Monthly Archives: May 2015

Japanese verb 切る and related expressions

The Japanese verb 切る, pronounced “kiru”, is one of the verbs typically introduced in basic level Japanese textbooks. This is because it is an example of verb that end sin ‘iru’ but is conjugated as a constant verb, and also because it’s easy to understand conceptually. In this post I’ll show some related uses of this and other expressions that I find useful in everyday conversation.

First, let’s start off with a simple sentence to illustrate the basic usage to mean “to cut”.

  • 彼はりんごを切った
  • He cut the apple.

Depending on the context, 切る can be translated to “cut, chop, carve, slice, hash, or punch (a ticket)”. The expression ”電話を切る” means to hang up a phone. (電話 = “denwa” (phone))

When used in hiragana form (きる), this verb can also be used as a verb suffix to mean “to completely do”. See this post for some examples.

切られる (kirareru) is the passive form of 切る and means “will be cut”. One way this is used is when someone is given a parking or speed ticket from a police officer. Think of the ticket being torn from some pad of blank tickets before given being handed out.

  • スピード違反のチケットが切られたよ。
  • I got a speeding ticket.

While 切られる means someone had done the action of cutting, 切れる (kireru) simply means something broke or snapped on it’s own.

  • 糸が切れた
  • The thread snapped.

This word can also be used when describing a resource (for example a liquid like water) is used up.

  • 水が切れちゃったよ。
  • The water is all gone.

When something is exhausted, you can use the “〜ている” (or abbreviation ~てる) form to show this state, even though nothing is actively happening.

  • 電池が切れている。
  • The battery is used up.

The verb 切らす (kirasu) is the transitive form of this (meaning it takes an object).

  • 彼女は水を切らしてしまった。
  • She finished the water.

Another use of 切れる is to mean someone has gotten fairly upset or angry at something, and may lose control over their emotions. It’s conceptual similar to the English expression “snapped”. The first two letters are commonly written in Katakana for emphasis (キレる)

  • 女の子はバカにされたらキレた
  • When the girl was made fun of she got very angry.

A related word is 逆ギレ (“gyaku gire”, something like “reverse anger”), which means someone getting upset in response to someone else getting upset at them. For example, let’s say I went to a friend’s house to hang out and forgot to bring a movie we agreed to watch, and my friend might get upset. I might get mad back at them and say “It’s no big deal!”. My friend could then respond with:  (this one is a bit tricky to translate)

  • 逆ギレするな!
  • Don’t get mad at me!


お湯: when “hot water” isn’t water

I’ve written before about how it’s hard to grasp a word’s true meaning and usages just by looking it’s dictionary entry. There are often subtle nuances or assumptions missing. This time I’d like to talk about one such case.

湯 (“yu”, sometimes written as お湯, “oyu”) is a word which means “hot water”. I had learned this some time back, and thought this concept was pretty straightforward. If I heard the word 湯 I’ll know it means hot water – simple.

However one day when I was trying to describe some water which happened to be hot, I used the word “水” (mizu) which as you probably know means plain “water”. Of course I could have called it 湯 but hot water is water after all, right?

Not quite. Though I think hot water could technically be classified as ”水”, in everyday conversation this word would be used to refer to non-hot water. So if the water was really hot, I was told I should use 湯. If I was writing a dictionary I would probably indicate 水 usually refers to non-hot water as to avoid confusion from day one.

Similarly, though the phrase “熱い水” (literally “hot water”) is not technically incorrect, it is much more natural to say 湯. It would be natural to say “暖かい水” (“warm water”), however.

The word 湯 also has an extended meaning of bath water, because that is typically hot. This can be the water inside of a bathtub at home, or in a traditional bathhouse. The dictionary says 湯 can refer to the bathhouse as a unit, and although I’ve never heard this I have seen the symbol ゆ (yu) on the bathhouse in the classic anime film Spirited Away.

