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Someone just asked me the difference between 「ことがある」(when it means "there are times when") and 「ときがある」, and I actually couldn't answer since I have never really thought about this...

Could someone teach me the nuance between those two? thanks.

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I am going to discuss two things that I feel might be of interest.

1) Explicit Meaning

2) Implied Frequency & Predictability

The differences are quite subtle. In fact, unless your friend is really approaching a native-level fluency, I might just show him/her @choco's answer and hide my own. Showing my answer could cause more confusion.

Explicit Meaning:

The difference is that while the expression 「ときがある」 already contains a time/frequency word in 「とき」, 「ことがある」 does not contain such an element at least explicitly.

In other words, 「~~ときがある」, all by itself, means "there are times when ~~.", "(Something) happens once in a while.", etc. just like one might expect the expression to literally mean. An additional frequency word would often be unnecessary, if not forbidden. If I said:

ときどき食べすぎるときがある。」,

the redundancy should be "physically" clear. (I assure you, though, that native speakers sometimes do say something like that in informal settings.)

With 「ことがある」, however, it would actually sound better if you intentionally added a frequency word to it for clarity.

ときどき食べすぎることがある。」

sounds 100% natural with no redundancy or a hint of awkwardness.

Implied Frequency & Predictability:

This is in no way a clear-cut rule or anything, but I feel as a native speaker that「ときがある」 would often tend to imply a higher frequency of the event than 「ことがある」 would.

In addition, 「ことがある」 would tend to express a higher degree of unpredictability of the event than 「ときがある」 would. There is this "as-a-matter-of-fact" kind of feeling associated with 「ときがある」.

There is a sort of an "element of surprise" expressed in 「ことがある」, at least more so than in 「ときがある」.

  • Thanks to you and Choco! This completely answers my question – Tchang Feb 19 '16 at 11:05
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「ことがある」(when it means "there are times when") and 「ときがある」

I don't see much difference between:

ワインを飲んで頭が痛くなることがあるんです。
ワインを飲んで頭が痛くなるときがあるんです。

I think they practically mean the same thing. "There are times when~~" "sometimes / occasionally~~". To me, ときがある sounds a little bit more casual than ことがある.

  • どうも東北方言では「ことがある」の意味で「ときがある」と言うようです。 – broccoli forest Feb 19 '16 at 6:43
  • @broccoliforest へ~・・・「あだまいだぐなっどぎがあんだべさ~!」みたいな。。。。(あ~確かに「~なっごどがあんだべさ」よりありそう。) – Chocolate Feb 19 '16 at 9:25
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This is a difference that I've been interested in myself for sometime.

The other day, I saw a children's education video (made for Japanese children) which specifically said the "〜したときがある” version was incorrect and ”〜したことがある" was correct. In all Japanese textbooks I have read, I have only seen こと used for this construction.

I found this page where a Japanese person is asking the same question.

The quick summary is that several people say using とき for this is just plain incorrect, and one person says it is a new expression young people have started using. The fact the children's video specifically highlights this grammar mistake makes sense if many young people have started using it.

Some other people say it might be a dialect of certain regions, and one person specifically says he/she has heard someone using it in a certain region. The question poster asks whether using とき this way is an expression particular to Tokyo, and while one answerer agrees with this, another person disagrees. (One person also debates what "Tokyo dialect" means since some consider their Japanese the "standard", though I won't get into this here).

Also, one person does say that the specific phrase "するときもある" would be acceptable.

So I think the short answer is that Japanese people will understand if you use 〜とき, however you should definitely stick with 〜こと to be safe.

  • Did you read the question? – l'électeur Feb 18 '16 at 13:22
  • Yes I did (: I am not sure if you are talking about the fact I added a verb (した) to the phrases he is asking about, or sometime else. After re-reading his question, I still feel that my post is relevant. If you disagree, please give me more details about why, and/or make another answer which you feel is more relevant. Thanks (: – Locksleyu Feb 18 '16 at 13:34
  • The only thing I can think of is that what I said doesn't apply to the case where the verb is not in the past tense (like 〜することがある). If so, then maybe a different answer is needed to cover that. – Locksleyu Feb 18 '16 at 13:35
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    @l'électeur It would be more helpful to point out what you think Locksleyu missed – for example, if you think the answerer missed the "when it means 'there are times when'" bit, you could say so specifically. – snailcar Feb 18 '16 at 13:54
  • I now see what you were alluding to, and that I am not directly answering the question. However, I still feel my answer is related (albeit indirectly) so I will leave it here. If someone things it should be deleted, let me know. – Locksleyu Feb 19 '16 at 3:41

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