Sign up ×
Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have been trying for ages to understand the reason という is used so frequently. In other words, what does it add to the sentence and what connotations does it have in Japanese? I understand the meaning of each word individually in many of the set phrases it belongs to, but if you were forced to name who it is doing the いう'ing, would it be the speaker, Japanese society or just some abstract entity?

All I've found are silly and questionable English translations like:

"Today's lesson is the thing they call love"

The problem for me arises when I see just how often stuff like ということ appears in conversation, even twice in a sentence, like:


Why isn't it just


I was hoping someone could give me a (hopefully in-depth) understanding based more in how it is understood in Japanese. Even a link to a good Japanese explanation or a summary would do.

share|improve this question
This is a good question but quite wide ranging. If you follow the syllabus for the JLPT you will identify quite a few uses of という. I am not sure I will have time to put my answer together but I hope somebody else can give their's. – Tim Jul 29 '13 at 14:04
I understand that it can be seen as quite broad, but I wagered that most uses of it stemmed from the same understanding of the term which I had hoped to learn. Also, I'm not the kind of person who can use something without understanding it. All the grammar points I have mastered just clicked suddenly when I had some realization of why they were the way they were. Here's hoping someone has a great answer! – Nathan Jul 29 '13 at 23:41

4 Answers 4

Japanese-Japanese dictionaries give almost complehensive lists.

“Aという” originally meant “someone says A”, but its original meaning has been lost in many cases, and it is used like a 助詞.

“Aということだ。” means “I heard that A.” In this sentence meaning of “say” is remaining.

In other cases “Aということ” is used as a noun clause. A shorter form “Aこと” is also used, but “Aということ” makes it more obvious that it is a noun clause. “Aこと” may be confused with a normal combination of 連体形 + 名詞.

The fact that he said something
(less common) What I hear he said

What he said
(less common) The fact that he said something

When used in the form of “Aということは、B(ということ)だ。”, it means “Judging from A, B.”

“なんということもない” means literally “about which I have nothing to say” implying “not special”.

share|improve this answer
This is great! Could you also explain というの (I guess it's nearly the same) and というわけ? Preferably with examples rather than just Aということ? – chlenix Nov 8 '14 at 19:42

貸してくれたということは = 貸してくれた + ということは

ということは~ = That means ~

share|improve this answer

Question ①:"I have been trying for ages to understand the reason という is used so frequently."

Question ②:"What does という add to the sentence and what connotations does it have in Japanese?"

Question ③:If you were forced to name who it is doing the いう'ing, would it be the speaker, Japanese society or just some abstract entity?

Question ④:What does 彼が金を貸してくれたということは do that 彼がお金を貸してくれたことは doesn't?

Question ⑤:"How do I even go about understanding what 何ということも(from 何ということもない普通の人生) means?"

Question ⑥:Could you also explain というの and というわけ? Preferably with examples rather than just Aということ?

I'll try to answer as many of these as possible(as I tried in my other answer).

という is an appositional akin to の(the の from 神社の鐘). It's primary purpose is to neutrally relate two words or phrases, either VというN or NというN.

But what is it's connotation? These two(from goo thesaurus):

From the という/といった/との thesaurus page:[共通する意味]★同格・内容説明を表わす。

同格 is the Japanese word for apposition...This would be a really awesome moment for you to go look at the wikipedia page for apposition.

From the という/といった/といって/として/にしても thesaurus page:[共通する意味]★強調を表わす。

Expressing emphasis (or if we're feeling brazen, let's call it focus(焦点))

So yeah...apposition and emphasis, that's という.

Continuing on to the derivatives...

From the といえば/というと/といったら/となると thesaurus page:[共通する意味] ★ある事柄を話題とし、主題とすることを表わす。

So the common meaning here is that these all make what precedes them the topic or subject (of the following dialogue).

So now what about the 形式名詞(もの、の、こと、ところ、わけ)? Why is という used so frequently with them? Why is という used/needed before こと in sentences like the one above? The best I can offer is to note again the "emphasis" meaning...I feel that alot of this is mired in the grammatical category of focus. That question(④), properly articulated, would be a great question to ask by itself.

