Expressing sameness and similarity in Japanese (onaji, niru, etc.)

By | October 26, 2015

In this post I’d like to go over a few ways of expressing in Japanese that two things are the same or similar.

To begin with, the word 同じ (onaji) is one of most basic ways of saying “the same”. Sometimes in spoken language it can be pronounced as “おんなじ” (on’naji).

This word is a bit odd grammatically because it functions somewhat like an adjective when placed before another noun, and yet it neither ends with an “~i” or uses “na” like normal adjectives. It can also function on it’s own without a word after it to modify. Here are two examples of these usages:

  • 同じ車が欲しい。 [onaji kuruma ga hoshii]
  • I want the same car.
  • 本の色は同じです。 [hon no iro ha onaji desu]
  • The colors of the book(s) are the same.

If you want to say “the same thing”, it depends on whether you are talking about a physical object or a more abstract thing like an experience. For a physical object, you would say 同じもの [onaji mono] or 同じの [onaji no], whereas for an abstract thing, 同じこと [onaji koto] would be appropriate. Here is an example of the latter:

  • 僕は同じことをやってみたい。[bokuha onaji koto wo yatte mitai]
  • I would like to try doing the same thing.

If you want to talk about the concept of sameness itself, as in two or more things being the same, you can just use 同じ as a noun.

  • 友達と同じがいい [tomodachi to onaji ga ii]
  • I prefer being like my friend(s)  (literally: the same as friend(s) is good).

As you can see from the above example, you generally use the particle “to” after the thing that is being compared to, though sometimes “ni” is always used for this purpose.

You can use ”ような” (you na) after 同じ to express either sameness or similarity.

  • 同じような本を読んだことある。
  • I’ve read a similar book.

同じ is treated like a noun (or na-adjective) when at the end of a sentence, because a “da” would be preferred in the below case:

  • 同じだよ [correct, standard neutral language]
  • 同じよ [also technically correct, but is women language]
  • It’s the same.

(In the case of an i-adjective, the “da” would not be needed (or permitted). For example, “大きいよ” is correct.)

The word 一緒 (issho) is commonly used to mean “together” (ex: 一緒にいこう, “let’s go together”). However it can also be used to mean two things are the same:

  • 親の年齢は一緒だ。
  • My parent’s ages are the same.

When talking about the appearance of two things being the same or nearly indistinguishable, the word そっくり (sokkuri) is appropriate:

  • 髪型もそっくりだった。 [kamigata mo sokkuri datta]
  • Even their haircuts were identical.

The word “等しい” (hitoshii) is a bit more formal way of saying “the same”, or “equivalent”. It isn’t used that often in daily conversation, and is more likely to be used for scientific of mathematical things. (Note: be careful to not confuse this verb with 愛しい [itoshii] which has a completely different meaning)

  • 容量が等しいようです。[youryou ga hitoshii you desu]
  • The capacities are apparently equivalent.

This word is also used in the set phrase “なきに等しい” [naki ni hitoshii] which means nothing or close to nothing.

変わらない (kawaranai, “will not change”) and 違わない (chigawanai, “is not different”) are two other words that can be used to express sameness.

The expression 相変わらず (aikawarazu) is similar to the above two, however has more a nuance of “the same as always”.

  • 君は相変わらずせっかちだね。
  • (I see that) you’re impatient as always.

To indicate similarity, the verb 似る (niru) is frequently used. When the verb is used at the end of a sentence and referring to something that is still similar, the “~te iru” form is commonly used:

  • この二人が似ている
  • These two people are similar.

Here, the similar can refer to appearance, personality, or something else.

As with 同じ, you can generally use the particle と or に after the thing you are comparing to.

  • 飼い主はペット似てる。
  • The owner is similar to the pet.

When “似る” is used in the middle of the sentence as an adjective, it is often in the past tense and used together with “〜ような”.

  • 僕も似たようなことを言ったよ。
  • I also said something similar.

酷似 (kokuji) is a word which means “extremely similar”.

似 (ni) can also be used after a person, usually a relative, to say that someone “takes after” them, in the sense that some attribute was inherited from that person.

  • 君はお父さんですね。
  • You take after your father.

The expression “似た者同士” (nita mono doushi) refers to two people who are very similar with regards to something.


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