I'm having a little trouble parsing the usage of 「という」 when it it has meanings other than to call, to be called or to say.

I often see sentences like 「いざという時, ということだ」 and 「これという問題はない」. The dictionary I use gives the definition: とりたてて言う意を表す。 But I'm still quite unsure about it. If someone could explain how that definition fits into those uses then I'd be grateful.


4 Answers 4


という actually has multiple meanings. This part of Tae Kim's Guide should be a good read for you: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/define


I believe ultimately it comes down to "say" or "call" itself. これという問題はない can be interpreted as there is no question "said like this" or "called such" = There is no question. Similarly, ということだ is the thing "said" or "called". I have heard どういうことだ which they translate it to "What do you mean?" Taking it very literally, "What is the thing you are 'saying'?" = "What do you mean to say?" Hope someone can make it more clear.

  • Also, when someone is explaining something, ends their sentence and then says "ということで, (...)" which means "that being said, (...)"
    – Kitet
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 19:42

I think that the second example, "これという問題はない", means: the "so-called" problem doesn´t exist. I would appreciate if you could give us the context.


If you look up this word, 言う, in a dictionary of old Japanese, the first two meanings are:

1) 言葉で表現する。話す。

2) 名付ける。呼ぶ。


One point I think that is worth pointing out here is that Japanese does not use explicit passive constructions as you do in English. Consider this illustrative sentence.


This house was built by my father.

The use of active and passive construction are different between Japanese and English, and there are some cases of Japanese favouring an active construction, while English uses a passive one. Passive constructions are used in English for various reasons including (1) avoiding mentioning the agent, (2) shifting focus (by moving house to the front and making it the subject).

Note that Japanese does not require a subject for a complete sentence, thus eliminating reason (1) for using a passive construction.

With that in mind, we can understand why a phrase such as Xという問題 can be interpreted as a question/problem that is called X, even though there is no explicit passive construction in the original phrase.

This is described in this book as well:

The function of the predicative form [終止形, =連体形 in mod. Japanese] is to predicate, without reference to time. It is true that, being neutral as to time, it can usually be translated by a present tense in English; but context may demand other tenses. [...] In common with other forms of the verb, the Predicative is neutral as to person. [...] This characteristic is exhibited in a most interesting way in such common constructions as

kono mura wa Kose to iū this village is called Kose

The idea of person or agent is neither expressed nor implicit in the verb . In English, the corresponding locution requires the passive voice, which is a grammatical device used when we wish to describe an act without reference to the agent. In Japanese, an active verb is used, because the use of an active verb does not involve mention of the subject.

(An historical grammar of Japanese, George Sansom, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 4th ed. 1968, page 131-132)

  • I'm not your downvote, but I am intrigued by the claim that "Japanese favours an active constructions." Do you mean in this particular instance or are you claiming Japanese tends to do so in general?
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 21:40
  • You are correct, I should have put it another way. Sometimes, you don't need to use a passive construction, eg. in order to avoid mentioning the subject, but of course, there are some cases where it is the other way around: 「勝手に死なれちゃ困ります」 (passive form), which can be rendered in English as "(if you) die on me" (active form). And I'm certain you didn't downvote, because most downvoters are SAD, and you did comment on a mistake, for which I'm grateful ; )
    – blutorange
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 17:17
  • @virmaior But you may be interested in the citation I added.
    – blutorange
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 17:39

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