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A) 日曜日にはどんなことをしていますか。
What sort of things do you do on Sundays?
音楽を聞くとか、本を読むとかしています。
I do things like listen to music and read books.

B) ニューヨークではどんなことをしましたか。
What sort of things did you do in New York?
*ミュージカルを見るとか美術館に行くとかしました。
I did things like watching musicals and going to museums.

According to "A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar" response A) is correct but response B) is wrong. I should use たり instead.

This book, and other references, vaguely talk about 'specific' versus 'general' situations to decide which form to use, but I can't understand what their talking about. Both A) and B) look like the same usage to me. I can't understand why B) is wrong.

How do I know when to use とか and when to use たり?

  • The とか version would be fine if the question was supposition on the ground of imaginary conditional. – user4092 Jul 9 '17 at 16:19
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This is perhaps a question best left answered by a native speaker. While I will nevertheless give it a try, I won't try to answer the question more generally, but rather just specifically to the two sentences you provided.

Consider the first question,

A)
日曜日にはどんなことをしていますか。
What sort of things do you do on Sundays?
音楽を聞くとか、本を読むとかしています。
I do things like listen to music and read books.

This is definitely a general question about your habits, not a one time incident. Though I suspect that here using the たり..たり..する construct might be permissible:

音楽を聞いたり、本を読んだりしています。

However, situation B is rather different. It's asking about a particular trip when you went to New York.

B)
ニューヨークではどんなことをしましたか。
What sort of things did you do in New York?
*ミュージカルを見るとか美術館に行くとかしました。
I did things like watching musicals and going to museums.

If you answered this way, I have a feeling that it's so not much ungrammatical as it is perplexing. The person asking the question would be right to wonder: "How is it they don't know what they did on their trip?"

To answer as:

ニューヨークではミュージカルを見たり美術館に行ったりしました。

This sounds much more definite.

To my ears, the ...とか...とかする construct is listing possibilities, not concrete occurrences whereas ...たり...たりする has a more definite and concrete feel. If you're enumerating examples of things you know you did or (and here's where I'm hazarding a guess) things you're definitely planning to do, then the ...たり...たりする is more appropriate.

So for example, I suspect that both of the following situations below are acceptable with only a subtle difference in meaning.

Person A: 来週ニューヨークに行くんですよね。どういうことするんですか。
Person B: ミュージカルを見るとか美術館に行くとかするかなと思ってます。

Or,

Person B: ミュージカルを見たり美術館に行ったりするつもりです。

The difference between these being, that in the first case, you're merely listing possibilities. If you don't do one of the things mentioned, no big deal, it wasn't a definite thing. But I think in the second instance, if you didn't go to any museums, then your friend might be right to ask you on your return from New York, "what happened? Why weren't you able to visit museums?" (That's of course assuming that they remember perfectly word for word what you said and how you said it.)

So, that's my gut feel about it. I'd love to hear from the native speakers what they think. Of course, feel free to downvote if I've got this completely wrong, but at least point out where I'm getting it wrong.

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  • 1
    音楽を聞いたり、本を読んだりすることしています。 は変ですね…「音楽を聞いたり、本を読んだりしています。」ではどうですか? – Chocolate Jul 9 '17 at 2:33
  • @Chocolate Corrected. Thanks. In other regards, are my intuitions more or less in line? – A.Ellett Jul 9 '17 at 2:40
  • そうですね・・でも実は私も、答えがわからなくて・・・ T.T – Chocolate Jul 9 '17 at 3:48
  • +1 @A.Ellett Thanks for your reply. I think I understand what you are saying, but I'd really like a native speaker's thoughts as well. Although, if even chocolate doesn't know how to answer then I may not get one. – user3856370 Jul 10 '17 at 17:25
  • @user3856370 I completely agree with you on wanting to get a native speaker's perspective. – A.Ellett Jul 10 '17 at 18:16
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Your doubt is no wonder to me. I agree with you.
To me, 音楽を聞くとか、本を読むとかしています is just as good as ミュージカルを見るとか美術館に行くとかしました.

とか basically sounds more informal than ~したり~したりする.

If they are 音楽を聞いたり本を読んだりしています and ミュージカルを見たり美術館へ行ったりしました, they sound more decent.

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  • Could someone explain why this need to be downvoted? I feel downvoting is not something easily done without reason. The function says "This answer is not useful". Isn't this quite a strong objection? – karlalou Jul 10 '17 at 15:30
  • I'm not the downvoter. I guess it was downvoted because it doesn't really explain the distinction between the 'general' and 'specific' cases that the reference was talking about. It might also help deciding whether to upvote if your profile said a little bit about your expertise in the language. I'd like to upvote, but your answer is contrary to my expectations. If I knew you were a native speaker or you've been living in Japan for half your life, for example, and you still said there's no difference between とか and たり that would help me have confidence. – user3856370 Jul 10 '17 at 17:36
  • So, you assume the downvoter is a non-native speaker? I hope anyone don't know the language first hand don't downvote anything. I didn't comment on general or not because it's simply irrelevant. I've written purely how I feel as a native speaker. – karlalou Jul 10 '17 at 17:45
  • Okay, I'll give you a +1 one then. – user3856370 Jul 10 '17 at 17:47

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