Differentiating between the polite prefixed versions of words (お湯、お名前) and the normal versions (湯、名前) is usually pretty tricky in Japanese, though in the case of お湯 I’ve been told that it has a sense of pure or clean water that you would drink (probably water that has been boiled).

So if I take some 水 and I boil it, does it magically turn into お湯? Yes, it does, and there is an expression お湯を沸かす which means to boil water.

The difference between 何の and どんな

When learning a foreign language, once you learn the basics you should always strive to be humble and never assume you have a perfect understanding. This reminds me of the expression “油断大敵” (yudan taiteki) which translates to something like “careless is your worst enemy”. In other words, letting your guard down for just a moment can be your end, regardless of how skillful you are.

This post is a brief episode about how I let down my guard regarding some basic Japanese grammar.

It concerns the expressions “何の〜” (What ~) and “どんな〜” (What kind of ~). I was pretty sure I understood these, and when I was reading a Shimajiro book to my son, there was a part where the sounds of various cars was introduced. For example “ブロロロ” is the sound of a bus. These are interesting in themselves since they are quite different from equivalent English words, but what I’d like to focus on is what I said to my son next.


in this case ”パトカー” is a loanword from English which means “Patrol car”, basically “police car”, and I was trying to ask “What type of sound is made by the police car?”

I had used “何の音” since I felt it meant “what sound?” and assumed this fit the context.

However, as this was completely wrong I was promptly corrected by my wife.

She told me ”何の音” in practical use essentially meant “誰の音” (whose sound) and describes who is making a certain sound.

So it would be correct to say “「ブロロロ」は何の音?“, and the answer would be “a bus”.

However, “パトカーは何の音?” is incorrect because it translates to something like “The police car has whose sound?”.

Accordingly, the proper phrase here would be “パトハーはどんな音?”, which means “The police car has what type of sound? “. If you’re curious, the answer is “ピーポーピーポー”.

Here is another example of these two phrases with their English translations:

  • それは何の本?  => What book is that? (i.e. what is the name)
  • それはどんな本?  => What type of book is that? (i.e. looking for a category)

Japanese particle combination: への (e no)

Often Japanese particles can be combined, with this example of 4 particles sandwiched together (ならではの) one of the most extreme cases.

Usually the meaning of combining two or more particles can be partially guessed by thinking of it as a sum of the meanings of each particle, but there is often some extra nuance that creeps in. Also, many particles have more than one meaning so it may be tricky to figure out which of the meanings is being used in the combination.

Today I’m going to go over the particle combination “への”, which is roughly the combination of the particles へ plus の.

”へ” is used to refer to a direction of something, which is often a physical direction. When used as a particle, へ is pronounced like え. To give a simple example sentence:

  • 映画館へ行きたい。
  • I want to go to the movie theater.

For this usage、に can generally replace へ with no change in meaning.

“の” has many meanings, but the one we are concerned with is when it acts to describe something. It can be used to describe ownership of something, or simply turn a noun into an adjective. Here is an example of each.

  • 僕のビール
  • My beer
  • 科学の本
  • A science book (or “A book about science”)

When combining these two particles as “への”, we end up with describing one word (the word after the の) using the direction towards something else (the word before the へ). Since this explanation is a bit hard to follow, let’s just see an example sentence.

  • 日本への旅行が楽しみ
  • I’m looking forward to my trip to Japan.

Here the “日本への” (to Japan) is modifying the “旅行” (trip) to produce “trip to Japan”.

But do you really need the “へ” here? Actually, I would argue this sentence is even clearer without this.

  • 日本旅行が楽しみ
  • I’m looking forward to my Japan trip

I think the reason the basic の is more natural is because it’s clear what this means. への seems to be used more commonly when there is some ambiguity. Actually, in this case you can even omit the の and just say “日本旅行”.

Let’s look at another example.

  • 新しいゲームへの期待が強い
  • The expectations for the new game are high (lit: “strong”).

Here the direction actually relates to feelings, the ‘direction’ of expectations. You could say this in a more lengthy way as “ゲームに対する期待”.

