How to Correctly Use the Japanese Word chotto?

Posted by on August 21, 2015 – Japanese Study
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?

教師:あたらしいうち、つかった?
学生:いいえ、まだです。昨日きのうに行ったけど、家賃やちんが9万円だった。
教師:ああ、そうか。それはちょっとたかいね。
学生:いいえ、ちょっとじゃないです。すごくたかいです。

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にほんごはなせる」 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”.

  • 何度なんど裏切うらぎられてきたから、かれのことは、もうちょっとしんじられない。
    I have been betrayed by him many times, so he is very untrustworthy.
  • 昨日きのうあつさは、ちょっとひどくなかった?
    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”:

  • 「ちょっとのあいだに」In a jiffy
  • 「ちょっとってくれ」Wait a minute [moment]!
  • 「ちょっといていいですか」 Could I ask you a quick question?

2) But also “a little”, “a bit”, “slightly”:

  • 「ちょっとる」To take a glance (at).
  • 「ちょっと見ると[かんがえると]」At first sight (thought).
  • かれはちょっと学問がくもんができる」He is a bit of a scholar.

3) Chotto may also be translated as “rather”, “pretty”:

A:「昨日きのうのテストどうだった。」
B:「ちょっとむずかしかったよ。」

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ちないよ。」This stain won’t come out easily.
  • 「それはちょっとできないことだ。」 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:「明日あした一緒いっしょみませんか?」
B: 「ごめんなさい、明日あしたはちょっと用事ようじがあって・・・」

A: Why don’t we drink together tomorrow?
B: I am sorry, tomorrow I have some errands…

You can find out more about how chotto is used to say “No” here or here!

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