On the (possible) origin of 「出来る」

I was just working on an article (one of my 80 drafts) about the difference between the potential form and 「ことができる」 when an amazing insight hit me! I didn’t want to clutter up that article so I decided to write about it separately in this post.

I was discussing the potential form and how only 「する」 had this curious exception of using a completely different verb: 「できる」. While I never thought much about it these many years, with some Chinese under my belt now, I suddenty realized that “出来” was also used in Chinese to indicate potential!

In Chinese, “出来” means to “come out” and you can see various examples of this here.

叫全家人都出来, 我好给他们拍照。
Ask the whole family to come out so that I can take their photograph.

You may be wondering what this has to do with 「出来る」 but what the dictionary doesn’t tell you is that this “出来” is often combined with a verb to indicate that the verb is able to be performed. For example, “听得出来” means “able to hear”, basically the same definition as 「聞こえる」 in Japanese. The listening is coming out, therefore you can hear it. I guess it does kind of make sense, in a weird Chinese sort of way.

I harvested the following example from Google since my Chinese is not too good. So I hope I’m not making any mistakes here in the translation.

Can you hear what song it is?

Some of you may be wondering why there a “能” in there as well which seems redundant. Yeah well, sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not. (See, I told you I wasn’t very good at this.)

Chinese grammar (if indeed, there is such a thing) doesn’t seem very consistent but my guess is when you have a subject (in this case 你), you need 能 to act as the verb. The 得 (which is kind of like の but only for verbs) kind of rendered 听 a description rather than a traditional verb, hence the need for 能.

So things are a bit different for the negative case because you use 不 and don’t need 得. Here’s another similar example I pulled from Google.

Can’t you hear who I am?

Please feel free to correct me on any of this as I’m pulling these explanations out of my ass as I’m writing it.

Chinesepod has a great podcast discussing “不出来” and “得出来” so I encourage you to check it out. You can also find many additional podcasts with dialogues using “出来” by using the search box. Sorry, I can’t give you a direct link to the search results since it seems to POST and not GET. (John, this is a tiny suggestion for you.)


Anyway, I hope you can see how “出来” means more than just “come out” and is used to express potential as well. So the fact that Japanese uses a verb with the exact same kanji for a similar purpose seems a bit too much for mere coincidence. Could 「出来る」 be some kind of weird Japanized version of “出来”, originally derived from Chinese? Sounds like a good topic for a research paper. All I can say is it’s mighty suspicious that only 「する」 has this weird exception of becoming 「出来る」 unlike every other verb in the whole Japanese language.


Kim pointed out something that I completely forgot about. Another odd potential exception is 「あり得る」 from 「ある」. Is the use of the kanji 「得」 here just another coincidence? The suspicion is growing…

The various uses of 「中」

「中」 is one of those essential kanji that anybody who knows any kanji will more than likely already know. Beginners will probably learn it first as 「なか」 and in compounds such as 「中国」. However, in this intermediate post, I’d like to discuss two other usages that I’ve had to figure out on my own. Now you don’t have to.

Using 「ちゅう」 instead of 「~している」

「中」 can be attached to a noun, in order to indicate that the noun is currently taking place. This essentially takes the place of 「している」 and means pretty much the same thing. In this usage, 「中」 is always read as 「ちゅう」. This may be obvious but the noun must be an actionable item such as “search” or “investigate”. Basically, it’s any noun that can be followed by 「する」 such as 「仕事」 or 「勉強」. You can’t say for example 「体中」(からだちゅう) because 「体する」 or “doing body” makes no sense.

検索中 – searching
勉強中 – studying
考え中 – thinking

「考え中」 is an interesting example because it is a noun that came originally from a verb. But this is not commonly done universally. For example, nobody really says 「思い中」 or 「売り中」. I would consider 「考え中」 as an expression of it’s own.

1) 今考え中だから、ちょっと静かにしてくんない? – I’m thinking now so can you be a little quiet?

This usage of 「中」 is simply a more concise way to say [noun]をしている. You will often see it used as simple status updates such as computer wait screens (or my current Twitter status).

Using 「じゅう」 as throughout or all over

Another usage is to attach 「中」 to a noun to talk about the noun throughout or all over. In this usage, the reading is 「じゅう」 and you can tell the difference from the previous usage because the noun is not actionable. Instead, the noun must have some kind of length whether physical or in time. Unlike the previous example, 「体中」(からだじゅう) is a perfectly correct example. In this case, it means “all over the body” and not “doing body”.

1) 事故のせいで、体中が傷だらけだ。 – Due to fault of the accident, body is full of injuries all over.

Another common usage is with periods of time such as 「今日」 or 「一日中」 to indicate throughout the entire time period. One interesting thing to note is that 「今日中」 means “within today” while 「一日中」 means “the whole day”.

1) 今日中にやらなければならない。- I have to do it by today.
2) 一日中やっても終わらない。 – Won’t end even if you do it all day.
3) 一晩中カラオケで遊んでいた。 – Was playing all night at Karaoke.

Overall, this usage tend to be more established expressions so I wouldn’t arbitrarily attach it to time spans without seeing some usage samples. But at least now you’ll know how to read it properly and know what it means should you encounter it.

Also, with time spans, 「ちゅう」 tends to be used to mean “within” while 「じゅう」 is used to mean “throughout”. Both are not necessarily always usable for a given time span. It’s pretty arbitrary.

More details and examples can be found here: http://www7a.biglobe.ne.jp/~nifongo/conv/chyu.html

The most useful word… EVAR

In every language, there’s a common pattern of the most useful words being the most complicated and confusing. This is a natural consequence from the fact that the word must cover many different types of usages and meanings in order to be so useful. Due to its usefulness, it will also often go through various types of abbreviations and shortcuts to facilitate speaking, further complicating the issue. This post will cover what could arguably be the most useful and hence the most intricate word in Japanese: 「いい」. We’ll see that this word is much more expansive in scope and usage than the English equivalent word “good”. Just learning the definition is barely scratching the surface of this useful word.

Briefly on Conjugation

I’ll assume that most readers are already familiar with many of the discrepancies in the conjugation rules for 「いい」 and so I’ll just briefly mention that the discrepancies are all caused by the change from 「よい」 to 「いい」. This word is so useful and so often used that even the slight pursing of the lips to pronounce 「よ」 seemed to tax Japanese speakers and was eventually changed to 「いい」. The newer version has the added convenience of removing one pronunciation completely and replacing it with a single longer pronunciation of 「い」. The older version is now considered formal and old-fashioned. Unfortunately, many of the conjugated forms such as the negative (よくない) failed to transition over to the new pronunciation hence creating a number of discrepancies which annoy Japanese beginners to this day.

To get the full scoop, check out my page on adjectives on my grammar guide. Now let’s look at the various ways this adjective can be used. You’ll also see how these patterns translate to very different things in English and yet is just a simple adjective with some grammar patterns in Japanese.

Using 「いい」 for permission

The usage of 「いい」 for asking and granting permission is just another example of the fundamental difference between Japanese and English, as well as, a great example of how vital it is to understand how 「いい」 is used in various grammatical patterns.

In English you use words like “can” or “may” to ask for permission, in Japanese the word 「できる」 is reserved only for the ability to do something, not on whether it’s permitted or not. (This is similar to the difference between 能/会 and 行 in Chinese.)

In Japanese, you ask for permission by asking literally, “Is it good even if I…”. I’m sure many of you in Japanese class learned the phrase: 「トイレに行ってもいいですか?」 This literally means, “Is it good even if I go to the bathroom?” Your teacher may respond by saying either 「いいです」 or 「だめです」 (or the very formal 「いけません」). There’s a logical discrepancy here in that the positive answer is 「いい」 but the negative answer is not simply the negative: 「よくない」. This is because the 「てはいけない/てはならない/てはだめ」 grammar pattern set for saying you can’t do something is separate from the one that says you can do something.

