Language | WELL SAID

A grammar point you won’t need to be told twice

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Takako ni kaeri ni gyūnyū o katte-kuru yō ni itta-n-da kedo. I asked Takako to buy milk on her way home.

Situation 1: Little Mariko and her mother are at home. Mariko takes out some milk from the refrigerator and then talks to her mother.

まり子: お母さん、牛乳がもうなくなるよ。

母: たか子に帰りに牛乳を買ってくるように言ったんだけど、忘れていないかなあ。

Mariko: Okāsan, gyūnyū ga mō nakunaru yo.

Haha: Takako ni kaeri ni gyūnyū o katte kuru yō ni itta-n-dakedo, wasurete-inai ka nā.

Mariko: Mom, we’ll run out of milk soon.

Mother: I asked Takako to buy milk on her way home, but I wonder if she forgot.

Today, we’ll look at the Xように言(い)う pattern and some related expressions. Xように言う means to “tell someone to do X,” and it’s used when a person reports what they told someone to do, like how the mother told Takako to get milk. X represents a verb in its dictionary or nai-form that conveys intention — generally requests, orders or advice.

Other verbs expressing communication can be used in place of 言う. They include 頼(たの)む (to ask), 伝(つた)える (to tell) and 命(めい)じる (to order). To ask someone something politely, X should be used in polite form, as in:

小野(おの)さんが戻(もど)られましたら、御(ご)連絡(れんらく)くださいますようお伝えいただけますか。 (Could you tell Ms. Ono to contact us when she gets back to the office?)

When the speaker reports what was said to them, Y(person)にXように言われる is usually the pattern used:

課長(かちょう)に報告書(ほうこくしょ)を出(だ)すように言われた。 (The section chief told me to assign the report.)

The meaning of Xように言う is similar when X is used in its imperative or prohibitive forms along with と言っている/言われている/書(か)いてある and so on. However, this pattern is more direct and conveys a stronger impression:

この機械(きかい)に触(さわ)るなと言われました。 (I was told not to touch this machine.)

Situation 2: Ms. Tamachi complains to her colleague Ms. Gray about a new employee.

田町: 新人に何度も同じことを言っているんだけど、 わかってもらえないの。

グレイ: うーん、ただくり返すだけじゃあまり効果がない ように思うけど。

Tamachi: Shinjin ni nando mo onaji koto o itte-iru-n dakedo, wakatte moraenai no.

Gray: Ūn, tada kurikaesu dake ja amari kōka ga nai yō ni omou kedo.

Tamachi: I’ve been telling the new person the same thing many times, but he doesn’t seem to understand.

Gray: Well, I don’t think you’re going to get results just by repeating (things).

The pattern Xように思(おも)う means “I think X” and is used when the speaker wants to express what they think in a roundabout way. In this case, X can be the plain form of a verb, adjective or noun sentence:

ドアをたたく音(おと)が聞(き)こえたように思った。 (I thought I could hear someone knocking on the door.)

Bonus Dialogue: Continuing on from the discussion in Situation 2.

田町: この前(まえ)も、指示(しじ)した仕事(しごと)が終(お)わったらすぐに知(し)らせるように言ったんだけど、時間(じかん)がたってから、言ってきたの。

グレイ: それは困(こま)るね。でも、慎重(しんちょう)にやっていたんじゃない?

田町: ああ、そうか。そうかもしれない。いつもとっても緊張(きんちょう)しているもの。

グレイ: 私(わたし)も新人(しんじん)のころ、課長に資料(しりょう)を作(つく)るように言われたんだけど、すごく時間がかかっちゃったんだ。

田町: そうね。私も前、もっと速(はや)く仕事をするように言われて、とてもあせったの。そのうえ、間違 (まちが)いを指摘(してき)されて、落(お)ち込(こ)んじゃった。

グレイ: 新人のころを思い出すと、大変(たいへん)だったことがいっぱいあるよね。

田町: そうね。…彼(かれ)にあまり気(き)にしないように言っておこう。

Tamachi: Earlier, I told him to let me know as soon as he finished the job I’d instructed him to do, but he told me way after.

Gray: That’s a problem. But he was doing it carefully, wasn’t he?

Tamachi: Oh, that might be the case. He always looks so nervous.

Gray: When I was a new employee, I was told by my boss to create some documents, but it took me a really long time.

Tamachi: Yeah. In the past, I was also told to work more quickly and got flustered. And then my boss would point out my mistakes and I got depressed.

Gray: Thinking back to what we did when we were new, we had a hard time, you know.

Tamachi: Yeah. I’ll tell him not to worry so much.