Learning lots of common phrases is a great way to jump start your conversational abilities in any language. Once useful phrase that you might want to know is “not really” in Japanese.
There are several different ways that you can express this idea, and the correct one depends on the context of the conversation.
I’ll provide you with several different scenarios below to help you figure out which one to use.
Betsu Ni (別に)
The first situation that might call for a “not really” on your part is when a person asks you a question that has to do with your current condition.
This might be if you’re hungry, or it could be related to how you feel (positive or negative) about something.
For example, let’s say that you’ve been moving boxes all day because you’re helping a friend move into a new home. You’ve been working for several hours and you’re just about finished.
You tell your friend that once the job is complete, you’re thinking of going out and playing some golf. Your friend is surprised because of all the physical activity you’ve already done today so they ask you “Aren’t you too tired to play golf?”
- betsu ni
- Not really
This phrase is a casual one and can also be used to say things like “I’m fine” or “I’m Okay”
If you look this up in the dictionary, it translates as “(not) particularly” which is in line with today’s phrase when people ask you things like “Aren’t you hungry/hot/angry?” and the like.
There is also a longer version that gets used in pretty much the same way.
- betsuni ii kedo
- Fine / Whatever
Keep this one in mind as it can be used often. Now let’s take a look at a more literal phrase.
Sou Ja Nai (そうじゃない)
In Japanese, the word そう (sou) can be used just like the English word “so” in phrases such as “Is that so?”
That means it can also be used to say “that’s not so” which is pretty similar in meaning to “not really” for certain questions.
Let’s say that you’ve seen a couple episodes of the anime One Piece and you enjoyed them. You told this to your friend and then several days later they invite you to hang out.
While you’re chilling they start talking about the things that happened in episode #435 and they want to know your thoughts on it.
You tell them, “I haven’t seen it” to which they reply, “But you told me you’ve seen One Piece.”
- sou ja nai
- Not really / That’s not true
Just because you’ve seen a few episodes, doesn’t mean you actively watch it.
There are many variations of this phrase like そうでもないよ (sou demo nai yo) or the more formal そうではありません (sou de wa arimasen) which is like saying “that is not the case.”
They all pretty much mean the same thing, there are just slight differences in nuance or formality.
You might also come across そんなこと (sonna koto) which means “that sort of thing” used similarly.
“Hey man, aren’t you into that girl Sally? I heard she’s single.”
- sonna koto nai yo
- That’s not true at all / No way man
Now let’s switch over from negating things and instead focus on degree.
Earlier in this post we were going over phases that mean “no” but are a softer way of saying it.
Sometimes however, we don’t want to negate something. Instead, we just want to lessen it so that the person listening knows that we aren’t talking about 100% full force.
This is where the word あまり (amari) comes into play.
This word has a lot of potential meanings, but when it is combined with a negative verb it means “(not) very” or “(not) much.”
So you can use ～があまりない (~ ga amari nai) to say that “there isn’t much ~ left.”
There’s not really any bread left, not a lot of time left, and so on.
This word also has a common variation that you could probably figure out just by hearing it in context, but I figured that it would be nice to see it here too.
It is あんまり (anmari) which has a nearly identical spelling and gets used the same way.
This word can also be combined with adjectives to say that something is “not really BLANK.”
- e ga amari jouzu ja nai
- That painting isn’t really good
There is also a similar phrase それ程 (sore hodo) which means “to that degree” and can be combined with でもない to create our phrase of “not really” (NR). It’s more literally like saying “not to that degree.”
For example, it is a part of the Japanese culture to turn down complements and not think too highly of oneself. Therefore, if you create a poem and someone tells you that it is really great, you might use それ程でもない as a typical response.
Zen Zen (全然)
Lastly, I wanted to talk about one more word that can be used for NR.
The word is 全然 (zen zen) which really means “(not) at all” when used in a negative sentence.
Although this isn’t 100% the same as the above NR phrases, it could be used instead when you want to switch things up a little.
Have you ever filled out one of those health surveys that ask about your diet? The last one I saw wanted to know if I eat at least three servings vegetables each day.
I like the stuff, but I have to admit that I don’t eat that much. And some people don’t even eat them at all!
- yasai wa zen zen tabenai
- I don’t eat vegetables at all
Variation Keeps Things Interesting
As you saw from the above words and phrases, there are really a lot of different ways that you can say “not really” in Japanese.
Sometimes you need to use a particular form, but many times you can exchange several different ones and the meaning will be the same.
If you know of any other interesting ways to express this idea, then be sure to let me know by leaving a comment down below.