However, while saying “can” versus “can’t” is not as easy in Japanese as saying 「いい」 versus 「よくない」, there is one very useful way to use negatives with the 「V~てもいい」 pattern. You can negate the verb in front to have 「~なくてもいい」. Let’s see how this translates literally for the example: 「行ってもいい」.

1. 行ってもいい。
– It’s good even if [you] go.

2. 行かなくてもいい。
– It’s good even if [you] don’t go.

Can you guess what the examples translates to in English? The first means, “You can go” while the second means “You don’t have to go”. Once again, you have two completely different grammar patterns in one language while the other is just the negative and positive version of the same grammar pattern. Except this time, it’s the other way around. This is another example of why it’s best to work in the target language as opposed to trying to tie everything into English.

Let’s look at the following example short conversation at a training seminar.

Aさん) トイレに行ってもいいですか?
Bさん) いいですよ。これは授業じゃないから、聞かなくてもいいですよ。
Aさん) じゃ、戻らなくてもいいですか?
Bさん) だめです。

This next dialog shows how slang can hide these grammar patterns but still have the same meaning. In the dialog, Aさん is not asking if the pen is a little good.

Aさん) そのペン、ちょっといい
Bさん) だめ。俺、使っているよ?
Aさん) いいから早く貸して。

Using 「いい」 for good result

There are many variations to this usage but the basic idea is to show a good result as a result of something. The most basic example of this usage is to make a suggestion.

例) 病院に行った方がいい。
– The side of going to hospital is good. (You should go to the hospital.)

例) どこに行けばいいですか?
– If [I] go, where is good? (Where should I go?)

Notice the non-literal translation uses the same word “should” but as you can see, the word “should” has many meanings which are expressed differently in Japanese. The first is a general suggestion such as “you should see a doctor” or “you should get some more sleep” while the second is conditional on the situation such as “Which way should I go if I wanted to go to the mall?” or “Where should I write my name?”

You can also use the past tense to talk about what you did (relief) or should have done (wishful thinking).

例) 早く予約してよかった!
– [I] made reservation early and it was good! (Good thing I made the reservation earlier!)

例) 早く予約すればよかった!
– If [I] had made reservation early it would have been good! (I should have made the reservation earlier.)

Again, you really can’t directly translate English phrases like “Good thing I…” or “I should have…”, you have to use a grammar pattern and 「いい」 to express a similar thing.

Here’s another example conversation.

Aさん) 頭が痛い。
Bさん) コンビにで薬を買った方がいいよ。
Aさん) どこのコンビニに行けばいいの?
Bさん) 駅の近くにあると思う。
Aさん) 今日仕事休めばよかった


In writing this article, I surprised even myself on all the various hidden but essential ways 「いい」 is used in the Japanese language. It can be expressed to indicated things you should do, things that are allowed, things you don’t have to do, and much more. I hope this article helped you realize the importance mastering the many uses of 「いい」 and why it’s better to approach it from Japanese instead of from English.

Am I missing any important usages here? Let me know in the comments!

Things that lose “coolness” when translated

Some things in Japanese just seem to lose their cool when translated into English.
I’m sure there are examples where the reverse is true but it’s much easier for me to come up with these examples.

Fighting words
「ぶっ倒してやる!」 (Cool) -> “I’m going to beat you!” (Not cool)

Technique/Spell/Summon Names
「螺旋丸!」 (Maybe Cool) -> “Spiraling Round [Thing]!” (Definitely not cool)

語尾 (technically 終助詞)
「くるぞ!」 (Brave) -> “They’re coming!” (Scared)

Expressions and Cultural Phrases
「がんばれ!」 (Uplifting) -> “Do your best!” (Dork)

Heavily Girly Style of Speech
「嫌だもん!」 (Pouty Cute) -> “I don’t like it!” (Complainy)

Finally, basically all of Death Note in English is just awkward.









