”という” Grammar troubles


I wanted to quickly thank everyone for the comments on my last post. :slight_smile:

With that said, I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand the grammatical constructs behind という the last few days.
I watched a video by Cure Dolly Sensei, and even checked out Tae Kims article on it (Defining and Describing – Learn Japanese).

Now I can kind of understand how it works to define something. I won’t lie, it’s still a bit unclear though.

In some the example sentences given in TK’s article (ESPECIALLY Using 「いう」 to describe anything) I’m just SO lost…

I feel like I need some sort of “aha!” moment… But I just can’t seem to find it.

Does anyone know of a simpler way to break down this concept that may set off a light bulb in my head more easily? :sweat_smile: This is one of those things that I see everywhere, so being able to understand it seems quite important.

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So just after a quick glance over the example sentences for the description usage, it seems they’re all based around using の as a stand-in for an object/idea/etc, which is a rather common usage (I run into it a lot in normal-but-not-super-informal stuff) but definitely tripped me up too when I was learning it. Looking at the first example:


A way to read this (that’s always helped me) is to think of it as “the fact that [the main character was the criminal] is the most interesting part” where that の after the という refers to the abstract thought/fact. It helps me, at least, to think of という here as a mix between “called,” “is said,” and “that,” in this case being closest to the “that” usage.

And looking at the first usage (defining) fourth example:
「友達」は、英語で 「friend」という 意味です。
I would (when getting used to it) break it down as “「友達」has the meaning that, in English, is friend.” It doesn’t flow perfectly in translation, but it works in Japanese. (You could also think of it as “「友達」's English meaning is called friend” but that’s a little weird to work with.)

As you use it and encounter it more and more, it’ll flow more naturally! It’s a rather useful thing - I use it a lot when I’m giving a definition of something to my students. For example: 「petrichor」というのは雨を降った時の後に香りということです。(“Petrichor” has the meaning that is the smell after it rains.) and also 昼じゃないけど夜じゃないという時は「evening」です。(The time that’s not afternoon but not night is called “evening.”)

Did that even help? Or did I confuse you more? :sweat_smile:


と言う makes sense not only as a set phrase, but in pieces. It might help to take some time to study the particle と and more of its uses before you continue.

Edit: and literally it’s pretty easy to think of it as, “the so said”

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Well, と is like the Japanese quotation mark, and 言う/いう is “to say” or “to call something.”

I would say there are some surprisingly close analogs to English on this one.

「羅生門」という映画が好きです = “I like the movie called ‘Rashoumon’.”

It gets a little more interesting with the usage of ということ but we can still draw an English analogy. In this case こと roughly meaning a “thing” we can use that structure to turn the preceding clause into a noun which can then be desribed.

E.g. “To say that he is a kind man is an exaggeration” or “It’s an exaggeration to say that he is a kind man.” In this case exaggeration is acting on the entire phrase of “to say that he is a kind man.” So we need a way of turning that phrase into a noun. We do so with ということ:


One piece at a time…

彼が優しい人= “He is a kind person” (a standalone statement)

彼が優しい人ということ = “To say he is a kind person” with 彼が優しい人という “modifying” or describing こと

彼が優しい人ということは誇張だ = “To say he is a kind person, is an exaggeration.”

Hope that helps or makes some sense.


Just wanted to say that I have read through the replies before heading to work.
I’m still confused… I think a bit less so, but I am going to take the advice given to me and try to study the と particle more in-depth.
I asked a native Japanese speaker (who is very fluent in English) if he could explain という to me and while he was able to translate example sentences to English, he still couldn’t figure out how to explain whats occurring (grammatically) :laughing:

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I didnt read the other replies, and they are probably better, but simply AというB. a B called A.

「The Matrix」という映画を見たい " I want to see a Movie (b) called 'the matrix" (a)

親指の下に向けるのは「悪い」という意味だ。Thumbs Down (a) means Bad (b)

It might help you to think about 言う/いう as “to name/to call” instead of “to say”.

So that XというY means “the Y that is called X”.

Can you explain what exactly it is you are confused about? Like, some example sentences, and what you think they mean? Maybe this helps us explain better…

I thought i’m the only one.
I was reading Tae Kim guide as well. Everything went well until i encountered this section of his guide.