It’s interesting to note that using へ is typically not used for verbs like 期待 (expect), and the phrase “ゲームへ期待してる” sounds unnatural. に would be the proper choice here. However, “にの” is not a valid particle combination. Ironically, に has a wider set of uses than へ, for example you can say “僕には分かる”, but you wouldn’t say “僕へは分かる”.

Back to the previous example sentence. You could try it without the へ、for example:

  • 新しいゲーム期待が強い
  • The expectations of the new game are high.

Here I would say that there is a little ambiguity, since the expectations could be “for the game” or “from the game” (the latter meaning the game is expecting something). For this reason I think it’s safe to use への, though this particle combination doesn’t seem to be used much in everyday conversation. It’s more of something you would hear in a newscast.

Similarly, the phrase “友達へのプレゼント” specifically indicates a present for a friend, white the phrase “友達プレゼント” has a bit more uncertainty, since it can mean the present possessed by a friend. As usual, content is king and determines what is most natural for a given situation. If you’re speaking normal day-to-day Japanese, I think you’ll be fine with the basic version (second sentence above).


Japanese Podcast review: Gen’s modern Japanese corner (源ちゃんのゲンダイ国語)

As part of my daily commute I’ve been listening to various Japanese podcasts from NHK’s podcast series Suppin. I usually get into one of them, and listen to it exclusively for a few weeks until I’ve heard every episode.

With Gen’s modern Japanese corner, things started out badly because after listening to an episode or two I felt totally clueless  about what was going on. The Japanese was totally cryptic, and I felt frustrated enough to give it a break for a few days.

When I came back to it, I found a few episodes whose content I understood enough to enjoy and even learn something, so I decided of making it my current main podcast to listen to. Since then my understanding is still hit or miss, but I feel it’s gradually improving over time.

Gen’s modern Japanese corner focuses on the Japanese language itself from a perspective of linguistics, history, literature, and culture. I’ve heard topics on free-form haikus, famous love letters, famous sayings (kotowaza), and even word puzzles.

Because this podcast is so deep in culture and history, the Japanese level is pretty high – it’s one most difficult I’ve experienced in my recent listenings. But for every little bit you understand you get the satisfaction of deeper cultural appreciation for Japan and Japanese language. Since many of the episodes read quotes from books, if you want to learn more you can always purchase the book on somewhere like Amazon Japan and delve even deeper.

If you have advanced to expert proficiency in Japanese (at least several years of study) and an interest to learn more about Japan’s culture and language, this is a great podcast to try out.

Linguistic note: 国語 (kokugo) literally refers to the mother tongue of a certain country, but in typical use it means Japanese studied academically as a language. In America, we call English class simply English, but Japanese class (in high school, for example) in Japan would be called 国語.


Some uses of the Japanese verb 限る (kagiru)

This time I’d like to talk about a few uses of the Japanese verb 限る (kagiru), which means “to limit”.

The first use is to mean “not necessarily”. Here is an example sentence.

  • 美味しいとは限らない
  • It’s not necessarily tasty

Literally 限らない is close to “do not limit to”, but in this case the meaning matches up well with the English expression “not necessarily”. Note the は used before it, this is primarily because the verb is used in the negative. You can add the expression “必ずしも” (kanarazu shimo) to the beginning of the above phrase for emphasis, though it basically means the same thing.

You can say “that is not necessarily true” with the phrase “そうとは限らない”.

This verb can also be used in the passive tense to mean something is limited. [選択肢 (“sentakushi”) = option or options]

  • 選択肢が限られてる
  • Options are limited

Finally, 限る can be used in an expression which means something is the best or most appropriate. This can be used in an  exaggerated sense, as in this example:

  • 夏はビールに限る
  • In summer, beer is the best!

限る is a fairly advanced term used mostly by adults, just like you won’t hear most children say “not necessarily”.

Japanese movie review: 陽だまりの彼女 (The girl in the sun)

This time I’d like to review a movie I just finished watching, “陽だまりの彼女”, which I would categorize as an offbeat romance.

