A useful phrase to know when having regular conversations in Japanese is と言えば (to ieba). How do you use “to ieba” in Japanese?
It translates as “speaking of” in English, and it’s used when you want to focus on something that a person mentioned at an earlier part of the conversation.
Kinō watashi wa michi ni hebi o mita. Hebi ga suki janai yo.
Yesterday I saw a snake on the street. I don’t like snakes!
Hebi toieba, dōbutsuen ni wa atarashikute ōkina mono ga aru.
Speaking of snakes, the zoo has a new big one.
The format for using to ieba is fairly simple. If you want to say “speaking of ~” where the squiggly line (~) is the thing you want to talk about, you simply say ～と言えば in Japanese.
- 猫といえば (Neko to ieba) = Speaking of cats…
- 中国といえば (Chūgoku to ieba) = Speaking of China…
- 東京での運転と言えば (Tōkyō de no unten toieba) = Speaking of driving in Tokyo…
It’s a pretty straightforward word to use and understand. What interesting is the particle it uses, と.
The Connector と “to”
と is often used as a connector of sorts. As you see from と言えば, it basically takes the place of the word “of” in “speaking of…”
It is also used extensively when quoting other people, although it doesn’t really have a counterpart in English for those situations. You could think of it like a spoken quotation if you will.
Heiki da to iimashita.
He said it’s fine.
Usually what the other person said will be in brackets, the exact same way that we would use “quotation marks”.
“Heiki da” to iimashita.
He said “it’s fine.”
So as you can see, these are the Japanese quotation marks: 「」and you would use them exactly the same way as the English quotation marks.
For the most part, whenever you are quoting someone’s words in this way you will want to make sure that you put the part that is being quoted into its simplest verb form.
“Aishiteru” to iimashita.
I said “I love you.”
Unless you’re trying to be very specific, like if you are making a point that what was said was at a particular level of politeness.
“Aishite imasu” to iimashita. Sore wa yakkai deshita.
I said “I love you” (in a formal way). It was awkward.
And you should also know that a lot of times in colloquial speech, the quotation marker と will get changed to って.
“Aishiteru” tte itta.
I said “I love you.”
I see it written as って a lot more than と in manga. I also hear って more often in anime.
Where Else Does と get used?
There are some other phrases that you’ll probably want to know when learning Japanese that use the と (or って) quotation particle:
-When asking how to pronounce something:
Kono kanji wa nan to iimasu ka?
How do you say this kanji?
-When asking what something is:
“Kabuki” tte nan desu ka?
What is “Kabuki”?
-When asking for a translation of a word:
“Tako”‘ wa eigo de nan to yu imi desu ka?
What does “タコ” mean in English?
Note that the word “to say” in its plain form (言う or いう) is actually pronounced like “yu” rather than the “iu” that it’s written as.
-When you are thinking of something:
Kanojo wa yasashii to omou.
I think that she is kind.
And there you have guys. You should understand “to ieba” and be able to use it, and you know a little more about the quotation particle と, and its informal version って.
Let me know with a comment below if that all made sense.
If you want some more examples, or if you’ve got some better explanations that you’d like to share with anyone else who’s reading, then let me know!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: