158 - From Zero to The Most

Once you get a bit more comfortable making sentences in Japanese, you'll start to want to express yourself better. This is where adverbs come into play. Instead of just saying someone is crazy, you can say they are extremely crazy. Or instead of saying something is crap; you can say it’s utterly crap. (Did I mention that complaining is an art-form for me?)

You have probably already learned one of these “degree” adverbs: とても , which simply means ”very.”
But beginners tend to overuse this and it becomes the-boy-who-cried-wolf.
If everything is “very” exciting, or “very” dull, then nothing is, you get my point?

Anyway, there is a whole plethora of other degree adverbs you can add to your Japanese vocabulary that can make your sentences much more colorful.

Here is a list I made of some of the most common degree adverbs, from “not at all” to “the most.”

None 全然、少しも、全く Not at all
あまり Not really
少し、ほんの、ちょっと A little
まあまあ So-so
けっこう Pretty
かなり、ずいぶん Fairly
とても、大変、非常に、すごく Very
All いちばん、最も The most

When I go to the hair dresser, they put my glasses in the little box while they do my hair. They always end up asking me what I think after they are done. Since my vision is unusually poor without my glasses, I always reply:

ぜんぜん みえない。
I can’t see at all.
Literally: “completely + can’t see”

When I call someone and say that I'm going to be 3 hours late to their party, they nicely say:

すこしも かまいません。
I don’t care at all.
Literally: “not one bit + don't care.”

If a friend asks if I would like to go skiing with them in Nagano I would say:

すきー が まったく できない。
I can’t ski at all.
Literally: “ski + が + at all + can’t”

When my coworker tells me I don’t look well after coming into work a bit late I can say:

あまり ねられなかった。
I didn’t sleep very much.
Literally: “much + didn’t sleep”

Note: Negative verbs at the end of the sentence must be used with all the above adverbs, as you can see in the example sentences.

ほんの and 少し(すこし) can be used separately, both meaning “a little bit,” but they are often used together as one expression like this:

ほんの すこし の ところで ひこうき に のりおくれて しまった。
I just barely missed the plane.
Literally: “little bit + little bit + ところで + airplane + に + late to ride + しまった”

I am sure you are familiar with ちょっと from set expressions like:

ちょっと まって ください。
Please wait a moment.
Literally: “a little bit + wait + please”

まあまあ translates best into “so-so.” It is neither good, nor bad.

わたし は まあまあ じょうず に ろっくくらいみんぐ が できる。
I am passably good at rock climbing.
Literally: “I + は + so-so + skillful + に + rock climbing + が + can do”

Now we are getting into the more positive side of the list, starting with けっこう, which means “pretty much.”

それ は けっこう よかった。
It was pretty good.
Literally: “that + は+ pretty + good”

When you realize you have been “studying” for hours into the night you can say:

よる は かなり ふけていた。
It has gotten fairly late.
Literally: “night + は + fairly + gotten late”

These next 4 example sentences contain words for “very,” which are very useful in Japanese. There are so many good ways to express yourself with these “very” variations. (<--Did you see what I did there??)

When you find out some juicy work gossip, like who is sleeping with whom:

とても おどろいた。
I astonished.
Literally: “very + surprised”

When you finally finish the 8-hour climb to the top of Mount Fuji:

たいへん つかれました。
I am extremely exhausted.
Literally: “very + exhausted.”
Note: This sentence sounds pretty formal.

If your friend is missing from school for several days:

ひじょうに しんぱい している。
I am really worried.
Literally: “very + worried”

If your roommate never replaces the toilet paper on the roll:

わたし は すごく おこっている。
I am super angry.
Literally: “I + は + very + angry”

The last two are the most extreme type of degree adverbs and they both mean “the most.”

If you fall down a mountain while skiing, the doctor might ask you:

どこ が いちばん いたみます か?
Where does it hurt the most?
Literally: “where + が + the most + hurt”

When you are talking about your favorite athlete:

かのじょ は もっとも すぐれた せんしゅ である。
She is the best player.
Literally: “she + は + most + excellent + player + である”

Adverbs can turn a simple beginner sentence into one with personality. Using a variety of these simple adverbs can instantly make you sound more natural when you speak Japanese. So practice, and don’t just get stuck on とてもand ちょっと, there are so many more descriptive words to use!

This lesson was written by Cassy L., a guest contributor:

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