Japanese

What is the Japanese Word for About? If you don’t know, then read this!

When it comes to learning Japanese from an English speaker’s perspective, it can be a little tricky to grasp the more abstract concepts.

For example, what is the Japanese word for about?

In English it can be used a lot of different ways, such as:

  1. “I was just going about my business.”
  2. “We were talking about cars.”
  3. “About how long would you say this will take?”

I primarily learned it from a Japanese course that I’m currently using, but when I searched for more information online, I couldn’t really find what I was looking for…

So I decided to go ahead and CREATE the post I that couldn’t find! I figured that you might find it useful too ^_^

And I wanted to give you some good examples on the different usages, so that when you’re finished reading you’ll feel like you have a through understanding of it.

Here we go!

The First Way:

When you want to talk about an approximation of time or amount, you can add the suffix ほど (hodo) to the sentence. This kind of indicates an upper limit to whatever it is you’re talking about. So if you were hanging out with some friends you would use ほど (hodo) to let them know you “have about 20 minutes at the most” before you have to leave.

  • 20分ほど行かなければならないんですが (nijuppun hodo ikanakereba naranai n desu ga)
    I have to leave in about 20 minutes

ほど (hodo) can also be used for other things like indicating extent, and also comparison, but I won’t go into that in this post since they are not related to the topic.

Very similar to ほど (hodo) are the words ぐらい (gurai) and くらい (kurai). They both mean the same thing, but for phonetic reasons you will use one or the other depending on its preceding word.

In contrast to ほど (hodo) which indicates an upper limit, ぐらい (gurai) and くらい (kurai) indicate a lower limit, while still meaning “about” or “around.” So if someone wanted to know how much it would cost to buy a new PlayStation 4 and you didn’t know the exact price, but you knew it was about $300 and possible more, you would use ぐらい (gurai) or くらい (kurai).

  • 300ドルぐらいかかります (san byaku doru gurai kakarimasu)
    It costs about 300 dollars

There is one more difference between ほど (hodo) and ぐらい (gurai) / くらい (kurai) and that is the level of politeness. ほど (hodo) tends to be more on the polite side. It’s the one that you would use with people who are above you in status. ぐらい (gurai) / くらい (kurai) tend to be less formal, but still appropriate for conversations with strangers or people whom you have just met.

The Second Way:

When it comes to time, such as an identifiable time on our 24-hour a day clock, you will actually use the word ごろ (goro) to say “about.” Clock time as I like to call it, seems to have its own rules when it comes to the Japanese language. And this is just another one of those situations. Here’s an example:

  • コンサートは 7 時ごろに始まります (konsāto wa shichi ji goro ni hajimarimasu)
    The concert starts at about seven o’clock

You know, it’s pretty interesting just how much you learn about English when you are studying Japanese. I mean, I never really thought about how versatile our word “about” is until I started using it in multiple situations.

Now let’s change direction a little and talk about the Japanese word for “concerning.”

In English you can interchange the words “about” and “concerning” in certain situations, but in Japanese there is a single word that you will use. It is について (ni tsuite) and you will attached it to the noun that you are talking about. Here’s what I mean:

  • うーん、見つけたこの本について… (ūn mitsuketa kono hon ni tsuite…)
    Hmm, about the book we found…

Remember, in English you could substitute the word “concerning” with the word “about” in the translation above and it would work just as well.

The Third Way:

There are a few other situations when you will use a different word in Japanese. It’s a little hard to explain how it works, so let me just give you some examples instead.

1) – When you want to “ask about” something such as directions, you will use the word 方 (kata). Now, 方 (kata) is a pretty interesting word by itself because it means things such as “direction” or “way.” But, here’s the scenario where it is used to mean “about.”

  • 行き方を聞こう (iki kata o kikō)
    Let’s ask about directions!

Notice that we could have just as easily said “let’s ask for directions” instead of “about,” but it still applies in this phrase, so I wanted to let you know.

2) – The other word that can mean “about” is 事 (koto). Now, 事 (koto) is an interesting word because it usually means “thing” or “matter.” But sometimes when you are talking about some thing (such as a verb), it is appropriate to use 事 (koto). Here is an example:

  • 踊る事は何を知っていますか (odoru koto wa nani o shitte imasu ka)
    What do you know about dancing?

So that’s what I mean when I say that 事 (koto) can be interpreted as “about” or “matter.” Personally, I think it’s pretty cool how you can basically say the same thing in multiple different ways. That’s how it is in pretty much all languages. But I absolutely empathize with anyone who sometimes feels overwhelmed by the sheer amount of variety.

Let me ask you about…

So there’s a lot of different ways for you to use the word “about” in Japanese. I hope the examples I gave you were enough to help you understand how to use the different options,  and when each one is appropriate.

On a side note, today is the 4-month anniversary of this blog and I just wanted to let you all know that I appreciate your comments and suggestions and I am always looking for ways to improve my viewers experience. That’ you guys 😉

Let me know if there’s ever anything you that you’d like me to talk about specifically. And if you learned a lot from this post then give it a like, share with your friends, and leave a comment below! Thanks! (^_^)b

2 Comments

  • Paul

    Great post-Nick on the many subtilties of the Japanese language.

    I do not speak Japanese, but I do speak French. It is my first language and I can relate easily to your description and use of the word “about”.

    As you mention, cross-referencing words between languages helps to improve both languages for the learner.

    Thanks, and keep up the great work. Very well written and interesting.

    Paul

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Paul, thank you for the kind words! And it’s pretty cool that you are bilingual! So you’ve got a pretty good understanding on how languages work. Unfortunately it’s kind of hard to appreciate it when you only know one language. I’ve always said that I learned more about English from studying Japanese than I ever did in school, lol!

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