Thing in Japanese – Meaning of Koto and Mono

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If you don't already know, in Japanese the word もの (物) and こと (事) means "Thing" but what is the difference between the 2? When to use each of them in a sentence or phrase?

Meaning of Mono - もの [物]

The mono it is used to refer to something physical, concrete, something tangible, concrete, something that can be touched; a sensitive and touchable thing. Something that is perceived by touch; tangible. For example: a wallet, a cabbage, a door, or a coin.

Mono can give the idea of an object, article, material, substance, possessions, property, belongings and anything. It can also be used to emphasize emotion, judgment and etc. and it can be used to indicate a common occurrence in the past, a general trend, or something that must happen. 

もの can also be contracted for もん in informal speech.

Examples of using mono:

sono kuroi mono wa neko kanaa.
I wonder if this black thing is a cat?

oishii mono ga tabetai.
I want to eat something good.

Meaning of Koto - こと [事]

The koto it is a conceptual, intangible thing, that is, a thing that you cannot touch, take; something untouchable. Or something not noticeable by touch; impalpable and incorporeal. Examples of unpalatable things: a victory, a habit, a wish, or an incident. 

Koto can also give the idea of interest, incident, fact, reason, case, work, business, etc.

Examples of using koto:

ii koto wa arimasen.
There is nothing good.

daiji na koto o oshiemasu.
I will tell you something important.

kinou no koto wa sumimasen deshita.
I'm sorry about what happened yesterday. (yesterday thing)

どう ​​いうこと?
dou iu koto?
What is the meaning of this?

Comparison between Mono and Koto

Let’s do a brief example of 2 equal phrases plus one has koto and the other mono, and that gives the phrase a different idea.

Taberu koto
The act of eating, Food

Taberu mono
Eat something

It is also possible to transform an abstract idea into concrete / tangible, see the example below:

  • Ōうして行かないの? Dōshite ikanai no?
  • だって、忙しいもの。Datte, isogashī mono. 

A curiosity is that the difference in tangibility between mono and koto has phonological roots. Nasal consonants / m / and / n / are associated with subjectivity, but not / k /, which is a velar consonant (in this case, denoting objectivity). There is also the issue of voicing. / m / and / n / are voiced sounds, / k / and / t / are voiceless consonants, which also contributes to subjectivity vs. phonological symbolism objectivity

Credits to: Makino & Tsutsui 2011: 50-58 and André Pinto - Kitsune Japanese lessons

What does koto mean in the phrase I love you?

The word koto [こと] can literally mean things in a figurative sense. But its use in phrases like I love you [あなたのことが好きだ]. When we use the expression koto in a sentence like I love you, we try to say that we like everything in the person. As well?

In many anime, dramas and in real life, we can see people using the expression I love you this way:

  • anata no koto ga dai suki desu
  • あなたのことが大好きです

If we take the koto [こと] the phrase will continue to mean I love you or I like you. So what is the use and meaning of koto in that sentence? Some claim that the koto [こと] adds an indirect layer, so the Japanese usually use koto in phrases like I love you.

As the koto literally means figurative things, we can say that the koto [こと] in the sentence more encompasses the object (you). It would be like saying I love everything about you, or everything about you.

The koto [こと] makes it clear that you love the person in a romantic way, rather than simply saying that you like the person as someone. It is quite essential, especially when we use the expression suki desu.

If we use koto [こと] we are showing a genuine love, which focuses on the quality and inside of the person, on things not seen. This expression conveyed the depth of his love for the person.  

Saying I love you without the koto sounds kind of superficial, using the koto we are saying that we like the person’s presence, his charm, his qualities, everything. It increases the degree of suki (好き) which also means just liking it.

Going deeper into the expression koto

We can illustrate the koto as follows:

Why do Japanese people use koto in phrases like I love you?

Imagine that the first point is you, imagine that the second point is you with the koto (あなたのこと). When we use koto we are focusing on the object and the verb. We can use koto in sentences with several verbs even though a literal translation into English does not make sense, such as:

  • I want to hug you
  • あなたを抱きしめたい
  • Anata o dakishimetai

We can switch to あなたのこと to give focus and focus on the object (you). Although it literally means I want to embrace everything in you, the phrase is not wrong. The fact that the phrase has the word あなたのこと does not mean that we are literally trying to say everything about you.

The expression こと can also be more specific, instead of covering all things. At no time do we use the expression everything in the phrases mentioned in the article.

Japanese words are often very indirect and comprehensive, which makes understanding difficult even among Japanese. I read a discussion on stackexchange that talked about exactly that, which made me write this article. There I realized that even the Japanese have difficulty understanding the real use of koto.

As much as it means things, your kanji can also give the idea of something important, a fact, a reason and a possibility. It is really complicated to understand the meaning of Japanese words without experiencing it and using it daily. What is your opinion? We look forward to your comments to improve this discussion on the word koto.

Using Koto and Mono to learn Words

There is a way to double your learning in Japanese using the expressions mono and koto. We can see this in the video that I will leave below Yamada Tarou, or in our guide Verbs or Nouns? Transform your Japanese studies.

In summary, we can understand that some verbs become words when using koto and mono, try to understand this by looking at a list of words below:

  • Taberu [食べる] - Eating = Tabemono [食べ物] - Food;
  • Gataru [語る] - Count; Narrate = Monogatari [物語] - History;
  • Shi [し] - Verb suru + Koto [こと] - Thing = Shigoto [仕事] - Work;

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4 thoughts on “Coisa em Japonês – Significado de Koto e Mono”

  1. Tbm estou estudando japonês. Gostaria de um artigo sobre como encontrar mangás. Leio no sen manga mas a qualidade não é boa. As vezes não consigo entender o caractere de tão borrado. Tbm uso um app de reconhecimento de kanji que ajuda muito.

  2. I'm also studying Japanese. I would like an article on how to find mangos. I read in no manga but the quality is not Good. Sometimes I can't understand the smudged character. I also use a kanji recognition app which helps a lot.