Is there a difference?

Hello guys.

I was wondering if there is a difference between saying:

何を言っていましたか And 何と言っていましたか

My text book uses the latter, but I am not sure why…


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The と being used here is the quotation particle. を is (as far as I know) not used with 言う. I’m not sure where you encountered を, but when you say something, that thing is being treated as a quote, so と is used.


This question actually appears a lot on the internets. The best answer I found is on Chiebukuro, so it’s in Japanese and I’m just going to paste it here, if you have trouble with the explanation we’ll go from there:




So, if I follow this correctly

と言う is used for physical objects while を言う is used for not necessarily physical objects. This would follow the reasoning that と is often used to indicate togetherness and を is used for the “direct object” of the sentence.

However, there’s one thing that has caught my attention.

This says not necessarily physical objects, right? So does that mean that you can use it for physical objects as well? Like if you were being asked “何を言うんですか?” and you replied “phone”, would that work?

具体的 is “concrete” in this case and does not refer to physical objects. It refers to something closer to a quotation. It basically says to use と言う when referring to what someone was saying specifically and を言う when referring to what someone was generally saying.

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I think you’re misreading 具体的, in this case it doesn’t mean a physical object, but a concrete saying, which is following its function of と as the quotative particle.

For 言う人の意思・考え・意図を表し、具体的な言葉とは限らない場合は、「"を"言う」,

I find 限る grammar to be some of the hardest to translate appropriately, but basically its saying "When expressing the wishes, thoughts, and intents of the person speaking, if the case is not limited to specific [spoken] words (a bit literal on the translation here to show the point), use を言う

とは限らない is basically a way to negate a general statement, or to show that there are other options.

Edit (The 2nd): To extrapolate a little bit more, this can also be shown with things like を書く and と書く


That clears it up, thanks. Thought I knew that word but I suppose not. Guess I should be careful about assuming I know words just through an SRS.

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There’s this one from iTalki too, maybe not quite as complete but easier to understand.

Use と for quoting the speech itself.

Use を if you just want to specify the type of utterance (lies, complaints, the truth and so on)

I think I’ve got a grasp on とは限らない at least. (I basically spent an hour a few times a week just a little while ago going over 限る phrases :disappointed:) It basically means not necessarily and is saying not necessarily “concrete” things like you and tel003 were saying.

My question is why it is saying “not necessarily” instead of “never”. Does that mean there are times where you could use を言う to refer to “具体的な言葉”?

Look at the sentence again. The problem is the formatting - not your understanding of とは限らず.

別れの挨拶 is a category that is not limited to さよなら.

Japanese people don’t like to speak in absolutes. That’s the best answer I’ve got.

While you are certainly correct about that, it misses the exact point of the sentence.


It says that [the concept of] departing words are not limited to just specifically さよなら. [The concept] also encompasses other phrases like “see you tomorrow,” etc.

Edit: I seem unable to quote reply correctly…

Ahhhhhhh, now it clicked. For some reason my brain was ignoring 人の (more so skimming over it). But with that I think I’ve got it!

を言う is used for talking about things that the speaker may or may not have said. Essentially like “what did he say generally”. It might be their exact wording or it may not be.

と言う is used for essentially the exact things the speaker said. Basically, you are wanting the person to quote what the individual said.

Or something like that I think.

That’s not the sentence we were translating though. We were discussing the broader statement of: 言う人の意思・考え・意図を表し、具体的な言葉とは限らない場合は、「"を"言う」,

This is significantly harder than I thought it would be.

@xyzbuster That’s close, but と言う doesn’t have to be an exact quote, it can be an indirect quote, but it’s still reported speech. I wouldn’t over think it. If you think of と as some kind of quote, that pretty much brings you most of the way there.

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Thanks! Boy that was a journey.

My fault.

I didn’t explicitly know the grammar rule here, so I learned something as well. Thanks.

That’s okay, for a bit of grammar I hate, he still managed to use it twice in one answer.

Umm, so, what I understand is と言う should be used for what the other person said, as reported speech; using the exact words that the person said. While を言う is used for when you are trying to refer to the ‘meaning’ of what a person said, as if they are saying something indirectly?