Japanese words that mean “not at all” (zenzen [全然], etc.)

By | February 26, 2019

I’ve noticed that Japanese seems to have a large number of words that are used to describe the complete absence of something, or complete negation of something like an action. These words would generally be used in a sentence or phrase that ends in a verb in the negative tense. In English, this would correspond to something like “not at all”.

I’ll give example sentences for some of the more common words.

  • 全然 (zenzen) [common in conversation, handy for many types of situations]
    • 全然勉強したくない [zen zen benkyou shitakunai]
    • I don’t want to study at all.
  • 全く(mattaku)
    • やる気全くないよ [yaruki mattaku nai yo]
    • I have absolutely no motivation.
  • 一切 (issai) [sounds a little formal]
    • そういう事を一切しないようにしてください [sou iu koto wo issai shinai you ni shite kudasai]
    • Please try to not do that sort of thing at all.
  • 一向 (ikkou) [sounds formal, sometimes followed by “ni”]
  • 何も (nanimo) [somewhat general purpose, has the nuance of “nothing”]
  • まるで (marude) [sounds a little stuff to me, also can have the nuance of “just like”]
  • ちっとも (chittomo)
  • 少しも (sukoshimo)
  • これっぽちも (koreppochimo) [sounds casual/slangy, meaning is similar to the previous two words]
  • さっぱり (sappari) [limited use, often used with “wakaranai”]
  • まるっきり (marukkiri) [also “marukiri”)
  • 満更 (manzara) [has a nuance of ‘not altogether’]

You can also use the form “一 + [counter] + も”, as long as the counter fits the object being discussed. For example:

  • 人は一人もいない (hito wa hitori mo inai)
  • There wasn’t even a single person.

Another word that is similar is 何一つも (nani hitotsu mo).

There are also a few words that mean “not very much”. These too should be used with a negative verb when you want to express that meaning.

  • あまり (amari) [good conversational use with wide applicability]
    • あまりお腹空いてない (amari onaka suite nai)
    • I’m not very hungry.
  • ほとんど (hotondo) [another one word for general use, can optionally be followed by 全て [subete] ]
    • ほとんど終わってるよ [hotondo owatteru yo]
    • Things are mostly done.
  • ほぼ (hobo) [sounds a little stiff to me, can optionally be followed by 全て [subete] ]
  • まず (mazu) [sounds a bit more formal, also has the unrelated meaning of “first”]

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