Umm.. Here Are, Like, 10 Japanese Filler Words

Last Updated on 05.07.2022 by Coto Japanese Language School

Um, have you ever, like, wanted to say something, but, uhh, you didn’t really know what to say so, like, you end up saying a lot more than you want to say? That’s because you’re using filler words! Filler words like ‘Uh’ or ‘Um’ are second nature to English speakers, but what do they say in Japan? If you’ve ever listened to a Japanese conversation or watched some Japanese shows or anime, you’ve likely come across a couple of these words.

Filler words are important for improving the flow of conversation, and knowing the filler words of another language can help you sound more like a native speaker. That’s why we’ve decided to compile a list of some of the most commonly used Japanese filler words. That being said, be sure not to overuse these words, or you’ll end up sounding like someone who’s bad at speaking or nervous.

Jump Ahead!

1. あの (ano)

While it literally means “that (thing)”, ano (あの) is most commonly used as an ‘uhm’. Much like its English equivalent, it’s used both as a filler word and as something to grab someone’s attention. あの is also used with ね (ne) and さ (sa) as a way of getting someone’s attention. Think of it as saying, “Listen to this!”

Sometimes, adding the two hiragana can give off the impression of being snobbish. Although using Japanese filler words comes down to your habit, avoid saying it to your boss, coworkers or anyone you’re not close with.

あのさ、消しゴム持ってくれる?
Ano sa, keshigomu motte kureru?
Hey, can you bring me the eraser?

その作成は、あの、確認してください。
Sono sakusei wa, ano, kakunin shite kudasai.
This draft, uhm, please confirm it.

2. あれ (are)

あれ is used mainly to describe something that is far from both the speaker and listener and is usually taught with its counterparts of それ (sore) and これ (kore). As a filler word though, it’s much more simple. It’s used like the English “Huh?”, where you would say it out of surprise.

あれ? パパはどこ行ったの?
Are? Papa wa doko itta no?
Huh? Where did Papa go?

3. えと (eto)

Much like ano, eto just means “Um” or “Uhh”, but unlike ano, you’re unlikely to see eto used anywhere else. In general, you can use these two pretty interchangeably, sometimes they’re used in the same sentence even.

Most people will elongate the first vowel of えと. In written form, it’s えーと. It can also go as えーと — (both vowels pronounced longer).

えーとー、好きなんですけど、えとー、そんなに食べたくない。
Eetoo, suki nan desu kedo, etoo, sonna ni tabetakunai.
Uh, I like it but uhm, I don’t really want to eat it.

4. まあ (maa)

Maa is commonly translated to “Well,”. It’s used mostly at the beginning of a sentence and is used to express indifference or to approach a topic in a casual or minor type of way.

まあ、しかたないね。
Maa, shikata nai ne.
Well, there’s nothing you can do.

5. なんか (nanka)

Nanka is a shortened version of 何か (nanika), meaning “Something”.  In this case, you mainly use nanka when you’re unsure of something. As a filler word, its usage is mostly similar to the word “Like”. You can use it whenever, really, much like “Like”.

なんか言った?
Nanka itta?
Did you say something?

6. ね (ne)

Ne, while an ending particle, is also a filler word that means “Isn’t it?”. It’s commonly repeated when used, and carries the meaning “Right?” or “Don’t you agree?”, although much less formal. It’s mainly used among youth, specifically young girls, and used mainly to grab attention.

ねね、聞いた聞いた?二人別れた!
Nee, kiita kiita? Futari wakareta!
Hey, did you hear? The two broke up!

7. さあ (saa)

Saa, meaning ‘come’, can change depending on how you pronounce it. If you were to say it with strong intent, it comes across as you saying “Come!”. If you were to just interject it into your sentence wherever people are going to just understand it as yet another filler word like eto or ano. It can also be written as just さ (sa), depending on how long (or short) you want it to be pronounced.

さあ、始めましょう!
Saa, hajimemashou!
Let’s get started!

8. はあ (haa)

はあ has the same implication as あれ in the way both of them express surprise or confusion. Sometimes, you’ll also hear it being used by someone who’s exasperated as if they’re saying, “Not this again!”

はあ、めんどくさいな!
Haa, mendokusai na!
Haa, what a pain!

9. そうか (souka)

Souk is an exclamation that means “I see”. It’s used after someone explains something to you, as an “I get it!”. The less formal version of this is そっか (sokka), while the more formal version is そうですか (sou desu ka).

そうか。
I see.

10. ていうか(te iu ka)

ていうか is a filler word meaning “I mean”. Its main use is as a way to clarify what you meant, or as a way to disagree with someone else. There are more informal ways of pronouncing it, like てか(te ka) or てゆーか (te yuuka), and more formal ways of pronouncing it なんていうか (nante iu ka).

田中先生ってなんていうか、その、面白いよね。
Tanaka sensei tte nan te iu ka, sono, omoshiroi yo ne.
You know, Tanaka-sensei is, how do I put it, unique, isn’t he?

When should I use these words?

Try to use them in casual conversation while trying to think of what you are going to say next. Be sure not to overuse them though, especially not in a formal setting.

What is a filler word?

Filler words are words that are said to fill time while you think of what to say. Examples of English filler words would be: “Umm” or “Hmm”.

Can I use these words whenever?

While most of these words are nice to slot in whenever you need a pause, some are better for certain situations than others. Some like はあ (haa) or ね (ne) are much less formal, while words like ていうか (te iu ka) or its more formal version なんていうか (nante iu ka) are more suited for formal settings.

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