A gentle introduction to Kanji

Posted on my Facebook group (which in facebook’s ultimate wisdom requires you to login to view, lame).

Ok, let’s learn some Kanji today! You’ll see that it’s not so scary!

口【くち】 – mouth
Just picture an open mouth except um… more square. This box shows up ALL THE TIME in Kanji so MAKE SURE you get the correct stroke order.

五【ご】 – five
I guess it kind of looks like 5 with a line on the bottom

日【ひ】- sun; day
Similar to mouth, it’s a circle made into a square with a line in the middle to represent sun rays or something.

木【き】 – tree
Pretty much exactly how I would draw a tree (my drawing skills are terrible)

本【ほん】 – root; book
The Kanji itself means root. As you can see it’s a tree with a line on the trunk bottom to emphasis a root. It’s also the word for book as in “books are the root of all knowledge”. Quaint, ain’t it?

日本【に・ほん】 – Japan
Root of the sun, you know, the “Land of the Rising Sun”? It would be pretty hot over there if it were really the case.

言う【い・う】 – to say
言 is like four lines of dialogue or sound waves on top of a mouth (notice the first top stroke is slanted). Easy!

語【ご】 – language
Combine the radicals for “say”, “five” and “mouth” and you get the single character for language. To say with five mouths, I guess it kinda makes sense. It’s not a word by itself but you can just tack it onto countries to describe that country’s language such as スペイン語 = Spanish. Cool!

日本語【に・ほん・ご】 – Japanese (language)
Just tack on the character for language to the word for Japan to get Japanese as mentioned above.

Ok, let’s make a sentence with KANJI!

What is this called in Japanese?
lit: As for this, what do you say in Japanese?

Replace これ with whatever you want to know the Japanese word for.

Hopefully this will give you an idea of how to make up mnemonics for memorizing Kanji.

MAKE SURE to practice after checking the stroke order which you can see here:

Breathe… relax… you don’t have to know it all

A short post today since real life is starting to be more demanding and clamoring for attention.

Today, I learned a new word: 【準える】

I’m always surprised to see a completely new word based on a Kanji that I’ve probably known for well over 6 years. 「準備」 was probably one of the first few words I learned with Kanji (it helped that the same word in Korean sounds identical). I later picked up other words such as 「基準」、「水準」、「標準」、and 「準決勝」. Later on, I even picked up more advanced vocabulary such as 「準じる」 and the older style: 「準ずる」. And now, after over 8 years since I started studying Japanese, I just learned a completely different word based on the same Kanji.

Another similar example happened to me several years ago with 「集う」, which as far as I can tell is virtually identical to 「集まる」 except used like almost never. At that time, I came upon the word at a local community event at 「川口市」 called 「新年の集い」.

The moral of the story is: don’t worry about learning everything about a given Kanji at once. Relax, give it time, and learn things in context as you go. And whatever you do, DO NOT try to remember all the readings at once. You’ll eventually get to all the various readings and associated vocabulary in time. It might take over 8 years but hey, I’ve been using Japanese happily all these years without knowing 「準える」 precisely because it’s so rare to see it used anywhere.

As an interesting aside, 「なずらえる」 seems to have 3 possible kanji: 「準える・准える・擬える」 but the 「なぞらえる」 reading seems to only accept 「準える」. Probably a modern upgrade, as indicated by older usage of 「ず」 (similar to 「生ずる」、「準ずる」、etc).

The NEW 常用漢字 and why we shouldn’t give a damn

According to Wikipedia, revision of the 常用漢字 (Jōyō kanji) was first proposed in February 2005 and work began in September of the same year.


Three years later, there was news as recently as last month of a tentative list to be released in February of 2009. The new list is currently said to have removed 5 kanji and added 188 new ones, bringing the new total from 1945 to 2128 characters.



The new additions apparently also include the “controversial” character 「俺」. Personally, it seems crazy to not include it based on how often it’s used. And what is so controversial about 「俺」 anyway especially considering the fact that they’re adding kanji like 「勃」 and 「淫」? That’s just my opinion in any case and I think the difficulty they are having in determining the criteria for what goes in the list is indicative of fundamental problems with the whole idea behind the list in the first place.

Never let the 常用漢字表 tell you which kanji to learn or not learn

What is the purpose of the 常用漢字表 anyway? To tell you which kanji to learn? So I’m supposed to learn 「斤」, some obscure unit of measurement but not the kanji for the word “who” (誰)? That makes perfect sense, right?!

