Monday, September 23, 2019

と vs. って

In Japanese, the to と particle and tte って particle are quoting particles: they're used to quote things. It's often said one is the formal quoting particle while the other is the causal quoting particle, but there are various situations where you can't just replace one by the other.

In this article, I'll list the differences between to と and tte って, for reference.


The to と particle has other functions besides quotation. These are functions that the tte って particle doesn't have.

  • neko to inu

    Cats and dogs.
    (parallel marker.)
  • *neko tte inu
    (doesn't mean the same thing.)
  • hashiru to tsukareru
    If [I] run [I] get tired.
    (conditional to.)
  • *hashiru tte tsukareru
    (doesn't mean the same thing.)

Similarly, the tte って particle has functions besides quotation that the to と particle doesn't have.

  • Tarou tte dare?
    Who is Tarou?
    (tte って topic marker.)
  • Tarou to dare?
    *Who is tarou? (invalid.)
    Tarou and who? (valid, but the meaning is different.)

Phrases like nani wo shitatte なにをしたって are synonymous with nani wo shitemo 何をしても, "no matter what you do." This tte って comes from the tote とて particle(日本国語大辞典:たって), so it's a different tte って.


The to と particle can be used with all sorts of mimetic words. The tte って particle, however, can only be used with phonomimes (onomatopoeia). It can't be used with phenomimes (gitaigo 擬態語), and psychomimes (gijougo 擬情語).

Below we have an animate phonomime, a sound an animal makes:

  • neko ga nyaa to naita
    The cat cried "meow."
  • neko ga nyaa tte naita
    (same meaning.)

Below, an inanimate phonomime, a sound a thing makes:

  • kaminari ga gorogoro to natta
    The thunder made a thundering sound.
  • kaminari ga gorogoro tte natta
    (same meaning.)

Next, a phenomime:

  • pikapika to kagayaita
    Shining with sparkles.
  • *pikapika tte kagayaita

Finally, a psychomime:

  • wakuwaku to kitai shita
    Expected excitedly.
  • *wakuwaku tte kitai shita


There are various cases where tte って can't be replaced by to と, but can be replaced by to iu という, forming a relative clause.

  • jinsei tte mon da
    The thing which is life.
  • *jinsei to mon da
    (doesn't mean the same thing.)
  • {jinsei to iu} mono da
    The thing [that] {is called life}.

Below, some examples which report hearsay.(Hirose and Nawata, 2016:5-6)

  • {Tarou ga bengoshi da} tte hanashi
    The story that says: {Tarou is a lawyer}.
  • *{Tarou ga bengoshi da} to hanashi
  • {Tarou ga bengoshi da} to iu hanashi
    The story that says: {Tarou is a lawyer}.


The tte って particle is said to be the casual variant of the to と particle. This gives the impression that in causal speech you wouldn't use to と, but this isn't true: the to と particle is normally used in casual speech with verbs of thought.(Nilep and Fujimoto, 2017:4–5)

Verbs of speech and sound, like "to say," iu いう, "to hear," kiku 聞く, "to answer," kotaeru 答える, and so on, normally get the tte って particle in casual speech.

  • muri da tte itta
    "It's impossible," [he] said.

Verbs of thought, like omou 思う and kangaeru 考える, both translating roughly to "to think," normally take the to と particle, even in casual speech.

  • muri da to omotta
    "It's impossible," [he] thought.

Final Particle

Both particles can appear at the end of sentences with an omitted verb, however, since the omitted verb tends to be "to say," most of the time only the tte って quoting particle is seen at the end of sentences.

  • shiranai
    [I] don't know.
  • shiranai tte
    (two meanings.)
    1. [Someone else] said: [I] don't know.
      [He] said that [he] doesn't know.
    2. [I] said: [I] don't know.
      [I already] told [you] that [I] don't know.
  • shiranai to
    (three meanings.)
    • The same two meanings that tte って has, plus the conditional to と. When you have a conditional with an omitted consequence, it's normally assumed the consequence is something like dame ダメ, "not good."
    • shiranai to dame
      If doesn't know: not good.
    • To avoid it becoming "not good," one must know. In other words:
    • "I have to know it."
      "I have to learn it."



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