How to Use Koto in Japanese and Its Grammatical Functions
Koto (事 or こと) is a word that can be very frustrating for beginning and intermediate students of Japanese. One reason is that it can be used in quite a few very different ways. This article will explore several types of sentences in which you may encounter the word “koto.” We will also show you how to use koto and what “koto” is doing in each of these types of sentences.
How to Use Koto
1) Using “koto” as its dictionary definitions of “thing,” “matter,” “incident,” “circumstance,” etc.
“Koto” can be used in a variety of situations to generally mean “thing(s).” For example:
する事がありません。 Suru koto ga arimasen (There is nothing to do, as in “I’m bored”).
分からない事がたくさんあります。Wakaranai koto ga takusan arimasu (There are many things I don’t understand).
2) Using “koto” to talk about an action or activity
When placed after a verb or a verb phrase, “koto” can turn that verb/verb phrase into what is essentially a long, multi-word noun.
本を読む (hon o yomu) means “[someone] reads/will read books.” But,
本を読む事 (hon o yomu koto) means “the idea/act of [someone] reading books.”
Some common patterns in which “koto” noun-ifies verb phrases are:
a) I have / have not done [verb phrase]
You use this pattern if you want to state whether or not you have ever done a particular activity. Place 事があります (koto ga arimasu) or 事がありません (koto ga arimasen) directly after the past tense dictionary form of the final verb of the verb phrase in question. For example:
アメリカに行った事があります。Amerika ni itta koto ga arimasu (I have been to America).
寿司を食べた事がありません。Sushi o tabeta koto ga arimasen (I have never eaten sushi).
Note that this pattern is not used to describe whether you have done a particular instance of an activity.
For instance, the sentence 家を掃除した事がありません (ie o souji shita koto ga arimasen) would mean “I have never tidied the house”. You could not attach a time word to make sentences such as “I have not tidied the house today” or “I have not tidied the house this month.”
b) I am able / am not able to [verb]
This pattern is very straightforward. Simply place ができます (ga dekimasu) or ができません (ga dekimasen) directly after the dictionary form of the final verb of the verb phrase in question.
ケーキを作る事ができます。Ke-ki o tsukuru koto ga dekimasu (I can make cakes).
ケーキを作る事ができません。Ke-ki o tsukuru koto ga dekimasen (I can’t make cakes).
ケーキを作る事ができません (Ke-ki o tsukuru koto ga dekimasen) and ケーキを作れません (Ke-ki o tsukuremasen) both mean “I can’t make cakes,” and have little to no difference in meaning. (The latter sentence uses the potential (or “able to”) conjugation for “tsukuru”).
In cases when specific instances are being discussed, the preferred pattern to use is the potential conjugation of the verb rather than “[verb] koto ga dekiru” pattern.
However, in many cases the “koto ga dekiru” pattern and the potential conjugation of the verb in question are interchangeable. Because of this, the “koto ga dekiru” pattern is particularly handy for students who have not yet memorized how to conjugate verbs into potential form.
c) I definitively will / will not [verb]
You use this pattern when describing things you have decided to do, or things you are making a habit of doing. You place 事にします directly after the dictionary form of the final verb of the verb phrase in question.
お酒を飲まない事にします。Osake o nomanai koto ni shimasu (I will [make a point to no longer] drink sake).
ビタミンを摂る事にしています。Bitamin o toru koto ni shiteimasu (I [am making a point to] take vitamins).
3) Using “koto” to describe a situation
“Koto” can be used to explain the state of a situation, an upcoming planned activity, or a rule that is in place.
To do so, simply place 事になっています (koto ni natteimasu) after the dictionary form of the final verb of a verb phrase. Or after the final noun in other types of phrases (if after a noun, there must be a に directly after the noun). Because “natteimasu” means “becoming” or “has become,” a good way to remember this pattern is to picture it as “it has come to be that ____ is the situation.”
明日、カナダへ出張する事になっています。Ashita, Kanada e shucchou suru koto ni natteimasu (As it turns out, tomorrow I will be going to Canada for business).
彼と結婚する事になっています。Kare to kekkon suru koto ni natteimasu (As it turns out, he and I will be getting married).
このディスクは書き込み禁止になっています。Kono disuku wa kakikomi kinshi ni natteimasu (As it turns out, you cannot write to this disc).
4) Using “koto” to talk about oneself or another person
If you watch anime, you are probably familiar with the phrase 君の事が好きです (Kimi no koto ga suki desu, “I like/love you”).
When speaking to or about someone other than yourself, adding “koto” after the name of the person in question (or after the word “you”) gives your sentence a somewhat subconsciously deeper level of impact.
This is because you use ____が好きです (___ ga suki desu) to reference anything or anyone, but ____の事が好きです (___no koto ga suki desu) is only used in reference to people.
And only people one has at least a vague personal connection with (for example, you cannot say このソファの事が好きです (kono sofa no koto ga suki desu) for “I like this couch” – the “koto” should be left out). You do not necessarily need to use “koto” when expressing your thoughts or feelings towards a person, however.
彼の事が好きです (Kare no koto ga suki desu) and 彼が好きです (Kare ga suki desu) both mean “I like/love him.” The phrasing in the first sentence is more common when talking about one’s crush or significant other, but both phrasings are viable for such purposes.
彼の事が気になります (Kare no koto ga ki ni narimasu) and 彼が気になります (Kare ga ni ni narimasu) both mean “He’s on my mind,” with little practical difference in meaning.
Just be sure to keep in mind that in both of these examples, the “koto” versions of the sentences would not be applicable for describing people with whom you have no direct connection, such as public figures.
You can also use “Koto” to refer to yourself.
自分の事を話すのが恥ずかしいです。Jibun no koto o hanasu no ga hazukashii desu (It’s embarrassing to talk about myself/oneself).
Here, “koto” also has some elements of our first “koto” meaning (“things” or “matters”).
That is the end of our “koto” article for now! We hope that our explanation of “koto” has helped to illuminate its usage and meanings. If you have any questions about this article, or would like to discuss a usage of “koto” that we neglected to go over, please leave us a comment and let us know!