5 Really Useful Japanese Onomatopoeia

3 Feb

Like the English language, Japanese has quite a number of words used to express sounds, words which are known as onomatopoeia. Some common English onomatopoeia are words like ‘bang’, ‘crash’ or ‘boom’. However the Japanese have perfected these words into an art form that they are no longer used to only represent sounds, but also emotions, people’s behaviour and the state of objects.

In Japanese these words are known as 擬声語 (giseigo) and can be broken down into a couple of groups. The two we are interested in are 擬音語 (giongo), which represent sounds such as a dog’s bark or a door slamming, and 擬態語 (gitaigo), which are used for behaviour and emotions. Words similar to gitaigo don’t really exist in English; instead we tend to use an adverb to give a person’s behaviour the characteristics of something else. Think sluggishly and sheepishly. On the other hand, the sound of a gitaigo word represents the way someone does something or how they feel. ニコニコ笑う (niko niko warau)  means to smile while くすくす笑う (kusu kusu warau) means to chuckle to oneself. To different actions but both use the verb 笑う (warau) meaning ‘to laugh/smile’.

What’s more, these words are actually quite common in everyday spoken and written Japanese so it pays to know a few of the more common ones. If you use these words your Japanese will sound much more lively and natural, and they really help to emphasise what you’re talking about. They are also kind of fun to say because in English we don’t really have anything that sounds like these words at all. In this post we are going to focus on some 擬態語 (gitaigo). Here’s five to get you started.

1. ゆっくり – ‘Yukkuri’ is one of the most common gitaigo you will hear, and it means to do something slowly, calmly or restfully. It can be used with any number of verbs, for example ゆっくり歩く (yukkuri aruku) to walk slowly, ゆっくり食べる (yukkuri taberu) to eat slowly or ゆっくり考える (yukkuri kangaeru) to think slowly about something/to think something over. It can even be used with the verb する to mean ‘not really doing much of anything, just taking your time to do as you please’.

2. びっくり – ‘Bikkuri’ is another word you will hear ALL OF THE TIME. It’s used when you’re surprised or shocked about something and is paired with する.  You bump into your friend unexpectedly while getting some groceries, びっくりしました! Your teacher tells you that you aced that exam you were sure you had failed, びっくりしました! You get the picture. It’s a really versatile word and very very Japanese.

3. たっぷり – ‘Tappuri’ is often used with food and means ample or plenty. A sign advertising a new donburi outside a restaurant might read 牛肉たっぷり! (gyuuniku tappuri) meaning ‘there is heaps and heaps of beef in this!’ or you might see お野菜をたっぷり入りました on the menu of a Chinese restaurant, which essentially means ‘We’ve put a lot of veggies in this’.

4. ぐっすり – ‘Gussuri’ is used with the verb 寝る (neru) to sleep and together they mean to sleep soundly, or to be in a deep sleep. A useful one to remember when you’re telling your friends how you slept after your night out at karaoke.

5. こっそり – ‘Kossori’ means to do something sneakily or stealthily and generally has a negative connotation to it. For example こっそり入る (kossori hairu) means to come in/enter sneakily. We could be talking about a burglar entering a house or a teenager sneaking back inside after going out. Another example is こっそり見る (kossori miru) meaning to sneak a glance. You could use it to say you looked at your friend’s answers in an exam or took a peek inside a closed door.

So there you have it! Five new words that will really help to lift your Japanese and make it a touch more expressive. We’ll bring you some more of these words soon since there are A LOT more of them out there.

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