To start off with a linguistic note, the word 陽だまり is a little tricky to translate to English because there really isn’t a good match, at least using a single word. Here 陽 (hi) means “sun” or “sunlight” (also written 日), and たまり (溜まり) comes from the verb たまる (溜まる), which means “to collect” or “to pool”. Literally this word means “a pool of sunlight”, just as the word “水たまり” means “a puddle of water”. Pretty poetic, huh? However what this really means is a warm, sunny place. I’ve seen several translations for this movie’s title, such as “The girl in the sun” and “Girl in the sunny place”. I think these are both good translations, though I personally considered something like “Girl of the sun”, “Girl with the sun in her hair”, or “Girl from Enoshima”.

This film features two actors who are pretty big stars of the TV drama world, Juri Ueno and Jun Matsumoto. I’ve seen both of them in various shows, but the most notable for her was Nodame Cantabile, and for him was Kimi wa Petto. To be honest, I don’t think either of them is an actor with great range, though she is cute enough to brighten any role, and he is… well I guess just good enough in a generic way. Some people think he is a super attractive star, though I don’t agree, especially at his current age. In any case my familiarity with both actors definitely helped with my enjoyment of this work.

As usual, in this review I’ll avoid netabare (spoilers), and keep things pretty high-level. The basic premise of the story, which you learn very early on, is that Juri and Jun’s characters (I’ll just use their real names here from here on) had a thing for each other in high school, but ended up going separate ways. Now they are much older and happen to meet again, when Jun is working at an advertising company and Juri is a client. Up till this point everything is sweet puppy love and roses.

But things get a little more complicated when it is revealed that (to keep it vague) one or both of them have secret(s) in their past. Will their relationship survive the forces of fate or get stronger as a result? Thats the kind of movie we have here. The final thing I’ll say about the story is that these secret(s) are what keeps you guessing and watching until the end.

As a movie which throws hints here and there and gradually reveals what is really going on, I think the director (Takahiro Miki), did a pretty good job. If you are Japanese you might pick up on some of the hints much quicker, due to some cultural or linguistic references.

For those studying Japanese, this movie is pretty good since over half of the dialog is straightforward daily-life stuff, with some work-talk thrown in which may have some unfamiliar lingo. I followed my usual practice (with movies) of watching with Japanese subtitles. Surely it isn’t the best way to practice listening, but it does help improve reading speed, kanji knowledge, and general vocabulary. Also I feel that if you want to reuse some of the phrases you hear in your own life you will have a better time  if watching with subtitles. If you want to be hardcore you can listen to it once with just Japanese audio and then re-watch with the subtitles on, though I don’t have enough free time to make that feasible.

In summary, though I won’t claim this movie is a masterpiece, it was quite enjoyable to watch and guess along as the narrative progressed. Highly recommended for anyone studying Japanese, anyone who likes either or both actors, or just someone looking for a “different” type of romance movie.


Translation request from a reader

I recently received a comment about translating a certain phrase, and I thought I would make an article to discuss it.

“After that time, I decided that I don’t want to see him again by any means.”

I think a fairly natural Japanese translation for this would be the following:


As with most translations, there are a bunch of ways to tweak things for a different nuance.

  1. If something really dramatic happened that “that time”, you can say “あの後”. A slightly more literal translation could be “その時から” or “あの時から”。
  2. Originally I had translated “by any means” as  “どうしても”, though I was told since “二度と” together with that sounds redundant so I removed that. You could replace the “二度と” with ”どうしても” if you wanted, however.
  3. “二度と” has a somewhat dramatic feeling to me, you can replace it with “もう” (anymore) to arguably be a bit more tame.
  4. Instead of ”彼とは二度と会いたくない” you can use the phrase “彼の顔はもう見たくない”, though I believe this expression is used more women. Since the original phrase sounds like it was said by a girl this may be OK.
  5. You can replace 彼とは with 彼には without a major change in meaning. I’ve been told that と会う has more of “planned” nuance when compared to “に会う”, but here I don’t think it matters much.