The Japanese language is actually rather limited on the amount of sounds it contains. This means that sometimes the same sounds get used for different words. One of those words is いったい (ittai). What does ittai mean in Japanese?
There are four possible answers that we’re going to cover in today’s lesson. The first one is by far the most common, and is probably the one that you’re looking for.
However, there will be times when the other three are appropriate, so if you’re working on learning as much Japanese as possible, then go ahead and check them out as well.
What Does 一体 Mean?
The first word we’re going to go over is 一体 (ittai). This word is used to “form an emphatic question” in Japanese, which means that it’s used to add some emotion to it.
If we were to translate it into English, it would be equivalent to phrases such as:
- (what) the heck
- (why) in the world
- (who) on earth
What you can see is that the normal questions above are “what; why; who” in the parentheses, but 一体 is equal to the parts that follow the questions to make the whole sentence stronger.
Let’s take a look at two sentences, one without 一体 and then one with it, in order to see how the sentence changes with the addition of this word.
- nani ga okotta no ka?
- What happened?
As you can see, this is just a normal question without any real emotion behind it.
- ittai, nani ga okotta no ka?!
- What the heck happened?!
As you can see, by adding in 一体 we make the sentence seem like a person is freaking out, or greatly concerned by some event that has occurred.
Let’s take a look at another sentence to help lock in the feel of the word.
- ittai, minna doko e icchimattan desu?
- Where in the world did everyone go?
A couple things that you’ll notice about the use of 一体 is that it generally comes right at, or near the beginning of a sentence and isn’t used to convey specific information, but rather how a person is feeling.
- ittai kore wa dou iu koto na no?
- What the hell does this mean?
Like I mentioned before, seeing “ittai” used in this emphatic manner is by far the most common. However, there are a few other words that are pronounced 「いったい」 that carry different meanings. Continue reading to learn them now.
What Else Can 一体 Mean?
I mentioned in the introduction that Japanese has limited sounds. That means that even though all these words have different meanings, they are pronounced the same way.
Related: Learn all the sounds of Japanese.
In addition to that, the next word we’re going to cover is actually spelled the exact same way as the first one was!
This might seem a little confusing at first, but generally speaking the context will let you know which meaning is correct.
In this case, the word 一体 means “one object; one body; unity” and comes from the individual kanji’s meaning of “one” 一 and “body” 体.
Here are a couple of examples taken from a Japanese dictionary:
- ittai o nasu
- to become one (body)
Or when talking about coming together as one body metaphorically, we might say that people “unite” together.
- kurasu ga ittai to naru
- the class is united
So as you can see, even though this word is spelled just like the first one we covered, its meaning is nowhere near it. It should be fairly simple to distinguish between them when reading the whole sentence that they appear in.
What Does 一帯 Mean?
Made based on [http://w3land.mlit.go.jp/WebGIS/ National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs)], Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
Now we move on to a word that’s pronounced the same, but is spelled differently. I’m talking about 一帯 (ittai) which combines the word for “one” 一 with the word for “region” 帯.
The word 一帯 can be used to refer to a “whole region” or to talk about a “stretch of land” and the like.
- ibaraki ya tochigi to no kenkyou no kono ittai wa…
- As for this region of the prefectural border between Ibaraki and Tochigi…
It’s not a very common word, but obviously would come up in geographical conversations.
If you’re reading articles about tourist locations that you’re considering visiting, then you might run into it there.
- amerika no rosanzerusu ittai wa sekai yuusuu no kankouchi desu.
- The Los Angeles area of America is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.
What Does 一隊 Mean?
The last word that we’re going to cover is 一隊 (ittai) and it means “party; gang; company; squad”
Again, this comes from the words for “one” 一 and “party/squad” 隊. When I’ve seen this particular word used in the past, it was usually referring to a military party or group of people.
- ittai no gunsei
- one squad of military troops
Having said that, you will probably see it used in other contexts that aren’t specifically about the military.
- noro noro to susumu kyaraban no ittai
- a slow-moving caravan
Have You Seen Any Other Uses?
That’s about all I’ve got for the various meanings of the word “ittai” in Japanese.
I will say that I’ve heard the word 痛い (itai) for “ouch!” get distorted into 「いったいよ！」 (ittai yo!) which is like shouting “that hurts, man!” when a person gets hit or something like that.
But that’s not really in line with today’s topic. Anyway, if you’ve come across any additional uses of いったい other than the ones that I’ve shared above, then let me know about them by leaving a comment down below.
Or if you’ve got any questions that you wanted to ask, such as clarification on the sentences provided or stuff like that, then please feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can.
With all of that being said, I hope you have a great day and thanks again for reading!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: