I've been reading more novels in Japanese recently (かもめ食堂: recommended!), and have noticed that it's unusual for 言う to be written in kanji. Not just in set phrases like という and とはいえ but in attributions such as 「みどりはいった」。

My question: are there any situations where it's required or would be more natural or unambiguous to write 言う rather than いう? If I'm emailing a friend would it seem pretentious to use the kanji?

  • I'll just put this link here, so that anyone who is up to the challenge is free to extract the answer to this question (if the answer's in there) =) kotobank.jp/word/… Jun 5, 2018 at 21:59
  • I just skimmed the entry and I don't see it in there.
    – mamster
    Jun 5, 2018 at 23:33
  • Thanks for checking. From a personal perspective, I only use 言う unless only when I'm really describing something spoken, i.e., when a person is actually physically saying something. Otherwise, I default to いう. Jun 5, 2018 at 23:37

1 Answer 1


Here's an excerpt I found: http://learnjapaneseonline.info/2016/04/28/avoid-kanji-overload-and-write-japanese-like-a-native/

Similarly, while 言う as a word is more often written in kanji, という in nominalizing and similar uses is usually written in kana.

These uses are probably somewhat related to the fact that common verbs attached to other verbs are very often written in kana. So 来る is common but it is nearly always やってくる, not やって来る;持っていくrather than 持って行く.


Whenever you are in doubt, use Denshi Jisho or Rikaisama (or Rikaichan -kun -tan). All of them flag some words with “uk” or “usually written in kana alone”. If you aren’t sure where to use kanji, simply make sure to write these words in kana.

Personally when I email a friend in Japanese, I don't use the kanji. However, when I email a teacher, I tend to use it because for some reason to me it feels more proper and formal.
(例えば、「何々と」言いました) But this is my own preference and may not reflect other's tendencies.

  • Thanks very much, Gabby. It sounds like maybe it just doesn't matter much as long as I'm not using the kanji in set expressions where it would stick out.
    – mamster
    Jun 8, 2018 at 20:53

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