting a new sentence with 「というか」.

In other words, 「というか」 can also be used to correct yourself or others by rephrasing what has already been said.

– I hear that [he’s] going out with some other woman.

– That’s just another way of saying [he’s] cheating!

This is the second of three posts discussing 「言う」.

The first post discussed “Defining things with 「いう」“.
The third post is about “Various ways to say 「いう」“.

Defining things with 【いう】

The verb, “to say” is an useful word in probably just about any language. However, 「言う」(いう), the Japanese word meaning “to say”, is practically essential because in addition to the simple action of gabbing, it is also used to define or describe things. In this post, I will go over how to combine the 「と」 quotation particle with 「いう」 to define things.

I remember back during my tender years in Japanese 101, one of the first phrases I learned was 「”XXX”は、日本語で何と言いますか。」, which means “How do you say “XXX” in Japanese?” (I’m not talking about porn here, the “XXX” is a placeholder for any word.) Of course, at the time, it was written more like 「”XXX”は、にほんごで なんと いいますか。」 because exposing Japanese 101 students to kanji would instantly render them blind. Anyway, my point is that this is one of the first expressions we dutifully memorized and already it uses grammar that involves the 「と」 quotation and 「いう」.

While the 「という」 combination, of course, can be used to quote things people actually say, it can also be used to describe what something is referred to as.

– He said, “yes”.

– Do you know the site referred to as “livedoor”?

There is no good way to translate this usage directly into English so we have to settle for similar expressions such as “referred to as”, “called”, or “known as”. This method of defining things can be mighty handy when you want to ask about definitions of words in Japanese. For instance, here is conversation from 「日本語教科書の落とし穴」, a book I will be talking about in another post.

L: 田中先生、名字は何ですか。
T: 名字は田中ですよ。
L: ?・・・名字は何ですか?
T: ???

The problem here is that the student wants to know what 「名字」 means but ends up asking, “What is [your] last name?” What he really wanted to ask was, 「名字というのは何ですか。」, which means something along the lines of, “What is the thing referred to as 名字?” or more literally, “What is the thing that’s said 名字?”

Basically, this grammar is used anytime you want to talk about the thing itself.

– Is it true that Japanese people are weak to alcohol?

As you can see in this example, the thing that is being discussed is the actual phrase 「日本人はお酒に弱い」 itself and whether it’s true or not. Here’s another similar example.

– The thing of not eating breakfast is not very good.

In this fashion, the 「という」 is defining the very action of “not eating breakfast” and describing it.

You can also combine 「こう」、「そう」、and 「ああ」 with 「いう」 to define things in general. In this case, you do not need the 「と」 so you end up with 「こういう」、「そういう」 and 「ああいう」 to means “things like this”, “things like that”, and “things like that (far away)” respectively.

A: 眠くて、学校に行く気が全然なかった。
– I was sleepy and didn’t feel like going to school at all.

B: そういう時、よくあるよね。
– That kind of time occurs a lot, huh?

The reason why you hear 「って」 all the time

If you’ve spend any length of time speaking in casual Japanese, you may have noticed 「って」 being used all the time. That’s because 「って」 is an all-in-one, magical casual abbreviation for 「と」、「という」、「というのは」、and 「とは」. Because 「って」 is so short and flexible, you end up wanting to use it basically anytime you want to talk about the thing itself.

A: マイクが呼んでいるよ 。
– Mike is calling you.

B: マイクって、誰?
– Who is this “Mike”?

A: まだ仕事が決まってないんだ。
– The job has yet to be decided.

B: 就職活動って、大変だよね。
– The “finding job” thing is tough, huh?


As you can see from the examples, using 「という」 and its casual counterpart 「って」 to define things is a vital part of the Japanese language. Sometimes, it’s optional; for times when you want to emphasis that you are talking about the thing itself. Other times, like the 「名字は何ですか」 example, it might be required or else you end up saying completely different. In either case, 「という」 and 「って」 is very useful whenever you want to define and talk about the topic itself.

To see if you truly understand the distinction between using and not using this grammar, try out these neat questions from 「日本語教科書の落とし穴」 .




Feel free to post your answers in the comments. I’ll be waiting!

This is the first of three posts discussing 「言う」.

The second post is about “Using 「というか」 to rephrase things”“.
The third post is about “Various ways to say 「いう」“.