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I was doing an N5 test, and this construction came up:

山田さんは大変いいひとですよ。(Context)

何も悪いことは聞いたことがありません。(Construction in question)

While I understand the meaning alright (Nothing bad about 田中さん was heard), I do not understand the structure here. Particularly, how does は work here connecting 悪いこと and 聞いたこと? Why not simply say

何も悪く聞いたことがありません

instead, or is the meaning somehow different?

Hours of search hasn't turned up anything related. Is there any online resource I can refer to? Thank you.

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The こと

This is a case where thinking about it in English might actually help.

In English, one says "I haven't heard anything bad about someone". The point here is that we need to have a noun as the object of the verb hear.

In Japanese, we're not just "hearing badly" about someone (悪く聞く), we're "hearing something bad" about someone. That's where that first こと comes in (悪い​[こ]{●}[と]{●}​を聞く).

The second こと is part of the standard construction, [VERB in た form] + ことがある, referring to whether someone has had any experience of [VERB], such as "have you ever [VERB]ed?"

The は

The は in your sample question replaces the を. This construction uses は for emphasis, making the 悪いこと a kind of sub-topic within the overall topic of 山田さん. The implication is that you haven't heard anything bad, though you may have heard other things. This is often conveyed in English more through tone of voice.

For instance, タバコ​[を]{●}​吸いません just means neutrally that you don't smoke tobacco. Using は instead, タバコ​[は]{●}​吸いません states that you don't smoke tobacco, but it could imply that you smoke other things, just not tobacco products. As with many things in language, context is important in discerning the intended meaning.

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