If you wanted to say. 'Keiko said xxx,' why is けいこさんが「xxx」と言っていました better than けいこさんが「xxx」と言いました?

Thank you, and happy new year!

(Also is は better than が in this instance?)

  • I'm pretty sure が would be strongly preferred over は for this sort of sentence. One rule for が vs は is whether the sentence could conceivably mean the same thing without the part before it. In this case, it would be something quite different just abruptly say 「xxx」と言いました。 Regarding why と言いました is better than と言っていました, there's a recent thread where Darius is asking about uses of the 進行形 (Vっている) that has some information on what it can mean. I would take it と言っていました to be generally rendered by "was saying." It can also mean habitually said this.
    – virmaior
    Dec 31, 2013 at 12:14

1 Answer 1


Basically, which one sounds better (or more proper) depends on the subject of the sentence.

「けいこさん」 is a third person and we would use 「言っていました」. Speaking from the native speaker's perspective, this is like the speaker is "reporting" to the listener(s) the statement that was made by a third person.

It is not totally incorrect to say「けいこさんが「xxx」と言いました。」 but it sounds fairly awkward and unnatural. This sentence surely is grammatical if grammar is what matters but it is just not something native speakers would say in natural settings. To me, it sounds "translated".

When the subject is the first or second person, the usual choice is definitely「言いました」. The exceptions are when we retrospectively quote a statement made a long time ago by "me" or "you".

NOTE: What I said above is valid even when the subject of the sentence is not mentioned, which is often the case in Japanese as you know.

Finally, whether we should use が or は would depend on the context. We cannot say which one is better based on this short sentence by itself.

  • Hmm, isn't it less about the syntax (third-person vs second-person), and more about the semantics (who was present when the thing was being said)? I think it would be fine to say ジョンはさっきそう言ったよね or similar, where both you and the person you are talking to were there when John said it. Correct me if I'm wrong. Dec 31, 2013 at 17:09

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