632 - について
JLPT N3: について (about)
The grammar point in this lesson is, at first glance, deceptively simple-seeming:
Put について directly after a NOUN when you want to say "about NOUN."
とうし の リスク について おしえて ください。
Please teach me about the risks of investing.
Literally: “investment + の + risk + について + teach (and) + please.”
I remember learning about について long ago... and being very happy when I did.
I mean, the word "about" is so useful!
In no time, I was talking about everything using "this について," "that について," "everything について！"
...and, as you may have guessed, my Japanese sounded a bit strange.
When is it appropriate to use について？
I can't seem to find any official grammar source that explains it this way, but in my experience of について, you'll find that it is typically used when you are talking "about" the details or precise information regarding a topic.
That's why we were able to talk "investment risks について" in our first example.
And that's why we can talk "the hit-and-run incident について" in this next example:
おととい の ひきにげ じけん について なにか ききました か。
Have you heard anything (else) about the hit-and-run the day before yesterday?
Literally: “the day before yesterday + の + hit-and-run (causing an injury) + incident + について + something + heard + か.”
Here's where things can get a bit confusing.
↑ In that example, it is clear that the listener already knew that there was a hit-and-run incident the day before yesterday. The speaker is simply asking if the listener knows anything else, or perhaps any further details regarding the incident. For example, maybe they found the person who hit someone with their car. Or maybe they're still looking for that person.
We could not use that Japanese if we wanted to inform the listener that a hit-and-run occurred the day before yesterday. That sentence would be completely different:
おととい、 ひきにげ じけん が あった の しっています か。
Did you hear about the hit-and-run the day before yesterday? // Have you heard about the hit-and-run the day before yesterday?
Literally: "the day before yesterday, + hit-and-run (causing an injury) + incident + が + there was + の + are knowing + か?"
Long story short, just because we would say "about" in English does not mean that we can say について in Japanese.
For example, let's say that you went on a date with someone yesterday, and I'm asking you about your date.
I want to ask: "What did you and your date talk about?"
I should not say this:
✕ なに について はなした？
✕ What did you two talk about?
✕ Literally: “what + について + talked?”
Instead, I need to say something like:
どんな はなし した の？
What did you two talk about?
Literally: “what kind of + talk + did + の？”
《Bonus Note: Checking both of those sentences again, you'll see we have 話した (はなした // talked; spoke) and 話した (はなし した // had a discussion; had a talk). With kanji, they look the same! In the early stages of Japanese, understand which reading is appropriate can be tricky, but once you get to a higher level, it seems obvious which reading is appropriate here. Specifically, we know that the 話した right after どんな is the NOUN 話, then the VERB した, because a NOUN will typically follow どんな.》
To give another example, let's say that you and I are coworkers. Our mutual coworker Sam got hospitalized yesterday after crossing paths with a flock of feral sheep. Of course, everyone at work was talking about it... but you missed work yesterday! So of course, I need to ask if you've heard about Sam.
I should not say this:
✕ さむ に ついて きいた？
✕ Did you hear about Sam?
✕ Literally: “Sam + について + heard?”
The above sentence might make sense if you and I are detectives (partners!), and Sam is a missing person that you and I are looking for. You just asked some of his acquaintances about his recent whereabouts, usually hangouts, etc. Maybe that sentence would work in that situation. I don't know.
It would not, however, work when I'm just asking if you are aware that Sam was hospitalized by some vicious wool-packing beasts. In that case, I would say something like:
サム の こと きいた？
Did you hear about Sam?
Literally: “Sam + の + thing + heard?”
On the other hand, if we were talking about something that involves details, then について is OK to use.
For instance, if you want to tell me that you learned about mammoths in school today, you could say:
きょう は がっこう で マンモス について ならった。
Today at school I learned about (woolly) mammoths.
Literally: “today + は + school + で + mammoth + について + learned.”
Hold on. Let's all just relax for a second. We don't need to get too stressed out about these usage guidelines for using について.
Even if we use について when it's not very natural to do so, Japanese people will understand us.
We'll just sound a bit strange.
With the above explanations in mind, let's see how you fare with a couple more example sentences.
Oh, and note our formula:
NOUN ＋ について
かくへいき について ろんぶん を かいています。
I am writing a thesis paper about nuclear weapons.
Literally: “nuclear weapons + について + thesis / essay + を + am writing.”
きのう、 かのじょ と けっこんしき の ひどり について はなしあった。
Yesterday, I talked to her about the date for the wedding.
Literally: “yesterday, + she / girlfriend + と + wedding ceremony + の + appointed day + について + talked together / discussed.”
Note: For example, the speaker talked to her about what date they should have their wedding on.
That's it for this one.
I hope I didn't scare you too much about how and when to use について.
Comparing について to the English usage of "about" can be helpful, I think... but the heart of the issue here is simply thinking in Japanese rather than thinking in English.
It takes a while to reach a point where you don't have to think in English anymore, but it is attainable. Then your brain will jump back and forth between Japanese and whatever other languages you have swirling around in your head. Yay.