When it comes to learning how to say hard in Japanese, there’s actually a surprisingly large amount of ways to say it. Okay, maybe it’s not surprising! But you really have to think about how you want to use the word in order to select the correct one.
I’ve got it divided into three parts below so that you can check out the exact one you are looking for.
The first section is when you want to say that something is hard due to it being difficult or complicated. An example would be the phrase: “Is the test hard?”
The second section is based on texture and would be the antonym of the word “soft.” An example of this kind would be the phrase: “This is a hard rock.”
The third and final section is when you want to say that a verb is hard to do. An example would be the phrase: “Talking in Japanese is hard.”
Let’s get into it!
1. The Words You Use to Say Something is Hard, Difficult, or Complex
First take a look at each of the four example sentences below and then read the notes on each one to get a deeper understanding of the particular word that can be used to mean “hard” in Japanese.
- Is the test hard?
testo, muzukashii desu ka?
The word 難しい (muzukashii) is an i-adjective that can mean hard or difficult in Japanese.
It would have been completely acceptable to translate the above Japanese phrase as “Is the test difficult?” rather than use the word hard, and it would have retained the exact same meaning.
This is due to the fact that we often use the English words hard and difficult interchangeably with one another.
- Tonight? That might be a bit difficult…
konya ka~, chotto kibishii kamo…
The above phrase is a common one that is used to politely refuse an invitation to do something with someone else.
The word 厳しい (kibishii), another i-adjective, actually means stern or strict, but I figured I would include it since you are likely to see it translated as difficult like it’s shown above, and as I mentioned the words difficult and hard are usually synonymous in English.
- This work is not complicated.
kono shigoto wa fukuzatsu de wa arimasen.
The word 複雑 (fukuzatsu) is a na-adjective this time, and it means complex or complicated in Japanese. Again, not exactly the word hard (last time, I promise!) but similar to the situation before, in English we tend to use the words hard and complicated to describe the same thing.
It’s not necessarily true that hard things are also complicated. For example, it may be hard to lift a 100lb boulder, but it’s a pretty simple matter.
Sill, in English it is common to say that a complicated thing is also hard. You are much more likely to hear “This calculus homework is hard!” rather than “This calculus homework is complicated!”
I gave you these last two examples for the word “hard” because when you’re still learning Japanese, there is a tendency to speak it exactly the same way you would speak English, which is actually kind of a bad idea.
So when speaking Japanese, you want to be very precise with your words. Knowing the above situations will help with that.
But anyway, moving on to the last one for this section!
- It’s hard, isn’t it?
taihen desu ne.
The word 大変 (taihen) is a na-adjective that can mean hard or difficult in certain contexts. It can also be a more formal version of the word とても which means very in Japanese, but you really just have to pay attention to how it’s used to know when it means which.
The example phrase above for it would be a common way to let the listener know you “feel their pain” when they are explaining their troubles to you. “That’s rough, man. Must be hard…”
2. The Words you use for the Hardness of an Object’s Texture
If you look up the word for “hard” in a Japanese dictionary, you will probably be presented with the Japanese word かたい (katai), spelled exactly like that in hiragana.
This means “hard, the opposite of soft” which is probably exactly what you want when you are describing the way an object feels.
- It was a hard as a rock.
sore wa marude iwa no you ni katakatta.
In this last sentence, かたい was inflected to its past tense form as かたかった.
Here’s the main problem with the word かたい when it comes to reading and writing it in Japanese:
There are four different ways you can write it!!!
- 硬い (katai) = hard
- 固い (katai) = hard
- 堅い (katai) = hard
- 緊い (katai) = hard
Like, seriously Japan? Why do you do this?!!!
One of the things that interesting about the Japanese language is that it is really limited on the amount of sounds that it contains. That leads to two situations that are necessary to help with this:
- The use of tonality to distinguish words
- Lots of homophones
Homophones are simply two or more words that share a pronunciation, but have different meanings.
But when it comes to the written part of Japanese, they were able to assign different kanji for different meanings, even when they all sounded the same when spoken.
So when you want to say the word hard in Japanese, just pronounce it as かたい (katai) and you should be fine.
But if you want to write it, then you will have to know which of the four kanji to use for the appropriate situation. Here is a simple way to know which one to use:
- 硬い = Used when describing wood as hard. Also when describing food as “tough”
- 固い = Used for everything else, except for #1 & #3
- 堅い = Used for metal and stone
- 緊い = This is an irregular kanji usage nowadays, so don’t use it
Keep those things in mind and you should be fine.
Oh! Did I mentioned that there is an English loan word for hard as well?!
Of course there is.
It’s ハード (haado), but I’ve only seen it used in ハードディスク (haado disuku) for the word hard disk, which are used in computers.
3. How to Say Something is Hard to Do – i.e. Verbs
Okay, last part and it’s pretty simple.
In English, to say that something is “hard to do”, we just add the word hard before the to do form of the verb.
- It’s hard to read Japanese
- It’s hard to speak Japanese
But in Japanese you will actually conjugate the verb that you are using in order to express this same thought.
The rules are fairly simple. You replace ます (from the ます-Form) with にくい.
That’s all there is to it.
- It’s hard to read Japanese.
nihongo wa yominikui.
You can also add the copula です (desu) to it in order to make it polite.
- It’s hard to speak Japanese.
nihongo wa hanashinikui desu.
I’ve read that you can write にくい with kanji as 難い and sometimes even 悪い, but to be honest I have never actually seen it written this way. So if you’re not really sure yourself, then just stick to writing it in hiragana as にくい.
Hopefully This Post was 難しくない (not hard)
Did all of that make sense? Were the example sentences useful for illustrating how to use each one?
Some of these words are more common than others, so even though there was a lot to learn, you might only use one or two of the words with regularity.
But nevertheless, it’s nice to know them all and have a place that you can come back to for reference.
Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: