The mysterious “といって聞かない” (to itte kikanai) and it’s explanation

By | September 8, 2015

Studying a foreign language never gets old because you always have new things to learn. In Japanese, once you put in the time and effort to learn the grammar and a good chunk of the Kanji characters, you’ll get to a point where you can start reading native-level Japanese little by little. But there will always be new words and new characters to pick up.

Early on, the grammar differences make each sentence a mini puzzle, but even after several years of study you may come across sentences that are simple with no new words, yet even after searching through a dictionary you just don’t get it. In cases like this you can just skip over the text, or decide to go the final step and ask a Japanese person.

Recently I was reading a popular novel and came across one of these cryptic phrases. The context is that the mother is talking to the father about their daughter wanting to visit the father.


(mou doushite mo, musume ga ikitai to itte kikanai no yo)

Regardless of your level, you can look up most of these words and figure out their meanings. However the part “いって聞かない” is what caught me off guard. To start with, each of the verbs there can have multiple meanings:

  • いって => said (言う) or went (行って)   [it’s pretty clear it’s the former]
  • 聞かない => will not ask or will not listen

Actually, the multiple meanings isn’t that bad – the problem was that even thinking of all possibilities I still couldn’t get the pieces to fit together in my head.

I asked my wife, and her explanation made things very clear. The phrase “といって聞かない” can be more easily understood by writing it in the following way:

  • と言って、人になんて言われても聞かない。

This would be translated in English as

  • …says X, and doesn’t listen no matter what she/he is told.

In this case this means that the daughter is persistently wanting to go see her Dad and won’t take no for an answer. Here is a full translation of the original quote:

  • Our daughter is saying she wants to go no matter what, and won’t listen to anyone who tells her otherwise.

In retrospect, this sentence wasn’t really that complicated, but it’s natural for these sort of challenges to crop up in the study of a foreign language.

I think one reason I got stuck on this is that I was somehow thinking the mother was doing the asking (or the listening), but since the mother’s name isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is the default to assume the previous subject (the daughter, from “娘が”) is the one doing the action. The words “どうしても” (no matter what) and ”のよ” (combination of particles which give a feminine, assertive feel) also are hints to figure out the meaning.

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3 thoughts on “The mysterious “といって聞かない” (to itte kikanai) and it’s explanation

  1. Kei

    That’s why I enjoy studying Japanese – there’s always something new to discover! I also enjoy this blog because you provide new phrases that I can learn and use in my everyday conversations. Thanks for explaining といって聞かない!

  2. errg

    Thanks for this! I came across a similar phrase in the Manga “Monster” (the example is from Vol 5 Chapter 6) and went through more or less the same process as you, although in this case it was even more confusing since the いって was abbreviated and 聞かない was just written きかない (I thought it was from 利く)… But it’s basically exactly the same meaning as your example:


    Anyway, thanks for your help!

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Sure, glad to help! Let me know if you need help with any other phrases.


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