I have difficulty figuring out the correct meaning of「発言できない事もある」below.





The above dialogue is done by the rental girlfriend to her client. They were discussing what they should do if they want to communicate in front of the client's grandma, especially when the client's grandma brought up something uncomfortable to the rental girlfriend.

I have two ways to understand「発言できない事もある」. It can either mean

There will be times when we can't communicate.


There are things we can't communicate.

It seems to me that both meanings fit the context well.

My research brought me to this question. Based on my understanding so far, こと is more abstract than 事, so 事 should be used when a speaker is talking about actual situations and circumstances. Therefore, the former meaning of「発言できない事もある」is correct. Am I right here?

What is the correct meaning? If possible, I'm curious to know how native speakers understand「発言できない事もある」when they first read it.

  • It seems you are contradicting yourself. You know the kanji version is more concrete than the hiragana version, yet you chose the first meaning? – aguijonazo Apr 28 at 6:41
  • @aguijonazo It's difficult for me to decide which one is more abstract: things that are spoken or time/situation/circumstances. I think the former is more abstract than the latter, so 事 is used for the latter. Maybe, this is a subjective question. – Jimmy Yang Apr 28 at 6:57

When I listen, I mostly rely on the context. It could go either way. Sometimes, the word is emphasized, with a clear pitch difference between its two syllables as when it’s pronounced individually. When I detect it, I would be more inclined towards “things” than otherwise because you don’t usually emphasis a dummy noun.

When I'm reading, I would definitely understand it as “things” if it’s written as 事. It’s so clear to me that concrete things (事) you talk about (e.g. hobbies, work, family, etc.) are more concrete than instances (こと) of talking, or having talked, about them. I would even consider any (modern) writer who writes 事 in the first sense a bad writer.

As for this particular case, though, I noticed the verb used is 発言する, which is normally used intransitively and therefore doesn’t take a direct object. Then, we might be looking at an example of bad writing here. If she meant “things”, she would have said 言えない事.


As you noticed, the sentence can be interpreted in the two ways, but we generally interpret it as the first meaning.

If we mean the second meaning, we use 発言できない内容もある. If we clearly mean the first meaning, we use 発言できない時もある.

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