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As far as I'm aware, they both mean to complain or grumble. When would I use [四]{し}の[五]{ご}の言う as opposed to 文句を言う?

3
  • Do you mean "distinguished from or in contrast with" by "as opposed to?" Then I don't think I exactly understand what you are after. Anyway, I would use "四の五の言う" to mean "文句を言う".
    – eltonjohn
    Jul 11 '15 at 2:05
  • 1
    One difference I can think of right now is, you would say 学校に文句を言う rather than 学校に四の五の言う to mean 学校に苦情を言う. I think 文句を言う can mean both 苦情を言う and 不平・不満を言う, and 四の五の言う is closer to 不平・不満を言う, ぶつぶつ・ぶつくさ・ごちゃごちゃいう (rather than 苦情を言う). Sorry I can't explain in English.
    – Chocolate
    Jul 11 '15 at 10:18
  • Based on Choko's deft reply above it seems like 四しの五ごの言う is a bit more colloquial than 文句を言う and would be more like grumbling or talking about/from a lack of ease, whereas 文句を言う can be a complaint or legitimate voicing of concern
    – sova
    Jul 12 '15 at 4:31
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I would say that there is a clear difference in nuance and usage. Careful speakers would not use the two interchangeably -- at least not all the time.

「文句{もんく}を言{い}う」 sounds pretty neutral and accordingly, it is used widely. The phrase itself expresses no personal bias on the part of the speaker unless other words are added that can express it.

「四{し}の五{ご}の言う」 is an idiomatic expression that is much more nuanced than a "regular and literal" phrase like 「文句を言う」.

If you used 「四の五の言う」 to describe someone's complaint, you would sound like you are saying that the other person is always complaining for the sake of complaining or he was complaining about a trivial matter. You would almost surely sound angry, irritated or frustrated as well.

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