Then i took a break from it since no one could explain it to me (even though after reading those replies to your post, it does make a little bit more sense.) So i got frustrated, and then stopped with the grammar for a while, i’m still on a break but after encountering your post i was like “Finally someone asked that question” I was logged off from WK community since its distracting IMO. But i had to log in to reply to this. Because i think i know the problem and thus the solution.

The way i see it, is we probably missed out something. I’m not sure what. But i know that Japanese is very logic kind of language. And we must stop using and looking for English translations. We need to truly understand those particles usages, and understand them in depth in how it is used in a Japanese sentence. So go back, go back to where you might think you missed something, because you probably are, we all do at some point of learning. We need to grasp something, one grammar point that might be related to this structure of という. Because there is no magic here to this sentence or some code to understand its meaning. You looking for meaning, not translations. And the best way to get meaning, is to see it with an examples. Like where a baby in Japan would learn.

My advice in short:

  • Understand the particle と and the noun こと and の Tae Kim explain it perfectly, i mean those two. About と, try to find how it used in context of quotation something or someone (I think that’s where i got lost and thus couldn’t understand really the concept of という.)

  • Find natives resources without any translation, and try to understand what’s being said with the knowledge you have. Its just about practicing in real life what you have learnt. Because There is one international language we understand, and its not English.

Hope it helps. I won’t be here to see your reply if you will reply. I really try to avoid being here, but your post caught my eye.

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I have been using shirimono for grammar and I am quite understanding now some points in grammar,

this という appeared yesterday for me in a lesson. So far so good.

One thing that kinda helped me is thinking of air quotes when I see it.



Yeah, without knowing what’s confusing it’s not really going to be easy for anyone to know how to explain it. Is it because it’s often used in a relative clause? Had you encountered other relative clauses before? Those kinds of concrete reasons for why it’s confusing would help.

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So is the と particle itself part of what you’re unclear on?

Don’t think of という as just three random kana together. It’s と and the verb 言う (いう). と in this case is just a quotation particle. It’s like a Japanese quotation mark. E.g.:

“It’s raining,” he said.


と is used to link what is being said (雨が降っている) with the verb (言う)

So in the earlier example 「羅生門」という映画が好きです we have と “quoting” the title 羅生門 for the verb いう. That whole bit then modifies the noun that follows (映画 movie). And thus we have “I like the movie called ‘Rashoumon’”

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Here are some examples. I apologize for the lack of response. Work + now I’m looking more into the と particle (which is actually sort of helping me here!)

Examples sentences I couldn’t understand :
日本人はお酒に弱い という のは本当?

独身だ という のは、嘘だったの?

This next one came from a friend on Facebook, so I apologize if it’s a bit odd… (I ran it through DeepL to see what it meant)

Both of those first two are examples where the “say” meaning of 言う is pretty explicit and not particularly abstract. What about them is confusing?

I am beginning to understand this. The first bit before が is simply a noun phrase. Lit “Movie called Rashomon”.

In my examples provided I hope it can make it a bit more clear that beyond the (what I deem simple) uses of という it starts to get more difficult to comprehend.

So for example one it could be thought of as “Japanese people, weak to alcohol is said, true?”
Example two “saying was single, was a lie?”

Alright so there are three parts to this.

日本人はお酒に弱い is basically “Japanese people can’t hold their liquor.”

本当 is “truth” or “reality.”

Then there’s the というのは which could also be said ということは. The equally important point of emphasis here is actually the のは or ことは which are used to turn something into a noun.

The phrase in it’s entirety can be thought of as “Is it true to say that Japanese people can’t hold their liquor?”

日本人はお酒に弱い というのは本当?

という is roughly “to say (the preceding)” and のは is the “that”

So というのは/ということは is “to say that”


Thanks for pointing out the は nominalization aspect, that flew over my head I think, but makes sense now.

What about this one : 多分行かないと思う。 というか 、お金がないから、行けない。
It’s a different grammatical construct of course. I think that か can mean “or” in this case but that’s about as much as I can actually make logical sense of without just looking at the answer.

か is a question here, and your interpretation as “or” is quite good, I’m hesitant to directly one-to-one translate it to English.

I think I probably can’t go tomorrow.
Rather, because I don’t have any money I can’t go…

Yet, I wouldn’t translate というか as “Rather” in a direct way
Here, we’re taking the thing previously said, and reconsidering it in order to provide a reason
Sorry I can’t make better sense of it