Japanese useful word: 大変 (taihen)

By | February 4, 2015

The Japanese word “大変” (taihen), made out of the characters for “large” and “change”, and is typically used for two related meanings which I will go over in this post, along with example sentences.

The first is to express something is extreme, and can roughly match with english “very” or “terribly”. When using it as an adverb you don’t need any connecting words (as in the first example sentence below), but when using it as an adjective to modify a noun, you use な like a typical na-adjective.

  • 大変失礼しました。
  • I’m terribly sorry.
  • 大変なスピードで会社がつぶれています。
  • Companies are going out of business at a very rapid pace.

It’s important to note that this word used for this meaning is somewhat formal and you wouldn’t likely hear a high school student say “課題は大変難しい” saying in casual conversation, even though it would be grammatically correct.

In this usage there is often a negative meaning implied, which is why I think “terribly” is a close match. Both words have the connotation of something bad or unpleasant, though can be used in a positive sense as well (“I’m terribly happy today!”, though this sounds like British English to me).

The second way is to express a serious, grave, tough, or just generally bad situation.

  • 大変だ!車がなくなった!
  • Oh no! My car is gone!
  • 今日中に終わらせないと大変なことになる。
  • If I don’t finish by today I’m going to be in trouble.
  • 子育てって大変だよね。
  • Bringing up a child is sure tough.
  • 今日、朝からばたばたしてて大変だったよ。
  • Today was a rough day, I was running around like crazy since morning.

This usage is a bit less formal and I’ve heard it used much in daily life.

References

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/je2/45370/m0u/大変/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/jn2/134412/m0u/大変/

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3 thoughts on “Japanese useful word: 大変 (taihen)

  1. Daniel

    I was listening to an interview today and heard this exchange using taihen:

    Person 1: 英語の接客は大変ですか?
    Person 2: 大変ですね。

    I’m pretty sure that’s what the first person said, although I could be wrong on the 接客 part as she was speaking rather quickly.

    Is this a situation where taihen would mean “tough” or something?

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Your transcription looks correct and that feels like a very natural exchange.

      I think you could think of this as “difficult”, “a lot of work”, or as you said “tough”. You can see this definition in Dictionary Goo as the below:

      3. 苦労などが並々でないこと…

      This translates to roughly ” (something of) considerable difficulty”.

      Reply
      1. locksleyu Post author

        I was thinking about this a little more and actually the phrase “英語での接客” may be more natural.

        However, it is hard for me to say for sure since I am not sure of the context, and also to be honest I haven’t used the word “接客” before myself.

        But if you can listen to that portion again you may want to double check if there was a “で” in there. Even without it, I think the meaning would come across, though.

        Reply

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