Earlier I wrote about the way that most people use anime to learn Japanese and why it typically doesn’t work. Check out that orange link to it, because I explain at the end some of the methods that you can use that actually do work.
But one thing that I concede is that it’s actually really easy to pick up useful, single words just from watching anime. For example, to learn what is Japanese for awesome, you only have to watch one or two episodes of any anime in Japanese to hear someone shout the word すごい (sugoi). Yes, すごい is the Japanese word for awesome!
By watching a lot of anime, or reading manga in Japanese, you’ll also probably hear the common distortion of すごい, which is すげえ (sugee). It means exactly the same thing, but this other version get’s used a lot by people in casual situations.
In fact, learning these single word expressions are a great way to jump start your Japanese skills since they get used all the time. Not only in anime, but also in real life too. Pretty cool, right?
So I’ve compiled a list of 24 different, individual words below with an explanation for each one. I’ll explain when it would be natural to use them in Japanese and give an example. よし！ Alright, let’s go!
24 Super Useful Japanese Words
1. すごい (sugoi) – Awesome!
You already know this one as we’ve covered it in the intro. You can use it any time you would say that something is “Awesome” in English. Generally speaking it’s used when you want to express your wonder and admiration at someone’s amazing abilities.
“You can run a mile in less than 5 minutes?! すごい!”
2. わかった (wakatta) – Understood.
This one is the past tense word for “to understand” but it’s usually used as a reply to someone when you want to tell them something like: “Got it, Okay, or Right.”
“So the new manga comes out tomorrow? Ah, わかった.”
3. マジ (maji) – No Kidding?
This one always cracks me up when I hear it in an anime. It also often gets translated to mean “Seriously?!” when the character hears or sees something unbelievable. And it’s usually shouted pretty loudly with a look that says “You’ve gotta be crapping me!”
“He’s dating a model? マジ?!”
4. もちろん (mochiron) – Of Course.
This one is pretty simple as it just means “Of course” in English. But you could also translate it as “Without a doubt” or “Sure” as a response to a person’s question.
“Do I like pizza? もちろん!”
5. よかった (yokatta) – That’s Good.
The present tense of “Good” is いい (ii) and it changes to よかった when it is used in the past tense. But there’s a lot more to it than just that. Usually people say it after they receive some good news as an expression to mean “That’s great!” or “I’m so glad!”
“Hey, I got an A on the exam! よかった!”
6. ちがう (chigau) – Wrong
This word literally means “mistake” but is often used to tell someone “no, that’s not right” when they make an incorrect statement. Like if someone asks you if you’re the one who ate the last cookie from the cookie jar. You might tell them: “ちがう! It wasn’t me!” Or if you’re working on a new piece of art, but you just can’t seem to get it right…
7. ほんと (honto) – Really?
Here’s another very common word that you will definitely hear. It’s not used when you are in a state of disbelief like マジ. Rather it’s used to confirm information that you find interesting. Make sure you say it with a rising intonation so people know you’re using it as a question.
“Oh, you’re from Japan? ほんと?
8. がんばって (ganbatte) – Good Luck!
Use がんばって for all kinds of encouragement when talking to others. It can be used to mean “Good luck” before they take a test or run a race. Or it could mean “Hang in there” when they’re working hard at something (like climbing a rock wall). And if you’re friend looks like they’re at the end of their stamina, be sure to tell them “Don’t give up!”
“You can do this! がんばって!”
9. ちょっと (chotto) – A little.
This one gets used for all kinds of things. You could use it to get someone’s attention, as in “Hey.” Or you could use it to politely turn down an invitation to hang out with someone, as in “Well… I can’t really…”
“Hey! Uh, excuse me! ちょっと!”
10. だめ (dame) – No good.
Use だめ as a way to tell people “no” when something won’t work, or if you think it’s a bad idea. Say you gotta’ buddy who wants to jump his bike off of his roof. You might want to let him know that’s a bad idea:
“Bro… だめ. Don’t be dumb.”
11. はやく (hayaku) – Hurry!
The word はやい can mean “fast, quick, or early” and is used as an i-adjective. But when you change it to はやく it becomes an adverb to mean “quickly.” But people use it as a way to tell others to “hurry up!”
“The movie’s about to start! はやく! はやく!”
