Spoiling and being spoiled in Japanese: 甘やかす (amayakasu) and 甘える (amaeru)

By | June 19, 2016

甘やかす (amayakasu) and 甘える (amaeru) are two words I use somewhat frequently in daily life which are little tricky to express in English. As a hint to their meaning, it’s good to notice that both of these words contain the Kanji “甘” which is the same one as used in the word for “sweet” (甘い, “amai”).

Let’s begin with 甘える and look to the Japanese dictionary to get an accurate take on it’s meaning.  Here is one of the more common meanings it is used for, along with my rough translation.

  • かわいがってもらおうとして、まとわりついたり物をねだったりする。
  • To try to be treated with affection, doing things like clinging to someone or pleading them for things.

A common way this word is used is to refer to an action of a child to a parent, as in “子供が親に甘える”.

The English dictionary has the following meanings:

  • behave like a baby
  • behave like a spoiled child
  • demand attention

There is another meaning 甘える is used for in the same vein:

  • 相手の好意に遠慮なくよりかかる
  • To rely on someone’s good without reservation

The English dictionary expresses this as “好意を利用する”, which can be roughly translated as “to take advantage of (someone’s) good will”.

So if my son comes up to me and starts saying funny things, you could say:

  • 彼は甘えてるだけだ
  • He’s just trying to get your attention

Though in this English translation, like many of the others, I don’t think the entire meaning of ”甘える” is captured, which has a stronger connotation than just “get one’s attention”.

An expression that uses 甘える word is “お言葉に甘えて” (okotoba ni amaete) which means something like “I’ll take you up on your offer”, and can be used as a polite way to accept someone’s offer. Keep in mind literally the meaning is closer to “indulge” here.

Another related word is 甘えん坊 (amaenbou) which means “人に甘える子供”. This can be translated as “a spoiled child”, but I think that meaning is a little more harsh and negative than indicated by the Japanese.

The word 甘ったれる (amattareru) meanings the same thing as 甘える for both of the above cases.

Now onto 甘かやす (amayakasu) which can be seen as the other side of 甘える. Here is the definition in the Japanese dictionary (with my translation):

  • 子供などを厳しくしつけないで、わがままにさせておく
  • To not strictly discipline a child or other person, and let them do what they want.

In the English Dictionary we have “to indulge” or “to pamper”.

One difference between 甘える and 甘やかす is that 甘える expresses the “attempt” to have someone pamper them (and can fail), but 甘やかす is the actual act of the pampering.

When trying to say “You’re spoiled” at first you might think “甘やかしている” is used, or “甘えている”. However, the most natural expression actually uses the passive form of the former, “甘やかされている” (amayakasarete iru). That’s a little tricky to say, try to say it 10 times fast!

A final word I’ll introduce is “甘ったるい” which not only means “sweet” as in Candy, but also can be used to express someone who is trying hard to “甘える”, as in the “sugary voice” (甘える声) of a woman trying to get the attention of a man.










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One thought on “Spoiling and being spoiled in Japanese: 甘やかす (amayakasu) and 甘える (amaeru)

  1. Wilma

    Interesting article!
    My husband actually uses the words 甘えん坊 and 甘える in a quite positive way, so to me the translation of spoiled or demanding attention feels a bit harsh. He often says 甘えていいよ when I feel down, which I think is rather sweet.


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