問題 (mondai): a very problematic word in Japanese

By | June 8, 2016

In this post I’d like to talk about the Japanese word 問題 (mondai), a very useful word which has several meanings.

The first meaning, possibly the most common, is “problem” in the sense of something that is not going according to plan.

  • A: 大丈夫ですか?             [Is everything OK?]
  • B: ええ、問題ないです。 [Yes, I’m fine.]    literally: [Yes, there is no problem.]

You can also use the phrase 問題なく (mondai naku, “without problem”) as an adverb to describe something going smoothly.

  • 全て問題なく終わった。 [Everything finished without any problems.]

問題 can also be used to refer to a problem on a written test, like one taken at school.

  • 正しい単語を選ぶ問題3問題ありました.  [There was three problems where you have to choose the right word]

From the above  example sentence, you can see that these types of problems can be counted with the suffix ~問 (~mon), as in:

  • 1問  [ichimon]
  • 2問 [nimon]
  • 3問 [sanmon]

You can use the verb ”解く” (toku) to describe solving a problem.

  • 僕は試験で問題を解くのが遅いです.  [I’m slow at solving problems on tests]

問題 can also be used in a slightly different sense as something which is being debated or considered, which you could express in English as “issue”, “matter”, or  “question”.

  • バレるのは時間の問題だ。 [It’s only a matter of time until it is found out].
  • これはモラルの問題です。  [This is a question of morals.]

One very useful phrase is “そういう問題じゃない” (sou iu mondai ja nai), which literally means “It’s not that problem”, and can be used in a conversation where you feel the other person is speaking off topic, or not quite getting what you are saying.

  • A:毎日、漢字を徹底的に勉強すればいい。                               [Just study Kanji exhaustively ever day.]
  • B: そういう問題じゃない。勉強しても身につかないよ.     [That’s not the problem. Even if I study I can’t learn them.]

One expression which can be confusing is 問題にならない, which at first look seems to mean “Doesn’t become a problem”, or “Isn’t a problem”. However, the meaning of this is actually quite different, because 問題 is used here in the sense of “something to discuss”.

Let’s look at part of the description of this phrase in the Japanese Goo dictionary:

論議や比較の対象として取り上げる価値がない   [Doesn’t have enough value to be raised as an object of comparison or debate.]

Example: その提案は問題にならないよ。 [That proposal is out of the out of the question]

There is a bunch of other sample expressions using 問題にならない here.

The above dictionary entry also mentions a similar phrase, “話にならない”, which can be understood to roughly mean “not worth talking about”.

問題 can be used in a sense similar to “cause”:

  • 彼の行動が問題だった。  [His behavior was the cause]   Literally: [His behavior was the problem]

Note that が is used here because the emphasis is on “what was the problem?”, which is 行動 (actions).

A final usage of 問題 is 問題にする, which literally means “to make into a problem”.

  • こんな些細なことを問題にするなんて信じられない   [I think it’s crazy to make a big deal out of such a small thing]

 

There are also a bunch of compound words that contain 問題. Here are a few I’ve seen used before:

  • 問題外 [mondaigai]: out of the question (similar to 問題にならない)
  • 問題児 [mondaiji]: problem child
  • 問題点 [mondaiten]: point in discussion
  • 大問題 [daimondai]: a big problem

References

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/je/75835/meaning/m0u/問題/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/220806/meaning/m0u/問題/

http://ejje.weblio.jp/sentence/content/%22問題にならない%22

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2 thoughts on “問題 (mondai): a very problematic word in Japanese

  1. Vaffangool

    If you translate mondai as a concern, it fits neatly into most senses of the word.

    Reply

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