12. だいじょうぶ (daijoubu) – Are you okay?
Ah, yes. The one Japanese word that my little brother knows, lol! This one means “fine” or “okay” and is usually used as either a question to inquire about someone’s health, or used as a confirmation that you’re good. The difference is if the intonation rises (question) or if it stays the same/goes down (statement).
13. ありえない (arienai) – Impossible!
This one does indeed mean “impossible” but it is usually used as an exclamation like “There’s no way!” Maybe your friend tells you that he is going to score a perfect 300 when you two go bowling tonight. Are you skeptical? ありえない can be used to tell him “Fat chance!”
“You think you’re going to beat me tonight? ありえない!”
14. ひどい (hidoi) – Terrible.
You can say ひどい as an exclamation to mean “That’s terrible” when you hear some bad news. Like maybe somebody tells you they don’t like your face… ひどい, “That’s harsh!” And just like how すごい has a verbal variant, ひどい also has one as well: ひでえ (hidee).
“Your ex stole your cat? ひどい!”
15. こい (koi) – Come here.
The word for “to come” is くる, but it gets changed to こい when it is used as a command for someone else to “Come here” or even “Come on.” You generally don’t use commands in Japanese as it can come across as rude, but it’s in a lot of anime.
“Yo! What are you waiting for? こい!”
16. かわいい (kawaii) – Cute.
I’d be willing to bet that you already know this word pretty well. かわいい is not just a word that means “Cute” in Japanese, it’s also a way of life! かわいい is a style! It is an attitude! And it’s everywhere! Of course, it’s used by women and children a lot more often that it is by men, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it if you’re a dude.
“Is this your new puppy? She’s so かわいい!”
17. こわい (kowai) – Scary.
If you yell out こわい then you’re telling everyone “I’m scared!” But if that one crazy person is doing all the screaming (you know who I’m talking about), then you might just whisper こわい under your breath to say “That’s scary…”
“Wow, look how big that beetle is! こわい!”
18. いたい (itai) – Ouch!
Just like how people who speak English yell out “Ouch!” when they stub their toe, Japanese people will say いたい when something hurts. What’s even better is that if you’re at the doctor’s office in Japan and there’s something wrong with you, you can simply point to where it hurts and say いたい and the doctor should have a pretty good idea of what’s wrong.
You can also say it when when someone clonks you on the head.
19. まって (matte) – Wait.
When you use the te-form for the Japanese word for “to wait” it is used as a polite way of requesting for someone to “Please wait.” The full version would be まってください, but if you’re friendly with the person you’re talking to, then you can just say まって. You also might hear the abbreviated version of it: まて (mate).
“ちょっとまって. I’m almost ready. ”
20. よし (yoshi) – Alright!
People say よし when they are about to do something, or take an important action. It can be interpreted as “Alright right!” “Let’s go!” or even, “Here I come!”
“The match starts in five seconds… よし!”
21. やった (yatta) – Yay!
Anytime you achieve victory or something good happens to you, feel free to yell out やった! This could mean “Yay, I did it, or hooray!”
“I beat the final boss! やった!”
22. うそ (uso) – lie.
This word literally means “lie” but when someone exclaims it, they usually mean it like “No way!” or “You’re kidding me!”
“What? There’s $100 on the ground? うそ!”
23. うれしい (ureshii) – Happy!
Hey guess what? You’ve learned 23 new words already! Does that make you うれしい? I hope so! The word うれしい can be used to say “I’m happy” when you feel that way, or it could even mean “Whee!” like when you’re going down a fun roller coaster.
“Wow! You bought me a Gameboy? うれしい!”
24. おねがい (onegai) – Please.
There are actually quite a few different ways to say “please” in Japanese. But this particular one is used to ask a favor of another person. The word ねがい means “wish.” If you’re little sister looks at you with that sweet look on her face and say “Pretty please?” She’d use おねがい in Japanese.
Learning Japanese, One Word at a Time
Normally it’s easier to learn Japanese words when they’re part of a sentence. There’s just a lot more meaning to it when the words tell a story together. But there is definitely something to be said about learning a single Japanese word in isolation. Especially when it’s often times used that way in real life as well!
Now you know 24 words that can be used by themselves anytime!
How many of these words did you know already? Know of any other good one-liners used in Japanese? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! Let me know by leaving a comment below!