How to Correctly Use the Japanese Word chotto?
Some frequently used words convey different meanings according to context, and among them, the Japanese word chotto 「ちょっと」is quite a challenge to master. If you are learning Japanese, you have probably heard this word before. But what is the meaning of chotto? How and when should you use it?
Teacher: Have you found your new flat?
Student: No, not yet. I went to see one yesterday but the rent was 90,000 yen.
Teacher: Is that so? That’s “a bit” expensive indeed.
Student: No, not “a bit”. It’s “very” expensive.
More than once, Japanese language learners misunderstand the meaning of chotto in such context. Indeed, the first meaning you will learn for chotto, is “minor”, “little”.
However, in that particular conversation, the meaning is the same as “very”. In this conversation, the perfect answer would have been “hai chotto” 「はい！ちょっと！」which is translated as “yes, indeed!”.
So depending on the context, chotto may mean “a little”:
- 「ちょっとだけ日本語が話せる」 I speak Japanese a little.
Or may mean the complete opposite: fairly, rather, very. One rule to remember for sure, chotto used together with the negative form at the back always means “very”.
I have been betrayed by him many times, so he is very untrustworthy.
Wasn’t yesterday very hot?
Let’s review some of the common meanings of the Japanese word chotto in order to use it properly!
1) First of all, “a while”, “a moment”, “a short time” and “briefly”:
- 「ちょっとの間に」In a jiffy
- 「ちょっと待ってくれ」Wait a minute [moment]!
- 「ちょっと聞いていいですか」 Could I ask you a quick question?
2) But also “a little”, “a bit”, “slightly”:
- 「ちょっと見る」To take a glance (at).
- 「ちょっと見ると[考えると]」At first sight (thought).
- 「彼はちょっと学問ができる」He is a bit of a scholar.
3) Chotto may also be translated as “rather”, “pretty”:
A: How was yesterday’s test?
B: Rather difficult.
4) When something will not be easy
- 「このシミはちょっと落ちないよ。」This stain won’t come out easily.
- 「それはちょっとできない事だ。」 It is a difficult thing to do.
This word also conveys a lot of nuance, so you should be careful when using it. In particular, when Japanese people try their best to avoid saying no, they will use ちょっと instead. Here, ちょっと convey the difficulty to answer the request.
A: Why don’t we drink together tomorrow?
B: I am sorry, tomorrow I have some errands…
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