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Everyday Japanese: Not Always The Way It Looks

Discussing the ways that things look or appear to be is a great way to expand your vocabulary and make your speech more colorful.

By 3 min read 6

Discussing the ways that things look or appear to be is a great way to expand your vocabulary and make your speech more colorful. However all is not as simple as it seems, once learners start experimenting with making these sentences, they soon discover that there are a lot of ways to say what something looks like, many of which have nuances that make them easy to confuse.

One of the easiest ones to make mistakes with is みたいmitai. This grammar point can be confusing for beginners as they are taught that ~たい usually means ‘like to ~’ whereas in this case its meaning is closer to ‘looks like’. Quick replies like 写真みたいしゃしん みたい can be especially confusing as the speaker could be saying ‘it looks like a photo’ or could be saying ‘I want to see your photos’ in a lazy way. In these moments, context is important.

One of the most useful uses of this grammar point is the popular Japanese put down ばかみたいyou look like a fool and 嘘みたいうそみたい・that sounds like a lie. Teachers, keep these on hand for those especially challenging students! For a nicer use of this grammar, you can start a conversation with まるで夏みたいだまるで なつみたい・this weather is totally like summer which lets you complain in a friendly way about those unbelievably hot spring days.

みたい is similar to the commonly used そうso u. In the case of そう, the nuance is that you are basing your comment on what something looks like or feels like to you. A very common example is saying that a book that looks interesting based on the way it looks (おもしろそうな本).

In conversation this grammar has a lot of uses for when the speaker wants to say what they think about the speaker’s appearance or health. A common pleasantry at the start of a conversation is お元気そうですねおげんきそうですね・you look well. This can be extended to comments about the way that the weather looks such as the common conversation starter 雨が降りそうだあめがおりそうだ・it looks like rain.

For a meaning closer to ‘seems’, Japanese speakers often use ようyo u. The inference here is that you are basing your observation off some kind of evidence or your experience of it. Maybe you’re at a party and you suddenly hear the doorbell ring, you might say 誰かきたようだだれかきたようだ・somebody seems to have come.

Similar to そう, よう is very useful for daily conversation. Feeling down one day? Try the phrase 元気がないようだげんきがないようだ・it seems I have no energy. Or if you are enjoying the beauty of a place, you can use this phrase to compare it to something such as 絵のようにきれいえのようにきれい・as beautiful as a picture.

ぽいpo i is another similar grammar point. In this case, its meaning could be understood as being similar to ~esque. Although the word ~esque is a little formal in English, ぽい is considered casual in Japanese. This phrase can often be heard at the markets in Japan wherever old ladies are trying to haggle for a better price by questioning the quality of products. A popular one in Osaka for bargaining down the price of clothing is 生地が安っぽいきじがやすっぽい・the material looks cheap.

This grammar point can also offer lots of fun when it is used for talking about your friends’ characters. Do you have that friend that keeps forgetting everything? You can make jokes at their expense by calling them a 忘れっぽい男わすれっぽい おとこ・a forgetful guy.

Recently ぽい has taken on a life of its own with the rise of the 女性っぽいじょせいっぽい・feminine men. Many blogs aimed at young women devote pages to the discussion of whether these men are attractive or not. The success of actors like Hiroshige ‘Hiroki’ Narimiya who market themselves based on their 女性っぽい looks suggests the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Finally らしいla shi i doesn’t necessarily include the inference that you know your assumption is for real, it could also be based on second-hand evidence. This grammar point is often used as a less strong version that allows the speaker to infer that there is a possibility that what they are saying is wrong.

A good example of this grammar point is when you are knocking on someone’s door and can’t work out if they are home or not. In this situation you might say 誰もいないらしいだれもいないらしい・no-one seems to be home. The inference being that they probably aren’t in, but without ruling out the possibility that they may suddenly come to the door.

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  • Ren Huschle says:

    Could you please add furigana to the kanji? For us beginners it would make it an accessible article…

  • Nat says:

    Really enjoyed reading this article! I have a question though, is the use of ~ぽい used in Tokyo too? Or is it only exclusive to Osaka? Thanks in advance!

    • Gaijinn says:

      Used everywhere

    • TheFox InThe Middle says:

      would be interesting to know cause i find this phrase very handy. 🙂

    • saiaku says:

      People in Tokyo use it as well. Honestly っぽい is way overused. fuu and rashii should be used more, not just ppoi. They aren’t identical, but sometimes ppoi is simply used too much when fuu or rashii should have been used to describe something.

  • Sik says:

    An easy way to remember みたい is to think about it like the noun right before it is the one performing the action (i.e. “wants to look like”). But yeah, it’s an idiom, I guess I got it sorta easy since I figured out about みたい separately.

    ぽい may be better translated as -ish/-like for those who find it weird. First time I saw it was something along the lines of マリオっぽいゲーム, which literally meant “Mario-like game” (it was a video about a game prototype similar to Super Mario Bros).



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