“Overflowing with leftover goodness…”

I love to write about parts of Japanese that are almost always left out of the standard Japanese language curriculum. This usually applies to vocabulary that can be considered “inappropriate” for the classroom. I also like to talk about topics where the explanation is usually glossed over or oversimplified because the concepts are too difficult to explain in English. I say “bah humbug!” to all that, which is why you can come here after class to get the full, unadulterated version.

So when I thought back to Japanese 101 and the time the teacher told us to only use the negative with 「あまり」 I thought, “Hey, wait a minute!” I now know that you can use 「あまり」 with the positive, the only difference is that you get the opposite meaning of the negative version. Makes perfect sense, right? Of course things aren’t actually that simple, so read on if you want to get the full scoop on 「あまり」.

Sorry, we’re all out of whatever it is you’re looking for

「あまり」 is a pseudo adverb/adjective version of the verb 「あまる」(余る), which means for something to be left over. So, when you use 「あまり」 with the negative, you are essentially saying there is nothing left over. For example, 「あまりよくない」 literally means there is no “goodness” left over. Ok, so that doesn’t make much sense. A more natural definition would be the one we all learned in Japanese 101, “not very” or “not that much”. However, it is useful to know where 「あまり」 originally came from to see how the meaning changes if we don’t use the negative tense.

Those leftovers are excessive, man!

If the negative tense means there’s no leftovers, the opposite would obviously mean that there are leftovers. In other words, something is so excessive that there are leftovers you can’t deal with. As opposed to 「あまりよくない」、 「あまりにいい」 means that something is so good that the goodness is just overflowing with leftovers. For example, 「あまりにいい天気」 means “weather that is excessively good”. This is slightly different from 「天気がよすぎる」 meaning that the weather is too good, which has a negative connotation. 「あまりにいい天気」 just means that the weather is really, really good. It’s so good that the goodness is just overflowing and the leftover goodness is just strewn about all over the floor.

1) 天気があまりよくないので、散歩するのをやめた。
– The weather wasn’t very good so I quit going for a walk.

2) あまりにいい天気だったので、1時間も散歩をしました。
– The weather was so good that I took a walk for a whole hour.

You may have noticed the positive version uses the 「に」 target particle as in 「あまりいい」. This is normal because you need to use the target particle in order to make adjectives into adverbs such as 「上手に」 or 「簡単に」. The irregularity instead comes from the lack of any particles for the negative case. I first described 「あまり」 as a pseudo adverb/adjective because you don’t need to use any particles when using it with the negative tense. It is very similar to 「同じ」, which also doesn’t require any particles to use as an adverb/adjective. Words like 「あまり」 and 「同じ」 are difficult to categorize for this reason. However, with 「あまり」, when you are using it for the non-negative tense, the normal rules apply and you do need attach the 「に」 particle in order to use it as an adverb.

A) 日本語はあまり難しいよ。
– Japanese is so difficult, you know. (grammatic error)

B) 日本語はあまり難しい。
– Japanese is so difficult.

A) ほら、難しいでしょ!
– See, it is hard!

More fun with 「あまり」

Since we’re having so much fun, I thought I’d mention a couple other things related to 「あまり」. First, because the Japanese are always trying to come up with easier way to say things, we have the casual equivalents: 「あんまり」 and 「あんま」. I would say 「あんまり」 is used even more than 「あまり」 in conversational Japanese while 「あんま」 sounds a bit masculine due to it’s short length.

1) 時間があんまりないんだよね。
-Hmm… there’s not much time.

2) 時間があんまないんだよな。
-Hmm… there’s not much time.

As for using this slang for the non-negative case, while googling for 「あんまりに」 did yield a sizable number of results, 「あんまに」 didn’t turn up much so I suggest using 「あんま」 only for the negative tense.

