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What is the level of formality of this expression? Is this a set expression or does it follow after a more generic grammatical pattern? Example sentences would be appreciated.

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    Can you give context? – BelgianCoder Jun 3 '18 at 10:04
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    I'm not sure whether context is relevant or, can be provided at all in the first place. It's not as if they are asking for the meaning of a specific use of "言わんとする". Instead the question is about the formality level and grammatical pattern of an expression type, which I think are constant across all instances, independent of context. I guess this is true for its semantics, too. – goldbrick Jun 4 '18 at 11:19
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What is the level of formality of this expression?

I think it can be either very formal or rather informal. You wouldn't used it in very casual conversation. In casual, colloquial conversation you'd more often hear 「言おうとする」 or 「言いたい」, as in:

「お前の言いたいことはわかる。」
「何を言おうとしてるのかわからない。」

Does it follow after a more generic grammatical pattern?

It's very often used in the form of 「XXの/XXが + 言わんとする + ことorところ」「何を + 言わんとする + か」, eg:

「あなたが言わんとすることはよくわかります。」
「著者の言わんとするところを的確に捉えねばならない。」  
「この詩が何を言わんとしているのか、わかりますか。」
✕「僕がお礼を言わんとすると、~~」 → ◎「僕がお礼を言おうとすると、~~」
✕「今、何か言わんとした?」 → ◎「今、何か言おうとした?」

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I am not familiar with the expression and have never seen it before so hopefully a native can chime in but I could find the following information:

from Daijisen by Shogakukan:

ん[助動]

[助動]《推量の助動詞「む」の音変化》活用語の未然形に付く。

1婉曲的表現を表す。「あらんかぎりの力を出す」

2 (「んとする」の形で)意志・推量の意を表す。「言わんとすることはわかった」


my attempt at translation (using also examples from ALC/Eijiro

ん [auxiliary verb] (jodoushi)

thought to be a sound change of the auxiliary verb . attaches to the mizenkei form (nai stem)

  1. represents an euphemistic expression(?) 「あらんかぎりの力を出す」(possibly “to struggle with all one’s might” )

  2. in the form 「んとする」: expresses a meaning of volition or conjecture (?) 「言わんとすることはわかった」- “I understood what you were trying to say/ what you mean”

Additionally, Daijirin by Sanseido has this article:

んと•する

( 連語 )

〔「むとす」の口語形〕

① まさに、そうなろうとしている。 「まさに天を衝か-・する意気込み」

② そうするつもりだ。そうしようとする。 「国政を改革せ-・する決意」


rengo (phrase/compound word)

colloquial form of むとす

  1. as if trying to become like smth. in reality

「まさに天を衝かんとする意気込み」 Enthusiasm as if trying to actually pierce the sky (?)

  1. intend to do smth, or trying to do it.

国政を改革せんとする決意

resolve to reform the national politics


actually, now that I looked up むとす, EDICT/jisho also lists it together with んとする and んとす with the following definition:

  1. to be trying to (after a -nai stem)

  2. to be just about to

From the examples in Eijiro, 言わんとする does not seem to have an inherent politeness level, however Daijirin claims it’s colloquial, so probably not for very formal situations.

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