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I was reading a guide to 刑事ドラマ and 時代劇場. Most of the definitions follow the format:

真犯人:本当の犯人。 盗人・盗賊:他人の物を盗む人。

However for one or two words such as 「罪人」 it says:


My 大辞泉 dictionary tells me 罪人=罪を犯した人。つみびと。- ie a person not a "こと”

What is the nuance of こと here? Why does it not just say:

罪人:犯罪者 [例:友人のことを罪人扱いするなんてひどい!]

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Where is the こと that you're confused about? –  ssb Apr 15 at 10:25
Do you mean the こと in the example? I don't understand what you mean by 'ie a person not a こと'. I think a translation for the example would be something like: 'To consider your friend a criminal, that's awful.' (Correct me if I'm wrong!) –  Hanne Apr 15 at 10:34
@ssb: The question was in the title but I have repeated it now in the text. –  Tim Apr 15 at 13:23
@Hanne: 犯罪者= a person such as a 罪人. 犯罪者のこと= something relating to the 犯罪者, possibly 罪人のこと,but not 罪人. (I understand the 例, I have just included it to show the complete context in which this expression is used.) –  Tim Apr 15 at 13:27
X: Yのこと would be X means Y in English. こと has little content and its function consists in pointing to Y and saying "this is what I mean". –  Earthliŋ Apr 15 at 13:27

3 Answers 3

I think there is little difference between 犯罪者のこと and 犯罪者. I think user54609's explanation is nice.

罪人:犯罪者のこと basically means 罪人は犯罪者のことだ, 罪人は犯罪者のことを指す or 犯罪者のことを罪人という. You explain 罪人 by rephrasing it saying 犯罪者. つまり~のこと is a very frequent expression used to rephrase what just has been said.

AはBのことだ basically means A means B or A refers to B. You can't expect A is a kind of こと because some nouns work like verbs by connecting two phrases in some way. e.g. AはBの予定だ, AはBの意味だ, AはBの感じだ, etc. When you put them into English, they become A plans B, A means B, A seems B, etc. And AはBのことだ is similar to them. It not A is a koto of B, but A kotos B. i.e. A refers to B

こと might originally mean something like 言うこと/ことば or 考えること. It has become an abstract marker for objects related to mental activities. e.g. 友人のことをどう思う, 友人のことをどう扱う, 友人のことをどう考える, 友人のことをどう呼ぶ etc.

I think のこと should be redundant because the verb is already a mental activity and require a mental object. But it's just required for some verbs and can be omitted for some else verbs, just like のところ is required for some verbs, even if the verb obviously requires a locative object.

(人)のことを言う and 話す are more likely to be used with ~のこと, but in ~のことが好き and ~のことを指す, こと can be omitted. I don't think they make big difference.

Maybe it's off-topic, but I think I sometimes saw こと used for non-mental-action verbs. e.g.


I don't know what the nuance is, when and how it is used. But I guess it might be similar to 扱う.

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In the 大辞泉 context, the distinction of a person from "こと" seems like separating the criminal person from the guilt. Here, "こと" represents an abstract concept of guilt or the fact of the crime.

In the 「友人のこと」 context, the noun "こと" is used in a quite different way as just a cushion. The combination 「X のことを Y 扱いする」 is common, but it has almost the same meaning as 「X を Y 扱いする」.

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Thank you. (Possibly I should have left out the example which I only included it to show the complete context in which this expression is used) My question is based on the logic that: 犯罪者= a person such as a 罪人. 犯罪者のこと= something relating to the 犯罪者, possibly 罪人のこと,but not 罪人. Why/what is koto doing here? The sentences seems to meant The guilty person is the guilty action? (Actually I appreciate it is bit more subtle than that but I can't work it out for myself and hence my question here.) –  Tim Apr 15 at 13:34
I see. Now I understand your question. This can make a research topic. My native speaking gut says: when a dictionary says「犯罪者**のこと**」, the 'koto' here indicates a noun phrase to be an explainer, against being the defined word. –  yhirai Apr 16 at 3:03

I think the thing lies in the clearer use-mention distinction Japanese has. The letters 「罪人」 are not by themselves a 犯罪者, but it refers to 犯罪者, thus the のこと.

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+1 for conciseness –  Yang Muye May 6 at 5:51

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