Finally, 「余」, the kanji for 「あまり」 is also used in a some very useful words like 「余裕」 and 「余計」. 「余計」, in particular, is a word you’ll see all the time once you learn it. It’s very useful for when somebody says or does too much. Essentially, you can use it to tell people that it’s none of their business.

1) 余計なお世話だよ!
– None of your business! (lit: You’re unnecessarily taking care of me!)

2) 余計なことを言うんじゃいよ。
– Don’t say things that are none of your business. (lit: You don’t say unnecessary things, you know.)


As we have seen, there is a lot more to the word 「あまり」 than what is normally taught to beginning Japanese students. I suspect this is the case because 「あまり」 is most often used with the negative tense and covering any more would confuse the poor students. Apparently, Japanese students are very easily confused and should not be exposed to the scary parts of the language so that they can stay in their safe and comfortable cocoon of polite, “proper” Japanese (whatever that means) .

I was going to make a better title but eh, whatever

I think I learned 「別に」 probably around the same time I learned how to say “yes” and “no” in Japanese. That’s how awesome and useful this expression is. Unfortunately, it’s not the type of thing that’s taught in a classroom so I’m putting this one in the “Colloquialism” category, which is just my way of saying, “I take no responsibility for what you do with this stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong. 「別」 is an incredibly useful character and is used in a variety of perfectly legitimate words. I would definitely put it in the top 100 kanji list. For instance, 「別れる」 means to “breakup” or “to part from”, a word just as useful but not as harsh as 「振られる」, which means you were dumped or more literally, “shaken off” (ouch). Or just repeat the same character and you have 「別々」, which is essential for when you don’t want to pay for everybody else’s meal. (“Going Dutch” is, unlike Korea and China, customary and quite common in Japan.) And finally, we have 「別に」, the topic of today’s post.

Don’t try this at class

「別に」 is an expression that is very similar to 「微妙」, in many ways. It has a perfectly normal and standard usage but it can also be considered slang, if you use it a certain way.

A lot of people learning Japanese at school have probably already learned 「特に」, which means “especially” or “particularly”. It’s an useful expression particularly because you can use it with the negative to express a lack of preference.

A) なんか食べたい物ある?
– Is there anything you want to eat?

B) 特にないけど・・・
– Not particularly.

Now, that’s all fine and good but what if we wanted to express a lack of preference for positive answers, for instance, like the following dialogue?

A) Can I borrow this?
B) Whatever, sure.

In Japanese, when somebody asks you if something is ok to do, you normally respond with 「いいよ」 (or いいですよ). But 「特にいい」 doesn’t really work here, because it is not a negative response and you end up with, “It’s particularly good”. That doesn’t make much sense. So how do we translate the, “whatever” into Japanese? Well, why don’t we take a look at the following dialogue?

A) これ、借りていい?
– Can I borrow this?

B) 別にいいよ。
– Whatever, sure.

「別に」 actually means “apart from” but you don’t really need to include from what exactly. So you can use it in place of 「特に」 such as the first dialogue to say pretty much the same thing.

A) なんか食べたい物ある?
– Is there anything you want to eat?

B) 別にないけど・・・
– Nothing really.

The “nothing really” is a loose translation but it reflects the fact that you are literally saying, “nothing, apart from” and being vague about what exactly is separate.

If you were wondering how to express your apathetic, non-caring, and sketchy personality, 「別に」 is just the ticket.

A) 本当に行かなくてもいいの?
– Is it really ok to not go?

B) 別に行かなくてもいいよ。
– Whatever, I don’t have to go.

A) チョコが好き?
– Do you like chocolate?

B) 別に。
– Whatever.


So next time somebody is badgering you with questions, you can just reply with 「別に」. Make sure you say it with plenty of spit and a look of complete contempt while you’re at it. It’ll be like you’re saying, “Uh uh, whatever“, all shaking your head, with one hand on your hip and the other waving a index finger at your victim.

Oh wait, was this the part where I was supposed tell you not to do that?

