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He Said, She Said: How to Quote Others in Japanese

GaijinPot presents a guide to quoting what others have said — because you can't always be the definitive source.

By 3 min read

Whether you’re at a party or joking about a ridiculous story (or listening to your significant other remind you of that one thing you said two years ago that they didn’t like — true story), you need to know how to quote people. The good news is that — in Japanese at least — it’s easier than one would expect.

In much the same way that English uses “I said,” the Japanese word う (to say) and its past tense form, 言った, serve this purpose quite nicely.

For example:

  • 彼女かのじょしあわせだとった。(She said that she was happy.)
  • かれると言った。 (He said that he would come.)
  • 彼ははらったと言った。(He said that he was hungry.)

While 言う is the first form that most learners come across, it’s not the only one that is commonly used to quote someone. Most learners who use the news to study soon come across ~をべる, which is used to make a statement about something. On the news it is often used to quote official statements made by important people, especially politicians.

A perfect example of this grammar was from a government website that described Prime Minister Abe’s recent visit to a graduation ceremony as: 安倍あべ総理そうり (Prime Minister Abe) は、行進こうしん (parade) を 視閲しえつしたあと (after viewing)、卒業式そつぎょうしき (graduation ceremony)で 祝辞しゅくじ (congratulatory address) を べました (stated). In other words, it describes Abe’s day of seeing a parade in the afternoon and then giving a congratulatory address afterwards by using the verb 述べる.

An incredibly flexible verb, 述べる also appears whenever people describe their experiences, like 体験たいけんを述べた, or their good feelings 気持きもちを述べた, so watch out for it as it sometimes crops up in unexpected places.

So whether you are talking about what someone said, what most people think, or even your own insights, these words let you clearly state who said what to whom.

A slightly trickier one that appears in a lot of written documents is いわゆる (what is called ~). This word is a really interesting one for language nerds like myself as it is a great example of the Japanese habit of having single words that describe what takes a sentence in most languages! Example sentences include: かれはいわゆる学者がくしゃである (he’s what is called a scholar) or 彼女かのじょはいわゆるほんむしです (she’s what is called a bookworm).

While いわゆる is often used to describe what most people would think about something, it is not particularly useful for talking about what educated, trustworthy sources say. Instead for this purpose, Japanese people often use the form によると (according to ~).

Naturally, with this type of prestige around its usage, the most common places where you will see this form is when quoting weather forecasts or newspaper columnists.

So, to talk about something that we heard on the news, for example, we might say ニュースによると and then report what you heard. Other useful phrases include 新聞しんぶんによると (according to the newspaper… ) and 天気てんき予報よほうによると… (according to the weather forecast… ). Engineers will also be familiar with the similar 計算けいさんによると… (according to the calculations… ).

One of the weird uses of によると is that this grammar point can be used to quote yourself and what you heard as the source of the information. In this case, わたしの聞いたところによると (from what I heard…) can be used. Nice to think of myself as someone worthy of being cited!

So whether you are talking about what someone said, what most people think, or even your own insights, these words let you clearly state who said what to whom. Just remember to also practice the form 言わないで (don’t say that) — as it just may save you during your next 喧嘩けんか (argument) with your significant other!

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