Also, why did they even have the removed characters (銑・錘・勺・匁・脹) in the first place? Was “pig iron” commonly used at some point in time? I mean, the list came out the year I was born and I don’t think I’m THAT old. And why haven’t they removed stuff like 畝 or 逓 yet? I don’t think they come even close to falling in the category of “common usage” no matter how you define it.

And now, almost 30 years later they’re finally going to add kanji for words like “smell” (匂い), “loose” (緩い), “nail” (爪), and “butt” (お尻) in 2010? What kind of crap list were we using all these years?

The list burned me personally when I bought my first kanji dictionary. It only had the 常用漢字 because after all, that’s all we need to know, right? Well, one of the FIRST words I encountered in my self-study was 「瞳」 and guess what, it’s not in the list! If I had known better, I would have never wasted money on anything that only covered the 常用漢字.

Thankfully, I later found an online dictionary that didn’t use the 常用漢字表 as an excuse to be lazy and saved me from quitting Japanese in frustration. For comparison, the 漢字源 in my Canon G90 has 13,112 characters, almost 16x what my first crap dictionary had.

Don’t fall into the trap of learning from a list

In my opinion, the worst problem with the list is that it fools innocent learners such as you and I into thinking we should use it somehow in our studies. The thinking goes, “Hey here’s a list of (supposedly) common kanji. I should make up some index cards and memorize them one by one.”

However, what many beginners don’t realize is that you have to be some kind of super-genius to memorize 1945 characters with absolutely no context. Even if you DID somehow manage to memorize them all, you’re not learning any real words, you have no idea which readings are used and when, and you have no sense of when and how it’s used. Where’s the reading material, vocabulary, and conversation practice? It’s like putting the cart before the horse AND sitting in the seat backwards.

The first character on the list is 「亜」 for crying out loud! For all you know, that’s the most useful character in the world when in fact I have never used it in all my years of study. Do YOU write 「アジア」 and 「アメリカ」 as 「亜細亜」 and 「亜米利加」? I sure hope not! I thought for a second that maybe it’s used in the word 「唖然」 but no, not even! If anything, 「唖」 belongs in the list much more than 「亜」 if you ask me. Obviously, they never consulted me (I was -2 months old at the time) and no, it’s not in the list.


I don’t know, maybe the list has some good uses for educators, policy makers, publishers, and whatnot. It’s certainly better to have an improved version over the crappy one we have now. But I can’t help but think it was overused throughout the years and caused more harm than good for people learning Japanese. Personally, I think we would have been better off without the damn list in the first place.

The bottom line is whatever new list they come up with and no matter how “good” it is (whatever that means), we should always think of it as a guide and never forget to use good ol’ common sense.

What’s the stroke order of 【龜】? Who cares?

This is yet another post that’s been picking up cruft in my draft folder for over three years.

Stroke order is one of those things that might seem difficult at first but actually comes quite naturally with a bit of practice. You just have to make sure you learn the the correct order of the most important radicals such as 口 and 田. You should also pay careful attention to radicals like 厂 that have more stroke orders than you would think. (Hint: it’s more than 1.)

Once you learn the stroke order for the most common radicals, you can figure out the rest for most kanji by yourself with general principles like the following.

  1. Stroke orders generally go from top to bottom and left to right (from the top-left corner to bottom-right corner).
  2. Vertical lines that go straight through are written last as opposed to those that connect (十 vs 土).
  3. Stuff that encloses something else gets drawn first but closed last (回 and 団).

When in doubt or for weird kanji like 必, you can always check the stroke order on the WWWJDIC by looking up the kanji and clicking on the SOD link. You’ll get a nice animated gif like this one.

However, the problem with these animations is that it only gives you the order and not the direction of each stroke. If you’re confused about stroke direction, another site you might want to try is gahoh, which has animated .mov files with the direction and order. Here’s one for .

Their collection isn’t as complete as the WWWJDIC but it is useful for odd or crazy and complicated kanji like . The request page in particular has some of the odder and trickier kanji like 凸、凹、飛、 and 卵 so you might want to check it out and double-check your stroke order.

So how useful is it to learn the proper stroke order of 龜? Not very but hey it’s fun times for everybody, right? Right? Hello? ………anybody?

In Soviet Russia, expressions use YOU

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for almost 3 years so I decided it’s high time to get it out the door finally.

「逆に」(ぎゃくに) is one of those expressions that is used all the time. Even if you decide to stop reading the rest of this post because you hate me for being so cool, you’re probably going to pick it up somewhere along your studies.

「逆」 by itself means, the “reverse” or “opposite”, and is a pretty useful word by itself as you can imagine. It is used as a noun as shown in the following (admittedly cheesy) dialogue.