Lessons learned from 「本当」

Hi, it’s me again with (hopefully) another great post breaking down the intricacies of the hardest language on the planet (pats myself on back). This time we are going to take a deeper look at a word that probably every hard-core anime fan is already familiar with: 「本当」.

本当?!That’s 超 Awesome!! ← (Don’t ever talk like this)

Calm down. This is not a Japanese anime lesson like, for instance “Reiko-chan’s site“, a site so cool it makes me want to cry. Instead, I’m going to look at how the individuals characters 「本」 and 「当」 are used in ways you may not be aware of. You’ll see that these characters are used quite often in Japanese that is slightly more mature than Sailor Moon.

It’s the real stuff

「本」 is so useful that it’s probably one of the first characters everybody learns. You probably already know that it means, “book” by itself and is also part of the word for “Japan” (日本). You may even know that it’s a counter for bottles, something you’ll need to know if you’re a drunkard salaryman like me.

But did you know that 「本」 also means, “the real thing”? In fact, the word 「本物」 means exactly that as it uses 「本」 with 「物」, the character for object. Other examples include words such as: 本日、本人、本来、本場、本番、本音、本格的、本気、本名. The 「本」 in all these words act like a prefix indicating that it’s the genuine thing.

Let’s take a closer look at 「本日」 and 「本人」 and the role 「本」 plays in each word.


「本日」(ほんじつ) essentially means “today”, but why have another word for “today” when you already have 「今日」? The only difference, as you can see, is the use of 「本」 instead of 「今」. In other words, as opposed to the present day, 「本日」 means, “the real day” (the only “real day” being the current one).

– Thanks for coming today.

– I would like to thank everybody for coming today.

The only real, practical difference between 「今日」 and 「本日」 is that 「本日」 sounds more official, similar to the difference between saying, “at this point in time” versus saying just “now”. While the practical difference is a bit unrelated, knowing the precise difference between the kanji will help you get a feel for where this difference comes from.


「本人」(ほんにん) is a very useful word mainly because Japanese doesn’t have any pronouns. While you can say 「自分」 for oneself, you don’t have the equivalent for himself or herself. So if you wanted to say, “Talk to the man, himself”, 「本人」 is a handy way to easily refer to the real person in question. Here’s a quick example.

– When is Tanaka-san getting married?

– How about asking the actual person, himself?

In addition, expect to see this word used often in applications such as for visas or passports that need to describe what the applicant, herself, must do.

– When getting the passport, the applicant, herself, must come to the window.

This meaning of “genuine” is related to the original meaning of “root” (hence the tree character (木) with a line across the bottom of the tree). Also derived from the same meaning, 「本」 can be used to mean “main”. Examples of this usage include words like: 本体、本館、本社、本州、本文.

It’s the stuff in question

The second character 「当」 is just as useful as 「本」 and almost as common. The character by itself describes when something hits its target. For instance, the verb 「当たる」 is used to describe winning a raffle because you were successfully targeted from the random selection. The 「当」 character is similarly used in a variety of kanji compounds to describe the targeted time or location. This is very useful for talking about the time or location in question by using words such as: 当月、当日、当時、当社、当店、該当. Here’s a simple example.

-This ticket is only valid on the day of purchase.

In the example above, you could have simply described the day that the ticket was bought by saying something like 「買った日」 but it’s not as concise or as professional-sounding as 「発売当日」.

This type of usage is very useful because no matter what the actual time is, it refers only to the time in question. That means that if it’s understood by the context, you don’t have to go through the pain of describing exactly which time that is. Here’s another example.

-At that time, I didn’t have a driver’s license so I couldn’t go anywhere.

Here’s another example using a location instead of time.

-We do not handle products that are sold with hidden names at our stores.

「この店」 would also make sense in this sentence but since there may be more than one store and you’re not specifying a store at a specific location, 「当店」 is used to refer vaguely to the store in question.


