752 - とは ([definitions])

JLPT N2: とは ([definitions])

Here we have a short, simple — and yet very important — lesson.

とは is used when stating the meaning or definition of something.

The patterns goes like this:

[word being defined] とは [meaning].

The new word that is being defined comes right before とは, and it is a NOUN:


四季とは、春・夏・秋・冬の四つの季節のことである。
しき とは、 はる・なつ・あき・ふゆ の よっつ の きせつ の こと である。
Shiki refers to the four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.
Literally: “four seasons + とは, + spring + summer + fall / autumn + winter + の + four (things) + の + season + の + thing + is (=である).”


Make sense? Once again, our pattern is:

NOUNとは

とは has the same meaning as というのは, which we'll see in an N3 lesson.

The primary difference between the two is that とは tends to be used in written language.

The phrase coming after とは will often contain phrases like ことだものだ、etc.

We saw a form of ことだ in our last example (because である is just another form [typically a written form] of だ or です):


四季とは、春・夏・秋・冬の四つの季節のことである
しき とは、 はる・なつ・あき・ふゆ の よっつ の きせつ の こと である。
Shiki refers to the four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.
Literally: “four seasons + とは, + spring + summer + fall / autumn + winter + の + four (things) + の + season + の + thing + is (=である).”


Two more examples:


湯せんとは調理法の一つで、お菓子作りによく用いられるものです
ゆせん とは ちょうりほう の ひとつ で、 おかし づくり に よく もちいられる もの です。
A water bath is a method of cooking. It is often used when making desserts.
Literally: “bain-marie / water bath / double boiler + とは + cooking method + の + one (thing) + で, + sweets / confections + making + に + often + is used + thing + です.”
Note: I'm not sure what the most common English is for this. Wikipedia calls it a "baine-marie," but I've only heard people say "water bath."


氷点下とは摂氏0度以下の温度のことです
ひょうてんか とは せっし れいど いか の おんど の こと です。
Below freezing means under zero degrees Celsius.
Literally: “below freezing + とは + Celsius + zero degrees + below + の + temperature + の + thing + です.”


In casual speech, you can use って in place of とは (or というのは).

This is extremely useful:


ところで、ハザードランプって何?
ところで、 ハザードランプ って なに?
By the way, what are hazard lights?
Literally: “by the way, + hazard lights (lit. “hazard lamp”) + って + what?”


That's all for this one.

If it doesn't feel entirely embedded into your brain yet, you might want to read it from the top... or just keep your eyes peeled for とは written in various books. As a student, you'll probably see it a lot.

Also, aside from seeing the very similar というのは in an N3 lesson, we use って quite often in our casual sentence examples.

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