Adjective Adjustment

The year was 2009. It was my first week studying at a Japanese language school in Tokyo. My new friend Matt says: "I looked up the word 'rather' in Japanese because I always want to say it. Apparently it's かなり."

My first reaction was to think that it was odd that he wanted to say "rather" so badly. Then again, Matt is from Manchester, so maybe it makes sense.

Something about what he said stuck with me, and I never forgot the word かなり.

...I also didn't understand the nuance of the word until many years later.

Specifically, I had trouble telling the difference between かなり and 結構 (けっこう). Telling the difference between different words' nuances is a common problem, but in this case it was especially annoying to me... because these are (adverbial?) modifiers — one of the most useful types of words to learn.

For example, we've seen that you can say:

おおきい です ね。
It's big, isn't it?
Literally: "big + です + ね."

But we can also say:

かなり おおきい です ね。
It's quite [rather] big, isn't it?
Literally: "rather / quite + big + です + ね."

けっこう おおきい です ね。
It's pretty [fairly] big, isn't it?
Literally: "pretty / somewhat + big + です + ね."
Note: It's common to write 結構 without kanji, as けっこう.

Something that is かなり大きい is bigger than something that is けっこう大きい. And something that's just 大きい might fall somewhere in between. I say "might" because people aren't always consistent with adverbial modifiers.

Back when I was a beginner of Japanese, I only knew how to use the adverbial modifier: とても (very). After all, my teachers and textbooks were using it all the time.

Then I encountered Japanese "in the wild" and found that it's not used nearly as often as I'd thought. In particular, you won't hear とても used much in casual spoken Japanese.

Thinking about it in English terms, there are a handful of adverbs that add a plethora of nuances to our phrases. Consider the following sentences:

It's extremely hot.
It's very [really] hot.
It's quite [rather] hot.
It's hot.
It's pretty [kind of / sort of] hot.
It's a bit hot.
It's not that hot.
It's not hot.
It's not hot at all.

We already know that "hot" is 暑い (あつい), right? (I'm using 暑い and not 熱い for あつい here. Both mean "hot," but I'm imagining "hot weather" for our sentences, so 暑い is best.) All that's left for us to do is to figure out the Japanese adverbs that correspond to the English ones listed above.

You'd think that this would be pretty straightforward, but words tend to differ quite a bit in Japanese depending on the intended level of stiffness (or, for lack of a better word, "formality") of one's speech. For example, all of these words correspond to the English adverbs "very" or "really":




But とても has a pretty stiff ring to it. Conversely, めっちゃ sounds very casual, maybe even a bit slang-like. So, you might think, "I'll just use すごく for my everyday casual language." Not so fast.

Yeah, there's a chance that your teacher will tell you to use すごく, an adverb, when pairing it with adjectives and verbs. In the real world, however, some words, すごく being one of them, are still commonly said in their adjectivial form even when technically they're being used as adverbs.

So while it's technically correct to say: すごく暑い...

...all your friends are going to be saying すごい暑い.

Why am I going out of my way to explain all of this? Well, in the chart below, I'm listing casual sentences, and I didn't want you to be confused as to why I put すごい and not すごく. Potentially confusing, I know, but we always prioritize natural Japanese over textbook Japanese here at NihongoShark!

ひじょうに あつい。
It's extremely hot.
Literally: "extremely + hot."

すごい あつい。
It's very [really] hot.
Literally: "very + hot."

かなり あつい。
It's quite [rather] hot.
Literally: "rather / quite + hot."

It's hot.
Literally: "hot."

けっこう あつい。
It's pretty [kind of / sort of] hot.
Literally: "pretty / somewhat + hot."

ちょっと あつい。
It's a bit hot.
Literally: "a little bit + hot."

そんなに あつくない。
It's not that hot.
Literally: "(not) that / (not) very + isn't hot."

It's not hot.
Literally: "isn't hot."

ぜんぜん あつくない。
It's not hot at all.
Literally: "(not) at all + isn't not."

Did you catch all of our new adverbs? They were:

  • 非常に(ひじょうに // extremely
  • すごい(very
  • かなり(rather; quite
  • けっこう(pretty; somewhat
  • ちょっと(a little bit
  • そんなに([not] very; [not] that
  • 全然(ぜんぜん // [not] at all

Try keeping an eye out for these in the future... and see if you can't use them to add some much-needed flavor to your own Japanese.

At the very least, you'll see them again and again in our lessons.

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