We took at look at the kanji making up 「本当」, their real meanings, and how they are used in a variety of words. I hope this will help you easily understand a whole slew of new words that use the same kanji. Getting a true sense of what each individual kanji means in this fashion often gives you important clues and mnemonics for learning new words, which is one of the great benefits of using kanji.

It’s that guy, fellow, chap thing

No offense, but where’s some of the more practical/useful stuff? For a while there, you had me checking this blog everyday – and learning something new every time you posted something. These days…not so much. – jljzen

Ouch. Ok, I admit, I’ve been incredibly lazy with this blog lately. Sometimes I go on a writing spree then I get burned out and have to do something else for a while. It doesn’t mean I’ve run of things to write about. In fact, I would rate this post an 8 on the practical/useful scale. What? You want to know what the scale is based on? Sorry, I’m too busying writing this to answer your question.

This word is used all the time… kind of

「奴」(やつ) is yet another one of those words that just can’t be easily translated into English and yet it’s often used in casual conversations. Look it up at the WWWJDIC and it’ll say, “(1) (vulg) fellow; guy; chap; (2) thing; object”. Hmm… I don’t know about you but when I hear “chap”, I picture, “Quite splendid, I must say!” and “Would you like two cubes of sugar with your tea or just one?” “Fellow” and “guy” isn’t very helpful either. The second definition is also too vague to really make much sense to me. Yahoo 辞書 isn’t much better as it says pretty much the same thing. So why don’t we take a closer look at what the definitions are trying to tell us and how the word is actually used in Japanese?

There was a fellow, a guy, and a chap…

The first definition may sound like the beginning of a joke but what it’s trying to say is that 「やつ」 is a naughtier version of 「人」. It’s impossible to translate because it can have either a good or bad meaning. In any case, by using 「やつ」, it becomes obvious that you don’t have much respect for that person. So you should use this only for your homeys or at least when the person in question is not around to hear you. (God, I can’t believe I just said, “homeys”.)

A: この学校って、変なやつばかりだな。
– This school is just full of strange guys.

B: みんなオタクだからよ。
– It’s because they’re all nerds.

A: 10,000円を貸してくんない?
– Can you send me 10,000 yen.

B: いいよ。
– Sure.

A: マジで?!お前って、本当にいいやつだな!
– Really? You’re really a great guy!

It’s, you know… stuff

The second definition of 「やつ」 refers to generic things. In this case, since objects don’t have feelings, you can use it much more freely than the previous definition.

A: 丸くて赤いのがあるじゃん。すっごく高いやつ。あれを買ってよ。
– You know there’s that round, red thing? The really expensive thing. Buy that thing for me.

B: 全然分かんないけど、とにかく嫌だ。自分で買ってよ。
– I have no idea but anyway I don’t want to. You buy it yourself.

In the example above, I could have used 「物」 instead of 「やつ」 but that just sounds too stiff in the type of casual language used in the example. 「やつ」 sounds much cooler and more hip.

The 「こ、そ、あ、ど」 version

You are probably already familiar with a variety of generic words starting with こ、そ and あ indicating proximity. Just like you have 「これ」、「それ」、and 「あれ」 to mean, “this”, “that”, and “that” (way over there), the same versions of 「やつ」 are 「こいつ」、「そいつ」、and 「あいつ」 respectively. There is also 「どいつ」, the question word for 「やつ」, similar to 「どれ」. You can use these words to refer to both people and objects. In the case of objects, it becomes a rougher and more casual version of 「これ」、「それ」、「あれ」、and 「どれ」. These words are great for when you want to add a bit of punch when referring to the objects around you.

A: すごいんだよ。こいつをパソコンに入れると性能が何倍も上がるんだよ!
– It’s awesome. If you put this in the computer, the performance increases manifold.

B: あ、そう?よかったね。
– Is that so? That’s nice.

I almost want to translate the 「こいつ」 from the previous example as “this shit” but I don’t think it’s quite as strong. If you think of it as a word somewhere between just “this” and “this shit”, I think you’ll have a good idea of what the difference is between just 「これ」 and 「こいつ」.

