In this article I’d like to talk about the Japanese word “sonna” (そんな) and a few related expressions.
The word “sonna” is a close equivalent to the expression “sono you na”, which in English translates literally to “like that”. However, we will have to look a little deeper into this word in order to understand how it is used in practice. (For those of you who are concerned with intonation, in standard Tokyo-dialect the pitch of this word typically rises.)
“Sonna” is often used when describing something with a negative or unfavorable nuance, similar to the expression “I would never do something like that“. For example,
- そんな人と話したくないよ。 (sonna hito to hanashitakunai yo)
- I don’t want to talk to somebody like that.
One very common expression is “sonna koto nai” (そんな事ない), which literally means “there is nothing like that”, but in practice is often used when contradicting something that was just said. For example,
- Person A: 日本語なんて、いくら勉強しても流暢になれない (nihongo nante, ikura benkyou shite mo ryuuchou ni narenai)
- No matter how much you study Japanese, you’ll never become fluent.
- Person B: そんな事ないよ! (sonna koto nai yo)
- That’s not true!
It’s important to note that this expression has a strong feeling to it, so generally I would only suggest using it with close friends or coworkers. Just imagine how inappropriate it would be you responded “No way!” to something your boss said.
A similar expression is “sore wa nai” (それはない) which is used in a similar way to deny something.
- 日本に100ドルだけで行けるよ (nihon ni hyaku doru dake de ikeru yo)
- You can get to Japan with just 100 dollars.
- それはないでしょう！ (sore wa nai deshou)
- No way!
Probably one of the most common (and confusing) ways to use “sonna” is simply saying that word by itself. For example:
- 今日、大洪水になってたくさんの人が困ってます。 (kyou, daikouzui ni natte, takusan no hito ga komatte imasu)
- Today there is major flooding and many people have been put in a bad situation as a result.
- そんな。。。 (sonna…)
- Oh no…
This use of “sonna” is used when the speaker is expressing something is unbelievable (信じられない) or very surprising. It can be used in serious situations like the above or in a lighter sense. (By the way, the verb “komaru” is a little difficult to translate to English, see this post for more details on that word).
It’s important to note that “sonna” isn’t always used in a negative sense. For example, in this sentence it can have a neutral feeling:
- そんな気がする (sonna ki ga suru)
- I have that sort of feeling.
For really negative things you can use the word “anna”, roughly equivalent to “ano you na”. This also means “like that”, but in a more extreme/emphatic sense.
- まさかあんな事になるとは思わなかった (masaka anna koto ni naru to wa omowanakatta)
- I never thought that sort of thing would happen.