It’s, like, like 【なんか】

Like, if there’s any equivalent to like, the word “like” in Japanese, it has to be like 「なんか」. 「なんか」 is a contraction of 「なにか」(何か), which means “something”. However, 「なんか」 can be used to mean something very similar to the English “like”. Take a look at the example below:

ゲームなんか興味ないよ。- Not interested in something game.

First, you’ll notice the total lack of particles. You’ll see that a lot in casual speech. Another thing to notice here is that 「なんか」 essentially means “things like” in this example. This usage is distinct for 「なんか」 and you won’t see 「なにか」 used in the same way.

In fact, just like the word “like” in English, you can stick 「なんか」 just about anywhere and still make sense! Be careful though because this might become a habit and you might, like, start sounding like the way you do when, like, you use like, like everywhere.

Hey, like, when I got on the train today, there was like a strange person and like he was mumbling something I couldn’t understand.

If you add 「さ」 to the end of almost every phrase, you get what young people sound like in Japan nowadays. Sigh… so sad.

Hey, like, when I got on the train today, right? There was like a strange person, right? And like he was mumbling something I couldn’t understand.

16 thoughts on “It’s, like, like 【なんか】

  1. As I was reading your examples, I started smiling. When I reached the “さ” part, it actually made me laugh. Great post!

  2. Thanks for the article. Please keep them coming. I find them immensely interesting as someone who is living in Japan now, learning Japanese. Your posts always seem to answer a question that is bothering me that no one else can give me a straight answer on. なんか being a prime example, since Japanese people (at least the ones I talk to) use it all the time for what I thought was no apparent reason at all.

    Tanks again.

  3. and on that note, my japanse friend had this book on the hundred-something most often used expressions in english, and wouldn’t you know what number one was… like!

  4. If you give me some of your unanswered questions, it might give me some ideas for the next post. (Though I won’t guarantee it…)

  5. This lesson in “nanka” is quite valuable, but at the interest of balancing the scales, I think it bears mentioning that the overuse of “sa” in these examples is extremely Tokyo, and not representative of Japanese as a whole. Dialects can vary wildly from region to region, and “sa” abuse is a Tokyo hallmark, much as “na” and “nen” abuse is a hallmark of western Japan.

    Again, Web master, not trying to stir up trouble — just trying to show that “Japanese” is a mostly contextual beast that differs according to where in the country you live. (Case in point, my first week in Japan I walked into a Tower Records and saw a sign proclaiming that the music in this particular corner was で~れ~ええ音楽. I encountered で~れ~ plenty more times in my stay in that region, and could include the term in my notes on Japanese … but that doesn’t mean the term would be of use — or even comprehended — in areas outside where it is commonly used.)

  6. That was a wonderful post, and like Yves I actually laughed when I got to the さ part. Thank you!

    Perhaps a future post could tackle 「~って感じ」. As in 「頑張ろうって感じ」。

  7. Umm, I think “ゲームなんか興味ないよ。= Not interested in something game.” is not a good example translation.. なんか when used like this emphasises that you have a negative opion of, or don’t think much of, whatever comes before it. When you translate it into English you don’t have to translate なんか directly, it’s more about the phrasing of the whole sentence to give it the right extra-negative tone. A better translation is just a simple “I’m not interested in games” or “I’m really not interested in games”

  8. But I don’t care whether it’s a good translation or not, only whether it conveys the Japanese meaning as much as possible despite the differences in the two languages. So I don’t think not translating it at all is better for my purposes.

    • Yes! Thank you so much for not translating things so they sound proper in English. You translate them so we can understand what is happening in the Japanese sentence. THANK YOU SO MUCH! These translations are much more helpful for trying to understand why and when to use something in Japanese.

  9. なるほど。No complaints then. It’s just that all your other example English sentences are completely natural sounding, so just this one seemed a bit jarring to me. Guess I’ve said my 3yens worth 🙂

  10. I just watched a Japanese play “Ranuki Satsui” ら抜き殺意 about the way young people tend to speak Japanese improperly and about many other aspects like woman speach versus men speach, etc. One word that intrigued me is “shabai”, this is kogyaru コギャル slang. Could you please give me an approximate explanation reagrding its meaning? Thank you so much.

  11. From what I tell from google, しゃばい is apparently slang for しょぼい.

    しょぼい means roughly “no big deal” as in it’s kinda lacking and crappy.

  12. it’s now 2012, and people are still learning Japanese (^_-)

    I have to agree with Daniel.
    “I don’t have interest in (crappy/childish things like) video games”. Rikaichan labels it as “often derogatory”

  13. Thank you very much for sharing! I’ve read other tutorials about なんて but from the first moment you explained is very similar to “like” everything fell in place, please notice my native language is Spanish, so this guide has like =) some universal appeal.

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