田中) 明日、レポートをちゃんと提出するんだな?
みき) あっ、はい!
田中) あんまり仕事をサボるんじゃないよ。
みき) はい!わかりました!
Aさん) 田中さんは、なんでいつもみきちゃんに厳しいのかな?みきちゃんのことが気に入らないとか?
Bさん) その逆だと思います。

Loose translation:
Tanaka) Going to submit your report tomorrow, right?
Miki) Um, yes!
Tanaka) Don’t slack off too much.
Miki) Yes! Understood!
A-san) I wonder why Tanaka-san is always hard on Miki-chan? Maybe he doesn’t like her or something?
B-san) I think it’s that exact opposite.

It’s slang, it’s not supposed to make sense!

While that’s all fine and dandy, you wouldn’t think adding 「に」 and making it an adverb would be a very useful construction. I mean, how often do you say “oppositely” in English? But in Japanese slang, it doesn’t have to mean what it actually means!

みき) このレポートのせいで、今晩のデートはだめになっちゃったよ。
Aさん) 逆にいいんじゃない?彼氏と別れたいって言ってたでしょ?
みき) それはそうなんだけど、残業よりましよ。

Loose translation:
Miki) Thanks to this report, my date tonight is ruined.
A-san) Isn’t it oppositely good? You were saying you wanted to break up with your boyfriend, right?
Miki) That is true but it’s better than doing overtime.

As you can see from my crappy translation, 「逆に」 doesn’t have to be the direct opposite of anything in particular, really. It can be used to describe a result that might run counter to what you would normally expect. It can also be used to turn the tables around on someone (much like the title of this post).


I heard he got dumped by his girlfriend and when I tried to cheer him up, he oppositely got mad at me.

In fact, one very popular slang is 逆ギレ, which is when someone who is in the wrong turns around and gets angry at the person who confronted him or her.

Aさん) 遅いよ。もう30分も待ってたよ。
Bさん) 電車が止まってたから、しょうがないだろう!!
Aさん) ・・・(逆ギレかよ)

The 「日本語俗語辞書」, which I talked about in my last post has additional similar slang such as 逆ナン and 逆セクハラ but I’ll let you figure those out for yourselves. I’ve done enough damage already, I think.

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

Ruby tags considered harmful

For those of you unfamiliar with the ruby tag, it is an html tag that adds tiny readings over kanji. 「ルビ」 traditionally is used in print for archaic kanji or when the author wants to indicate a non-standard reading for the kanji. However, on the net, ruby tags are being abused everywhere I see them. Here’s a simple benchmark (with a neat acronym to make it “official”) for determining whether you’re abusing the ruby tag.

Ruby Abuse Benchmark (RAB)

1. Do you use ruby tags for every kanji?

2. Do you use ruby tags for any kanji that most Japanese people can read?

3. Do you use ruby tags?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, you are abusing the ruby tag.

This abuse happens most often on sites that are intended for people learning Japanese. For example, this site about the JLPT or Japanese language blogs like the one you’re reading now. I don’t use ruby tags though. Even sites for kids stay away from ruby and just use Hiragana instead. Here’s why you should stay away from them too.

The Technical Reason

Ruby is only included in the XHTML 1.1 specification, which has been around forever and still hasn’t gained much traction. The HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0 Transitional DTDs are still being used in the majority of website that care about standards. This means that if you want to use a schema that the majority of the web is using, <ruby> won’t validate.

Plus, the markup is terribly hard to read and write. Take a look at these markup examples. Imagine doing that for every kanji. Your Japanese text will be indecipherable and an incredible pain to edit.

The Practical Reason

Because XHTML 1.1 hasn’t gained much traction, a majority of browsers don’t support ruby. The only one I’m aware of that does is IE and in today’s world where up to 30% of your visitors might not be using IE, IE-only is not practical.

People without Ruby support will see this.

田中(たなか): はい、元気(げんき)です。早坂(はやさか)さんは?

Terrible, just terrible. It’s totally unreadable. Plus, even if you DID have Ruby support, the text is far too small. It’s a lose-lose situation. The correct use of ruby is to show the readings of a few archaic words that the author assumes will not readable by his audience or when he wants to expand on the word. It is NOT intended to be used for every kanji. The print is too small for people who need them and distracting for the people who don’t need them. Also, it can become a crutch allowing people to never actually read and learn the kanji.

So, even if you can install something such as an extension to make ruby tags work, it’s just not a good idea.


1. CSS mouse-over popups: It’s one simple span tag and it works in all major browsers. It’s also more versatile because you can add more information such as English definitions, etc.

