For full context, see here exercise 3: https://www.docdroid.net/rHnvU6R/2.pdf

The sentence in question:

A: 駅まで行ったら、この大雪のせいで電車が止まっていて......今日中に向こうに着くのは無理だっていうから帰ってきたんだ。

First, my attempt at translation: "I came back, because when I went to the station, with the train being on hold because of the snowmasses they said that within this day, going to the other side (=going to the destination station) is impossibru."

In my opinion, 帰ってきたんだ sets the tense for the rest of the sentence, as the speaker is talking exclusively about things which happened in the past. Therefore, I would also expect the "...たら-clause...clause2" to show another past tense in clause2, which also would quite fitting for the situation of "I did X and in consequence I discovered Y" -> 家に帰ったら、猫がいなかった。

However, here っていう sets the tense of clause2 to present. As far as I can remember, it is also grammatical to say ...と言いました or って言った. So I wonder what the reason might be that present tense is used here? Also, how does it change the meaning of the sentence, if it does at all?

In a question dealing with a similar problem, some of you said that if the context is strong enough, the tenses can be used however one wishes. Is this the case here as well?

One sidequestion: Why is it 帰ってきたんだ ? What is this 来る doing here? I can only imagine two meanigns: Either 来る marks that the action is going in the direction of the speaker like 兄が帰ってきた。 Or it marks that someone performs an action and then immediately returns like スーパーで牛乳を買ってきます。 I think the latter makes more sense, but it seems a bit strange to me because until now, I only encountered cases where the speaker tells us about a thing he is about to do/going to do in the (near) future with the intent to return immediately after completing that action.


2 Answers 2



This いう no longer describes a real act of saying something, but rather takes part in one of various idiomatic usages of っていう (colloquial form of という) that virtually means "being told", "reported that" or "by hearsay", and, in this sense, never takes other than the dictionary form.



Also, in this particular case, replacing with 無理だっていったから etc. (i.e. interpreting as a normal verb) is highly unnatural, as no potential subject is introduced beforehand, neither is himself.

One sidequestion: Why is it 帰ってきたんだ ?

Because a bare 帰る is closely associated with "go back home" rather than "come back home". You must always use 帰ってくる when you mention heading home while you are home.



This phrase implies as follows.

「今日中に向こうに着くのは無理だ」と(駅員が)言う(のを聞いた)から or 「今日中に向こうに着くのは無理だ」と(駅員が)言う(のを聞いて、駅で待っていても仕方がないと判断した)から



I think the reason that the phrase given by the questioner uses the present tense in っていう could be explained by the theory using "absolute tense" and "relative tense", that is written here.

The theory says:

In the main clause the tense is based on the point of utterance. This is called 絶対{ぜったい}時制{じせい} absolute tense. On the other hand, subordinate clauses and relational clauses are sometimes based on the time of the main clause rather than on the time of utterance, which is called 相対{そうたい}時制{じせい} relative tense. In Japanese, subordinate clauses are relative tense and have nothing to do with the point of utterance.

On the other hand, subordinate clauses and related clauses in European languages are also absolute tense, based on the point of utterance. Therefore, excluding direct citations, it is necessary to adjust the tense/tenses to the point of utterance. This is called 時制{じせい}の一致{いっち} tense matching.


  • English: He said, "I am at the station now." Japanese: 彼は「今駅にいる」と言った。

  • English: He said he was at the station then. Japanese: 彼はその時、駅にいると言った。

The same explanations as the theory are here and here.

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