This sentence comes from my JLPT practise book:


I think it's basically saying:

Things like religions and supersitions are hard to define accurately.

However, I get a sense that there is a comparison being made. Is the sentence simply saying that religions and superstitions are both hard to define, or that it is hard to define religions and superstitions as different from each other?

  • 4
    I was just going to correct the furigana for 何か as なに(か), but then realized it must be where you took the wrong turn. Tsuyoshi's answer should become obvious if you decompose the first phrase as 宗教/religion とは/is なに/what か/? (I'm adding this comment to the question itself so future editors won't spoil the mystery by correcting the furigana.) – ento Nov 10 '11 at 12:29
  • It's possible to read 何か as なんか, as in 何 {なに/なん} かおかしい "Something's wrong". But it doesn't automatically mean "something like..."; it can also mean "what" depending on the semantic context, for example, それは何 {なに/なん} かと言うと "To tell you what it is.." Even in this JLPT sentence, it's not impossible to read it as 宗教とはなんか and let it mean "what a religion is", if you suppose the author has a peculiar tendency of mixing casual speech (なんか) with a formal one (とは..) – ento Nov 11 '11 at 1:54
  • For one, if it is after ◯◯とは, it is usually なにか. For another, なんか is seldom written in 漢字. – syockit Nov 14 '11 at 19:20
  • I agree with syockit. Also, I think how you read "何か" only affects its casualness and never its core meaning...so, you can always start out with なにか and maybe switch to なんか if the context calls for a more casual reading. – ento Nov 17 '11 at 15:42

The sentence just says, 宗教とは[何]{なに}か (what a religion is) and 迷信とは[何]{なに}か (what a superstition is) are difficult to define precisely. It does not say anything about their relationship. (It does not say “things like,” either.)

Edit: I added readings to 何 in this answer. See also ento’s comment on the question, which actually pinned downs the source of your confusion.


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