What do you say when you see something super cute while you’re in Japan? You could just say it’s cute in English, but what is the Japanese word for cute? It’s kawaii!!!
It’s one of those words that you’ll hear people say a lot. Both Japanese people, and also Americans that watch a lot of anime. I was at an anime convention about a year ago and I probably heard someone say something was kawaii at least once every thirty minutes!
Japanese words for cute, pretty, etc.
(1) The Japanese word for cute is 可愛い (kawaii). It is often written in hiragana as かわいい. This word gets used A LOT in Japanese! You’ll hear people using it all the time to describe things like adorable kittens, pretty outfits, people’s babies and so on.
In fact, かわいい (kawaii) is actually a part of the culture over in Japan. It’s a style for clothing that a lot of young women wear, and also as a way of behaving – like a personally type. So just be ready to hear it often!
- この新しい帽子はかわいい！ (kono atarashii bōshi wa kawaii)
This new hat is cute!
(2) The Japanese word for pretty is きれい (kirei). It is actually a na-adjective that originally meant “dry” or “clean” way back in the day when people didn’t bathe very often. It’s interesting how being dry/clean was considered the equivalent to being pretty.
- 彼女はとてもきれいな女の子です。 (kanojo wa totemo kireina onna no ko desu)
She is a very pretty girl.
Since it’s a na-adjective you will have to add the な (na) to it when it comes directly before any noun that it’s applied to. But when you use it after the noun, you can drop the な (na).
- 女の子はとてもきれいです。 (onna no ko wa totemo kirei desu)
The girl is very pretty.
And when you want to change the form of any na-adjective, (from positive to negative, or from present tense to past tense) all you have to do is to inflect the copula です (desu). You don’t have to change the adjective at all.
- きれいです (kirei desu) = is pretty
- きれいでした (kirei deshita) = was pretty
- きれいじゃありません (kirei ja arimasen) = is not pretty
- きれいじゃありませんでした (kirei ja arimasen deshita) = was not pretty
(3) The Japanese word for beautiful is 美しい (utsukushii). This one is actually an i-adjective, and so it has to be handled a little differently when it gets inflected. Rather than change the copula です (desu), you change the final い (i) in the adjective. This might feel a little tricky for someone who is just starting out with Japanese, but like most aspects of the language you get used to it with practice.
An other interesting thing about i-adjectives is that you can drop the copula です (desu) when you use them, as long as you are speaking in the casual form with friends or family.
- 美しい (utsukushii) = is beautiful
- 美しかった (utsukushikatta) = was beautiful
- 美しくない (utsukushikunai) = is not beautiful
- 美しくなかった (utsukushikunakatta) = was not beautiful
(4) The Japanese word for good looking or cool is 格好いい (kakkou ii). This is also one that I see written in hiragana a lot: かっこういい.
When you want to say that someone is not good-looking, or not cool, you don’t inflect the i-adjective. You actually say 格好悪い (kakkou warui). That’s because the word 格好 (kakkou) is translated as “form” and you combine it with either いい (ii) for “good” or 悪い (warui) for “bad.”
(5) The Japanese word for sexy is セクシー (sekushī). This is of course a loan word from English. Are YOU too セクシー for your cat?
(6) The Japanese word for handsome is ハンサム (hansamu). Again, a nice little loan word that you should immediately recognize.
So there’s a lot of different words for you to use when talking about how something, or someone, looks!
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