Html: <span title=”たべる – to eat” class=”popup”>食べる</span>
Appears as: 食べる

I suggest adding a visual highlight so that the reader can easily see which part of the text applies for the popup or whether there is a popup at all (not supported by some older browsers). You can easily do this by adding some CSS like the following to your stylesheet.

span.popup:hover {
color: rgb(159,20,26);

Plus, you can easily see the readings for only the words you need, removing the distracting ruby text and preventing the furigana from becoming a crutch.

Here’s a recent convert and look at all the positive comments he’s gotten.

2. Make a list of the vocabulary at the beginning or end of the page so that the reader has something to refer to.

3. Suggest additional tools such as WWWJDIC, 理解.com, moji, and rikaichan so that people can learn to teach themselves. (You know, the whole teach a man to fish thing.)


I think the first method is good for static resources like my guide to Japanese grammar but when you don’t have the time to add readings and definitions manually all the time (like this blog), you can’t beat the third method. Plus, it helps your readers read any online Japanese text instead of just your own. In the end, whatever method you use, it certainly beats the hell out of writing this for every word that uses kanji.


Ah!!! My eyes!!

Begin the journey to mastering your 気

「気」 is a kind of energy embodied by your mind and spirit… or so they say. Personally, I really don’t believe in all that mumbo-jumbo but we still have to deal with it because it’s often used in everyday Japanese to describe your mind-set or feelings. In fact, the characters for your emotional feelings 「気持ち」 means 「気」 that is held” and your physical feelings 「気分」 also contains the same 「気」 character.

I’m going to go over some of the most useful and basic ways to use your 「気」 and I don’t mean fireballs and kung-fu moves. Rather, I’ve compiled a list of common expressions that you can use to describe your 「気」. Though making a list of expressions is not usually not my kind of thing, these are so useful and simple (and for some reason often neglected in the classroom) that I feel it’s worth the time to list and describe them. Also, these kinds of expressions are very hard to find in the dictionary unless you almost already know what you’re looking for.

「気」 with verbs so basic, your grandma can use it

Putting aside the image of your grandma firing off hadokens, here is a list of 「気」 expressions with the most simple and basic verbs. I’ve tried to interpret some of the literal meanings as a aid in memorizing what all these kinds of 「気」 means.

  1. 気にする – Means to worry about something. It is almost always used in the negative to say, “Don’t worry about it”. The meaning is similar to 「心配しないで」 except 「心配」 involves actual worry and anxiety. 「気にしない」 means don’t even bother paying attention to it or wasting your 「気」.

    1) 気にしないで – Don’t worry about it.

  2. 気になる – Similar to 「気にする」 except instead of bothering about something, it’s becoming a bother. In other words, it’s something that is niggling your subconscious and making you wonder about something.

    1) 彼女の歳が気になる。 – I wonder what her age is. (lit: Her age has been bothering me.)

  3. 気がする – Your 「気」 is acting up and alerting your senses. As a result, you have a feeling of whatever you attach 「気がする」 to.

    1) もう終わった気がする。- I have a feeling that [it] already ended.

  4. 気がつく (気づく) – Your 「気」 attaches to you making you regain consciousness in the literal sense or in a figurative sense of just waking up and smelling the coffee.

    1) 気がついたら、もう9時になっていた。 – When I came to my senses, it had become 9:00 already.
    2) 彼は全然気づいていない。 – He doesn’t realize (or hasn’t noticed) it at all.

  5. 気をつける – Attach your 「気」 and always keep your wits about you. In other words, be careful.

    1) 気をつけて! – Be careful!/Take care!

  6. 気をつかう – Use your 「気」 to pay attention to or attend to somebody. A good host always uses her 「気」 for her guests and their needs.

    1) 気をつかってくれて、ありがとう! – Thanks for caring about me!

  7. 気にいる – This is a curious one as it uses the not-so-common 「いる」 reading of 「入る」. It is usually used in the past tense as 「気に入った」, literally meaning something entered your 「気」. This essentially means it came to your liking. It’s a shorter, easier, and more casual way to say the same thing as 「好きになった」. If you use a Japanese browser, you might also have noticed that the bookmarks are called 「気に入り」.

    1) これ、気に入ったよ。 – This has come to my liking.

    (Thanks Florian for suggesting this one be added to the list.)


I’ve tried to keep my list short and simple to prevent this from becoming a monster list with too much information. However, if you’re in the mood, you can scroll through a huge list by going to WWWJDIC, search for 「気」 and set the checkmark for “Starting Kanji”. You’ll get all sorts of useful expressions like 「気が強い」、「気が向く」、「気が散る」、etc., etc. Someday, you can become a master of at least talking about your 「気」 without even having to work out!

“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) .