In this post I’d like to review some of the ways to represent “truth” in Japanese, and as you’ll see there are quite a few.
The most common one to know for everyday conversation is 本当 (hontou). This can be used as an adjective or as an adverb. In the latter case に is often added.
- Person A: 今日は僕の誕生日だよ！
- Person A: Today is my birthday!
- Person B: 本当？
- Person B: Really?
- Japanese is really (truly) difficult.
The word ”まじ” (sometimes said as ”まじで？” when asked as a question), is a modern slang term used by younger people that has pretty much the same meaning as ”本当”.
The opposite to this (false) can be said using the word 嘘 (uso).
- Person A: 僕、日本に行くんだよ！
- Person A: I’m going to Japan!
- Person B: 嘘！
- Person B: No way !
This word can also mean “a lie”, referring to a purposefully false statement made by someone, as in the phrase “嘘をつくな” (don’t lie).
Another related word is 実際 (jissai), though this one is more often used as an adjective. It has the flavor of “in practice” or “in reality”.
- It seems easy, but if you actually try it, it’s surprisingly difficult.
The word 現実 (genjitsu) means “reality”. It is similar to 実際 but is typically used as a noun. This word can be used to contrast against non-real places such as virtual worlds or games.
- This is reality, not the world inside a game!
If you are talking about a cold, hard fact you can use 事実 (jijitsu).
- It’s a fact that she was killed.
If you want to get even more formal, or even philosophical, you can say 真実 (shinjitsu). For example this word was used in the definition for 嘘 as “真実でないこと”。
Perhaps a better way to understand these two words is that “jijitsu” talks about objective things (“a man is dead”) and “shinjitsu” talks about subjective things (“the man wanted to end his life anyway”). The “jijitsu” is an indisputable fact, whereas “shinjitsu” involves interpretation of facts. (See this page and this page for an explanation of this difference in Japanese)
You’ve probably noticed the Kanji character 実 (jitsu) is used in many of these words, and if you don’t know it already it’s a good character to learn sooner than later. In fact, this character plus に can be used as an adverb to mean “truly” or “really”
- Truly intriguing.
Keep in mind this word has sort of a academic or stuffy atmosphere. The line above was said by the main character of “Galileo” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_(TV_series)), who is a genius scientist that has a serious ego.
Another term I hear only once in awhile is “現に” (gen ni), which means pretty much the same thing.
If you are looking for a formal way to say “lie” or “untruth”, you can use 偽り (itsuwari).