What is the Japanese word for cute? Kawaii, Kakkouii, and Utsukushii

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.


forms of desu

  1. きれいです (kirei desu) = is pretty
  2. きれいでした (kirei deshita) = was pretty
  3. きれいじゃありません (kirei ja arimasen) = is not pretty
  4. 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.


all i inflections

  1. 美しい (utsukushii) = is beautiful
  2. 美しかった (utsukushikatta) = was beautiful
  3. 美しくない (utsukushikunai) = is not beautiful
  4. 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!

Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, leave me a comment and let me know!


  • Daniel

    Oh cool looks like you got the audio clips up. It’s not the greatest quality… but it’s not bad. Nice to be able to listen to it.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, I was able to get those and then upload them today. The gentleman who did the recording for me was nice enough to do it for free, so I can’t complain too much! 🙂 Maybe I’ll do some of my own recordings as well on future posts too!

  • Henry

    Hi Nick! This is a kakkou ii post! I really like it! Cultural background is very important when we are learning a language and I appreciate your experience in the Japaness culture! From now on, each time I hear somebody talking in Japanese, I will look out to see if they say kawaii! I have found this very interesting!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey thanks Henry! It’s pretty cool when you learn a new country’s culture and language and you have that deeper understanding about things that you didn’t have before.

  • Paulina

    I love the Japanese letters, they look like mini drawings! I’m trying to pronounce the word kawaii and some of the sentences you mentions but I feel like I have an English accent, How can I improve my pronunciation?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Paulina, I also love the way Japanese characters look. I feel like I’m decoding a secret message when I read it! Check out my page For Beginners to help learn the correct pronunciation. I will also work on getting some audio files that I can add to the site so that you can actually hear it too. Thanks!

  • Travis

    Cool I have always had a small interest in japanese culture.
    It mainly stems from my love of martial arts, and anime. Thanks for this something I have trouble with is the pronunciation maybe an audiofile would really elevate this post….

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, I’ve been kicking around the idea of building up an audio bank of native speakers pronouncing the different phrases and words that I talk about on the blog. I know of a couple sites where I could get them from, it will just either take some time or money depending on what would work better.

      Thanks for the suggestion!

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