ちょっと (chotto): a little word with a big set of meanings

By | May 20, 2014

If I had to make a list of the top ten most useful words in Japanese, I might very well pick ちょっと as one of them. Not only is it short and easy to say, but it’s meanings are easy to learn and use in everyday conversation.

ちょっと’s basic, most fundamental meaning is “a little”, and it’s other usages and set phrases are all based on that. Let’s look at an example:

  • ちょっとわかります。
  • I understand a little.

This next phrase is one I’ve heard often in Japanese dramas (especially ones from a around 10 years ago). I can still remember キムタク(Kimura Takuya) saying it.

  • ちょっと待って!
  • Wait a minute!

The meaning “a little” is still present, but in English saying “Wait a little” would sound unnatural. It’s best to translate this as “Wait a minute”, “Wait a moment”, or some other natural phrase.

I made a funny mistake the other day by saying ”一分待って”, which is the literal translation of the expression “Wait a minute” in English. “ちょっと待って” is much more natural.

Here’s another expression with ちょっとthat is quite useful.

  • ちょっといいですか?
  • Do you have a moment?

The interpretation of this usage is a bit confusing, because literally it means ‘Is a little good?”, and you may be thinking “A little of what?”. The answer this case in time, since the speaker is asking for a bit of the listeners time, probably to ask a question.

This word can also be used to express a little of a physical quantity.

  • ちょっとビールが欲しいです。
  • I want a little beer.

ちょっとis also used in a case when you feel negatively but don’t want to state your feelings directly. Imagine you were asked about something you were strongly against. In that case, you might reply:

  • それはちょっとね。
  • I’d rather not say.

I took this translation from the page here, and while I feel it does capture the literal meaning It seems a bit harsher than the Japanese text. Personally I’d prefer something like “Yeah that’s kinda…” or “Well….”, but in any case Japanese to English translation isn’t the main focus of this post so let’s move on.

Another way to use ちょっと is in the form ちょっとした〜, which is placed before a noun to modify it in the sense of ‘a little’, ‘trifling’, or ‘minor’.  It carries the sense of that thing not being ‘a big deal’. Here’s as example phrase

  • ちょっとしたヒントがあれば大丈夫。
  • I’ll be fine with a little hint.

If you want to see some more example sentences, check out ちょっと’s dictionary entry here.

 

 References

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/je2/49298/m0u/ちょっと/

http://eikaiwa-phrase.com/1654.html

 

 

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