If you look up the word “わり”（割）in a dictionary (see here), you’ll find several different meanings and expressions. In this post I’d like to focus on a few which I use frequently in the hopes you’ll make some use out of them yourself. Each of these are related to the basic meaning of わり, which is “ratio” or “percentage”. (The verbs 割る and 割れる mean “divide”, “split”, or “break”, and are written with the same kanji.)
1. わりと – used for comparison or degree
This expression can mean “relatively”, “comparatively”, “fairly” or “rather”. I’ve heard this primarily used by older adults, and almost never by young people. To me it has slightly formal or intellectual feel.
- Recent tablets have gotten fairly light.
2. Number 1 through 9 + わり = Number x 10%
When わり is said immediately after a number, it means 10 percent multiplied by that number.
- The odds of graduating this school are around 80%.
3. Noun or verb + わりに（は）= comparing one thing to another
This expression is used when comparing a certain state to something else, and is usually expressed in English with the word “for”, or “considering”. That’s a pretty vague explanation, so as usual I’ll give an example to clarify.
- He looks young for his age.
This can also be used in a negative sense, or at least in a way that isn’t flattering.
- He is pretty good at Japanese, considering that he’s never lived there.
Notice that ‘は’ is used here. This sentence has the connotation that if he had lived in Japan, his language skills wouldn’t be too impressive.
If you want to compare to something that was just referred to, you can also use “その割に（は)”.
- His college major was Japanese? Considering that, his conversation ability isn’t that great.
One final expression you may have heard is ”わり〜”, where the final vowel sound is drawn out. That is actually a slang expression for わるい（悪い）mostly used by young people, and is not related to 割. It can be used to mean “sorry” in a casual sense.