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What does こと mean in this sentence? (This sentence is from an electronic dictionary called "JDict" play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ndcsolution.jdict. The word segmentation is mine.)

(1)

彼 は 長い こと 歩いて 疲れていた
kare wa nagai koto aruite tsukareteita
'He was tired from his long walk'

First, from what I have learned so far, こと is basically a word meaning "thing" or "matter", and also is often used a nominalizer.

In the many examples that I have been able to check in (Kaiser et al. 2013), most of the time こと is indeed a simple nominalizer, followed by a particle (は, が, or を) indicating the syntactic role of the noun it forms with the element it is attached to.

Secondly, here I saw that こと can be used to express many modal or existential meanings such as "I must do", "I decided" "there is", etc.

However, in sentence (1), こと follows an adjective and is followed by a verb.

い adjectives are adverbialized by く. Here, why don't we have 長く歩いて疲れていた, for instance?

References

Kaiser, S., Ichikawa, Y., Kobayashi, N., & Yamamoto, H. (2003). Japanese: A comprehensive grammar. Routledge.

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2 Answers 2

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い adjectives are adverbialized by く

Yes, but they can also be adverbialized by adding a こと after them. Take these examples from 三省堂国語辞典 and 大辞林:

うまいことやれよ / Do it well.
早いことやってしまえ / Get it done as soon as you can.

This adverbialization use of こと is listed separately in all the dictionaries I referred to, and 明鏡国語辞典 takes a step further to list it as one of こと's grammatical usages (文型表現). Hope you enjoy こと's different usages coming up along the way you learn Japanese!

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  • Ok, the dictionary I use (JDict) only refers to こと's "nominalizing suffix" grammatical usage. Thanks. Is this こと's "adverbializing suffix" usage pervasive?
    – Starckman
    Oct 29, 2022 at 10:48
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    @starckman I'm not sure if it is pervasive. I think it's not a very productive grammatical phenomenon, with three most common examples being 長いこと, はやいこと and うまいこと. A search in BCCWJ Chunagon strengthened my feeling about it.
    – magni
    Oct 29, 2022 at 11:28
  • Understood, because indeed I didn't find this usage mentioned in the "Adverbs" section of the grammar book (Kaiser et al. 2003).
    – Starckman
    Oct 29, 2022 at 11:35
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    Even "not very productive" might be an overstatement...I can't think of any similar examples other than the three already mentioned.
    – naruto
    Oct 29, 2022 at 15:02
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「長い間 nagai aida (long time)」is formal expression, I think. 「長いこと」is casual. If the sentence is 「長いこと」only, we can't find what is 「こと」 time or things. But in「長いこと歩く」,「こと」means time in this case.

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