508 - とは (surprise)

Sometimes our N1 and N2 grammar can be a bit obscure, but the grammar in both our last N2 lesson and this lesson are highly common in everyday situations:


JLPT N1: とは (surprise)

There are a variety of ways that we can use とは, and we'll be covering them gradually throughout our lessons.

Here, though, we're looking at how とは can be used to describe deep feelings of surprise or disbelief about something.

Here's an example:

家族全員クリスマスイブに生まれたとは、すごい偶然ですね。
かぞく ぜんいん クリスマスイブ に うまれた とは、 すごい ぐうぜん です ね。
That’s such a coincidence that everyone in the family was born on Christmas Eve.
Literally: “family + all members + Christmas Eve + に + was born + とは, + amazing / very + coincidence + です + ね.”

We have a surprising fact, "All family members were born on Christmas Eve," and then we have an expression of surprise, which is "That's such a coincidence." We combine these two phrases with とは:

[unexpected fact] とは [expression of surprise or disbelief].

Perhaps it would have been more helpful if I had translated the above sentence like this:

To think that everyone in the family was born on Christmas Eve. It's such a coincidence!

Or maybe you can think of an even better translation.


Here's another example:


あんなに大人っぽい翔子さんがまだ高校生だとは、ほんとうに驚いた。
あんな に おとなっぽい しょうこさん が まだ こうこうせい だ とは、 ほんとうに おどろいた。
Shoko-san seems like such an adult, I was really surprised that she’s still in high school.
Literally: “that much + adult-like, + Shoko-san + が + still + high school student + だ + とは, + truly + was surprised.”


Here again, we see:

[unexpected fact] とは [expression of surprise or disbelief].

A weird half-translation might help:

Seems-like-such-an-adult Shoko-san is still a high school student とは I was truly surprised.


As we've seen so far, とは comes after the unexpected fact and before the expression of surprise.

However, sometimes the sentence order will be inverted, like this:

[expression of surprise or disbelief]. [unexpected fact] とは.

An example:

ああびっくりした。まさか旅先で社長に会うとは
ああ びっくり した。 まさか たびさき で しゃちょう に あう とは。
Well, that surprised me. To think that I’d run into the company president on vacation!
Literally: “oh, + (I) was surprised. + never / can’t believe + destination (of a journey) + で + company president + に + meet + とは.”


What about construction rules and whatnot?

Yeah, we're not looking at those in this lesson.

Just know that plain form words must come directly before とは.

If you're at an appropriate level to be studying for the N1 test, then this type of construction should feel quite natural to you by now (and if you're not there yet, just be patient--you will get a sense for the language in time).


Finally, note that なんて is a more conversational form of とは.

I actually use なんて quite a bit more than I use とは:


学校一の問題児だった荒木が警察官になったなんて、信じられない。
がっこう いち の もんだいじ だった あらき が けいさつかん に なった なんて、 しんじられない。
To think that Araki, the biggest problem child in school, would become a police officer. I can’t believe it.
Literally: “school + one + の + problem child + was + Araki + が + police officer + に + became + なんて, + (I) can’t believe (it).”

In the future, we're going to have an entire N2 lesson on なんて. Something to look forward to!


As I mentioned earlier, とは (and なんて) are used in speech quite commonly. So it is worth your while to master this grammar point, even if you don't plan to take the N1 test anytime soon.



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