As before, you can use it to show disdain or a lack of respect for people. In this case, 「あいつ」 is probably the most common because it means that the person is not there to actually hear you.

A: あいつはもう嫌いだ!
– I hate that punk, already!

B: そうよ。もう別れた方がいいって。
– That’s right. As I told you, it’s better to just break up.


I hope this post sheds some light on the side of Japanese you’ll never see in textbooks. Despite the stereotype, Japanese people are not nice and polite all the time as the textbooks make them out to be. It’s life, shit happens, and of course, Japanese has a language for those occasions. You’ll hear these words more often than you expect especially among the younger (kind of delinquent?) crowds where it seems like they use 「こいつ」、「そいつ」、etc. all the time when referring to people and things.

Wait, so it’s the same word but not? When does the madness end??

When I was a naive little student earnestly learning kanji with glee, I remember thinking, “Yeah, now that I learned 「見る」, I now know the kanji for 「みる」!” Ha ha, if Japanese was that easy, I would have spend all that extra time not studying on training to become a professional StarCraft player instead like all the cool Koreans. Actually, what you learn later on is that some words may have more than one kanji with slight differences in meaning such as, “This kanji means that you are feeling blue but this kanji is used when you are feeling blue and you want to sneeze but it just won’t come out. It also implies that your right index finger itches.” Ok, ok, now I’m just trying to be funny… or am I? (Waggles eyebrows) Let’s see by taking a look at some alternative kanji for some common words and when to use them. Hint: It’s when you want to look “cool” and “smart”. (Emphasis on the quotation marks) For example, let’s look at alternatives for 「見る」 (to see) and 「聞く」 (to hear/to ask).

You can see it, my child, yes, but can you see it?

While 「見る」 is fine for just regular “seeing” (whatever that means), you might see 「観る」 instead for when you are watching things such as movies and plays. I have no idea what the exact distinction is but I can tell you that 「観る」 uses the same kanji as the one for 「観光」, which means “sightseeing”. A coincidence? I think not. Actually, I can’t complain about this too much because it’s easier than trying to explain the difference between the words, “to watch” and “to see”. Why don’t we try?

No, you can’t “see television”, you can only watch it. Yes, you can “see a movie”. Huh? Why, you ask? Hmm… I think it’s because native English speakers hate you. Yes, that sounds about right.

Moving on, if a doctor is examining you, you use 「診る」 instead, which uses the same kanji from 「診断」 meaning “diagnosis”.

Ask, hear, eh, what’s the difference?

In Japanese, 「聞く」 can mean either “to ask” or “to hear”. (After all, they are so totally related.) But if you want to be specific, you can use 「訊く」, which only means “to ask” or more accurately, “to inquire”. Also, when you are listening to music, you might use 「聴く」 instead. 「効く」 is also another alternative to mean that something is “taking effect”. It is often used in the context of taking medicine (or rather “drinking” in Japanese).

How do I figure out this madness??

So how do you figure this stuff out? Well, your best bet are Japanese-Japanese dictionaries such as 広辞苑 or 大辞泉. For instance, here is the definition for 「聴く」


2 (聴く)注意して耳にとめる。耳を傾ける。「名曲を―・く」「有権者の声を―・く」

Or better yet, if you use the Windows IME, the kanji selection menu will have explanations of the differences… in Japanese.

IME, the only Microsoft software I know of that doesn't suck (until they build a vacuum).

IME, the only Microsoft software I know of that doesn't suck (until they build a vacuum).

For bonus points, see if you can figure out the difference between:
1. 速い vs 早い
2. 取る vs 撮る vs 盗る
3. 飛ぶ vs 跳ぶ
4. 熱い vs 暑い
5. 彫る vs 掘る
6. 閉める vs 締める vs 占める
7. “Japanese” vs “A tongue invented by the devil to prevent the spread of Christianity”.
8. 止まる vs 停まる vs 泊まる