Concerning 何ということもない, to explain why this is equivalent to 問題はない means covering grammar quirks not within the scope of the other questions. I think you can swap the appositionals, getting 何のこともない, and the meaning would be the same. Again, this would be a great question to ask by itself.

Hopefully this is helpful. But if it is not, I'll try to further touch up this answer as I have the time.

share|improve this answer
I knew a man with a wooden leg named Smith. // What was the name of the other leg? – Val Nov 9 '14 at 16:06
Why did you answer twice? – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Sep 23 at 3:12

I feel your pain...but I think I'm able to answer this.

First, let's quickly review relative clauses. From Niwasaburoo:

[Nを] 私が買った辞書, which would be the relative clause version of 私が辞書を買った。

[Nに] 私が日本語を教えた学生 ⇒ 私が学生に日本語を教えた。

[Nへ] 母が買い物に行ったデパート ⇒ 母が買い物にデパートへ行った。

[Nと] ×毎朝学校へ通った友達 ○毎朝いっしょに学校へ通った友達 ⇒ 毎朝いっしょに友達と学校へ通った。

So there's a lot of construction of the case of the head noun from context. So how are we supposed to reconstruct what the noun's original case would be in ~というN? Well, let's just assume that it's the subject が. In that case, we'd get Nが〜という。If N is こと for example, we'd have ことが〜という。

Now let's take a look at the definition of と from

と:2 (文や句をそのまま受けて)動作・作用・状態の内容を表す。引用の「と」。

This is huge...because this is NOT what the English word "quotation" means. From this definition, it would appear that と is extracting the substance of what it is quoting more than just the words.

Now if only we could grab a definition of いう that states clearly what it is that the subject is doing with the "quoted" material, and makes sense why this would be metaphorically related to the act of speaking, but it is here where the dictionary flounders a bit. From the という entry:

1 (「…という」の形で体言に続けて)




5 (「…という」「…ということだ」などの形で)話の内容が直接でなく他からの情報にもとづくことを表す。

It would be great if there were a more abstract stand-alone usage of いう to help us understand という, but it seems there isn't.

Two more things I would like to bring up. The first is apposition. In Masahiro Tanimori's Handbook of Japanese Grammar, という is defined as:

  1. After noun is apposition to the following word.

and 2. After statement in apposition to the following word.

I found this to be helpful to coping with という. Also, the distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive apposition(referenced in both the relative clause and apposition wikipedia pages) is I think good to know.

Lastly you were wondering why someone would use a complex sentence? Well, when you're dealing with 形式名詞(もの、の、ところ、etc), usually you have some manner of cleft sentence. Why use a cleft sentence? i.e. Why say "It was the Germans who started this war" instead of "The Germans started this war"? Well, usually this is wrapped up in the concept of focus. When you say 〜ということは, you're making a note in some global variable called 文脈 that you will be answering the implicit question you have posed. Similarly, "It was the Germans who started this war" is answering the question, posed or not, "Who started the war?" By using a cleft sentence, you set this kind of special focus on some block of dialogue.

share|improve this answer
You're bringing up quite some examples and ask many question regarding the usage of という... but neither are you answering them nor OP's question. Quoting OP, "What does it add to the sentence and what connotations does it have in Japanese?". You show the sentences, but what kind of meaning does という have in them? – chlenix Nov 8 '14 at 19:36
I'll give it another shot, but something like "How does 〜というわけ work?" would be a worthy question in its own right. Your and Nathan's questions ask not only about that, but about all of the other 形式名詞 structures. I can appreciate that these are very important aspects of Japanese, but if you aren't precise about what you are asking, it makes it very difficult to answer sufficiently without writing a book. – Val Nov 9 '14 at 13:29
No need for a book, just some examples and the connotations it gives to the sentence – chlenix Nov 9 '14 at 14:06

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.