Japanese Grammar

Generic Nouns: もの and こと

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Last time, you learned how Japanese interjection and other emotional expressions work, e.g. “あのう、ペンをしてくれない (Excuse me, can you lend me a pen)?” and “成長せいちょうしたもんだ (You are matured).” もの and こと can express really various things, which sometimes confuses learners. In this lesson, we would like to focus on what function the generic nouns: もの and こと have.

Explanation for How もの and こと Work

Table of Contents
Basic Ideas of もの and こと
Sentence Patterns with もの and こと

By “generic nouns,” we mean nouns which don’t have a particular meaning themselves, but take an important part in context like “thing” in English. Nouns like “cat” indicate only one meaning, however, the meaning of nouns like “thing” varies depending on the context. In Japanese grammatical terminology, they are called “formal nouns,” but if this confuses you, please just ignore it.

Basic Ideas of もの and こと

Tangible Things Intangible Things
もの: something to drink
もの: something to eat
美味おいしいもの: something delicious
しいもの: things you want
かんがごと: something to think about
心配しんぱいごと: something to worry about
たのしいこと: something enjoyable
やりたいこと: things you want to do

They are written in both hiragana and kanji and こと sometimes becomes ごと. Basically もの indicates tangible things like something you can possess and こと indicates intangible things like something you can experience. However, the definition is not very clear. For example, if you say “love is a wonderful thing,” which one should you use, もの or こと? The answer is あい素晴すばらしいものだ. You have to just memorize such vague ones.

Sentence Patterns with もの and こと

Xのこと: Things about X

[あなたは] 結婚けっこんしたのことを おぼえて(いる / いますか)?
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb
Do [you] remember things about the day when [we] got married?

Xのこと is used with nouns which indicate people, places, date, etc. and express things about the nouns. If you don’t use Xのこと in the above example, it would be like “結婚した日を覚えている (Do you remember the date when we got married)?” That’s a big difference, isn’t it?

ごとのことかんがえて(いた / いました)。
[I] was thinking things about my job.
宿しゅくだいのことわすれたい(です)。
As for things about the homework, [I] want to forget [them].

When verbs or adjectives indicate knowledge or emotion, both sentences with and without のこと make sense.

イチローのことをって(いる / いますか)?
Do [you] know things about Ichiro?
イチローって(いる / いますか)?
Do [you] know Ichiro?
なかさんのことが きなん(だ / です)。
[I] like Tanaka-san (*Both have the same meaning).

You can replace のこと with について, which is the counterpart to “about” in English depending on the context. について sounds more formal than のこと.

結婚けっこんしたについておぼえて(いる / いますか)?
ごとについてかんがえて(いた / いました)。
宿しゅくだいについてわすれたい(です)。
イチローについてって(いる / いますか)?
なかさん についてのことが きなん(だ / です)。

Verb + ことだ: Expressing Essential Actions

[それは] たくさんほんむことだ
[Topic / Subject] Essential Action
[It’s] by reading a lot of books.
*Said when you’re asked “how can I improve my Japanese?”

When you attach だ to the nominalizer こと, your speech indicates essential actions. Since this may have a touch of advice, your speech would sound condescending if you directly used this with those who are higher in status.

だいなことはひとしんじること / です)よ。
What is important is trusting people.
ほんにつけたいなら、ローマ使つかわないこと / です)。
If [you] want to master Japanese, don’t use the Roman alphabets.
睡眠すいみんかんらさないこと / です)。
Don’t decrease sleeping hours.

If you apply the negative form for ことだ, your speech will indicate unnecessary actions. Be careful, the negative form of ことだ here should be ことない. ことじゃない indicates plain negative sentences.

ローマ使つかうことない(です)。
[You] don’t have to use the Roman alphabets.
ローマ使つかうことじゃない(です)。
[It’s] not using the Roman alphabets.
睡眠すいみんかんらすことない(です)。
[You] don’t have to decrease sleeping hours.
睡眠すいみんかんらすことじゃない(です)。
[It’]s not decreasing sleeping hours.

Verb + ものだ: Expressing Ideal States

大学生だいがくせい たくさんほんむものだ
Topic / Subject Ideal State
University students must be the ones that read a lot of books.

Verb + ものだ indicates ideal states. This is generally used with the topic particle は and expresses public opinions. Thus, you cannot use this for specific people and things. Be careful. Even the topic part is sometimes omitted (*Look at the third example).

挨拶あいさつげんよくするもの / です)。
Greetings must be the ones that are said lively.
あいけても、アスリートはかないもの / です)。
Even if [they] lose, athletes must be the ones that don’t cry.
こまったら、たすもの / です)。
If [people] are in trouble, [people] must be the ones that help each other.

Verb + ものだ can also indicate essential states which include bad states. In this context, adjectives can also be used.

あかちゃんはよくもの / です)。
Babies must be the ones that often cry.
くすりにがもの / です)。
Medicines must be bitter ones.

ものだ has one more function, which is to explain causation, backgrounds, impacts, etc. of events. This is often seen in news. The following sentence is a quote from actual news given by CNET Japan.

かいてき損失そんしつだいぶんは、UberウーバーのドライバーにたいするじょきんによるものだGuptaグプタべた。

Gupta attributed the majority of the losses globally to subsidies for Uber drivers.

…もの: Reason
ほんみたくない。 むずかしいんだ(もん / もの)。
Conclusion Reason
As for books, [I] don’t want to read [them] because [they] are difficult.

…もの has the same function as …から to indicate reasons, but sounds more casual. This is generally used by women and children. Unlike …から, …もの can only be used at the end of sentences, i.e. you cannot make compound sentences by using もの. If you say もん, your speech will sound more casual.

くすりみたくない。にがい(もん / もの)。
As for medicines, [I] don’t want to take [it] because [it] is bitter. 
イチローはにんだよ。かっこいいんだ(もん / もの)。
Ichiro is popular because [he] is cool.

Summary

  1. もの indicates tangible things while こと indicates intangible things.
  2. Xのこと indicates “things about X.”
  3. Verb + ことだ indicates essential actions.
  4. Verb + ものだ indicates ideal and essential states.
  5. …もの has the same meaning as から, but sounds more causal, feminine, and childlike.

This is how もの and こと work. Because of the large number of the functions, you might be able to memorize all of them at once. Don’t worry. Frankly speaking, the frequency of use is not very high apart from the No.2 in the summary. In fact, expressions like attaching something to nouns has an important role. Next, you will learn more about prefix and suffix.