I have read in grammar dictionaries some words/phrases that are labelled as "Written Japanese" and should not be used in normal speech.

Let's take for example the sentence-ending こと indicating a command:

プールサイドを走らないこと。 "Do not run on the pool deck"

(This was taken from A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar and it's labelled as "Written Japanese".)

What I want to know is what happens to "Written Japanese" when:

  1. I read it silently

  2. I read it aloud to myself

  3. I read it to someone else

For the above, do I read it as it is written or do I convert it to a "Spoken Japanese" equivalent?

  • @Flaw Additional reason for the downvote may be your use of the word "imperative". Imperative (negative) form would be 走るな. こと is not imperative, although the clause led by it is a subjunctive clause. Your questions are mostly interesting ones, but this one seems subjective, and is not clear what is asked. I will rather vote to close.
    – user458
    Dec 2, 2011 at 6:26
  • 2
    Maybe I am being unduly harsh, but although it is on-topic, I do not think this is a good-quality question: honestly, asking if there is a difference between the sentence when you "read it silently" and "read it aloud to yourself" is somewhere between a parody of zen koan and empty sophism... Certainly not a really helpful step to learning Japanese.
    – Dave
    Dec 3, 2011 at 8:09
  • 5
    @Dave: I think the question is much more about the instructions you see in all sorts of Japanese text books which can lead one to believe that there is this huge difference between written and spoken Japanese, as if they are wildly different. Clearing up that misconception seems useful and on topic to me.
    – Questioner
    Dec 3, 2011 at 8:19
  • @DaveMG I can potentially see some use in explaining the difference between "written language" and "spoken language" (although this is most definitely an issue of English more than Japanese), I just think this question does a very poor job of setting the problem. But once again: this is only my opinion, and I don't think the question needs to be closed for that.
    – Dave
    Dec 3, 2011 at 8:52
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    @Dave: Agreed the question comes about it in a roundabout way. I would have never have thought to interpret that "written Japanese" could mean that it be replaced with other words if spoken outloud, or that one should think of different terms in one's own head. Flaw definitely came at this from an angle that is a little odd. But I think, in a way, that's the strength of the question, in that it shows how people can think very differently and need help in ways others wouldn't think of. In other words, if the question were phrased as I would like, people who think like Flaw might not be helped.
    – Questioner
    Dec 4, 2011 at 9:16

2 Answers 2


"Written Japanese" doesn't mean "forms that can only be expressed in written form". It means "forms that are generally used in writing rather than speech".

So there's no need to replace anything on the fly as you read it. You read it as written, whether it's 走らないこと, 走るべからず, な走りそ, whatever. It doesn't matter if it would be weird as a conversational utterance... because it isn't one. It's "written Japanese" that you happen to be reading out loud.

Update 12/2: Actually, let me add one caveat: If you are reading Classical Japanese, or most pre-WWII, then "reading it as written" doesn't mean the same thing as it does for modern Japanese. For example, 思はぬ is pronounced as if it were 思わぬ. This is called historical kana orthography (歴史的仮名遣) and it is related to the particles は, へ and を being pronounced わ, え, and お. But it even in this case, you don't change the actual words -- you wouldn't change 思はぬ to 思わない, for example. It's just that the rules for pronouncing certain kana in certain contexts are different.


You just read it as it is written. These kind of "written language" sometimes do appear in conversations, but rare. However, if you are reading it out (to yourself or to anyone else), the "spoken" "written language" will perfectly OK.

I don't know if I've made myself clear ...

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