Spot the differences! Similar Japanese Terms and Expressions


When studying Japanese, did you ever experience the following thoughts: "These words seem to mean the same thing?" or "what is the difference between these two terms?"Japanese does have many words with similar meanings, but none of them are exactly the same, and they all have differing nuances and usages.
In this article, I would like to explore the differences between these similar words. I will be focusing on beginner-level Japanese terms that are frequently misinterpreted.

にぎやか and うるさい

There is a difference between these two terms; one has a positive meaning, while the other is negative. "にぎやか (Nigiyaka)" means that there are many people gathered in a lively atmosphere, and you are surrounded by voices and noises. It does indicate that it is loud, but it does not have a negative meaning. On the other hand, "うるさい (Urusai)" means that the noises and/or voices are too loud and annoying. It includes the feeling of disgust or discomfort. It can also be used when you are annoyed when someone is being demanding or insistence, even if it is not necessarily a "loud noise."

【Example】この( あた ) りは最近( さいきん ) ( てん ) ( ) えて、にぎやかになった。
【Meaning】This area has recently become more lively with new stores opening.
【Example】( となり ) 部屋( へや ) がうるさくて( ) られない。
【Meaning】I can't sleep because the room next door is too noisy.

( たの ) しい and うれしい

Both express positive emotions, but they have slightly different meanings. "うれしい (Ureshii)" expresses the joy of having one’s hopes fulfilled or that something good happened to them. For example, when you pass the JLPT or you receive a gift from a friend, you can use "うれしい" to express your joy. On the other hand, "( たの ) しい (Tanoshii)" indicates a pleasant feeling and/or a good mood that lasts relatively longer than a more momentary feeling of "うれしい." It can be used to describe how you feel when you throw a fun party with your friends, or talking about your school life or job that you enjoy.

【Example】大学( だいがく ) での生活( せいかつ ) 充実( じゅうじつ ) していて( たの ) しい。
【Meaning】My college life is fun and fulfilling.
【Example】東京大学( とうきょうだいがく ) 合格( ごうかく ) できてうれしい。
【Meaning】I am so glad to have been accepted to Tokyo University.

将来( しょうらい ) and 未来( みらい )

Both of these terms refer to the future, but the main difference is how close they are to the present. For example, when talking about your dreams and aspirations, you might say, "( わたし ) 将来( しょうらい ) 医者( いしゃ ) になりたいです (I want to become a doctor in the future)," but you cannot use "未来( みらい ) (Mirai)" in this sentence. You can also say, "200年( にひゃくねん ) ( ) 未来( みらい ) では、( くるま ) ( そら ) ( ) んでいるでしょう (I bet that 200 years in the future, cars will be flying in the sky)," but "200年( にひゃくねん ) ( ) 将来( しょうらい ) " does not sound natural. Generally, you can use "将来( しょうらい ) (Shōrai)" for the close(r) future, and "未来( みらい ) (Mirai)" for a further future, which can be past your lifespan.

( あつ ) そうです and ( あつ ) いそうです

Since the only difference is the presence/absence of the letter "い," many people often confuse the two. The phrase "( あつ ) そうです (without the "い")" is used when you think that it looks hot. On the other hand, "( あつ ) いそうです (with the "い")," is used to tell someone that you heard it was going to be hot, such as on the weather forecast. For example, they can be used in the following sentences:

【Example】( まど ) から( はい ) 日差( ひざ ) しが( つよ ) いですね。今日( きょう ) ( あつ ) そうです。
【Meaning】The sunlight coming in through the window is very strong. It looks hot today.
【Example】天気予報( てんきよほう ) によると、今日( きょう ) ( あつ ) いそうです。
【Meaning】According to the weather forecast, it will be hot today.

"( あつ ) いそうです" is used to convey information that you heard from someone else, so it is often used together with "〜によると (according to ~)."

( なお ) す and ( なお )

Both kanji are pronounced as "naosu" but are used for different purposes. The word "( なお ) す" means to recover, and is used for illnesses and injuries, such as recovering from a headache or fixing a cavity. On the other hand, "( なお ) す" means to restore, repair, or correct something, and is used when talking about a broken car or smartphone, or when fixing incorrect phrases, grammar or pronunciation.

【Example】( こわ ) れたパソコンを( なお ) す。
【Meaning】Fixing a broken computer.
【Example】風邪( かぜ ) ( はや ) ( なお ) したい。
【Meaning】I want to recover from my cold as soon as possible.

あきる, あきれる, あきらめる

(Original form) ます( けい ) (Masu form) ない( けい ) (Nai form) ( けい ) (Te form) 条件( じょうけん ) ( けい ) (Conditional form) 受身( うけみ ) ( けい ) (Passive form)
( ) きる (Akiru) あきます あきない あきて あきれば あきられる
( あき ) れる (Akireru) あきれます あきれない あきれて あきれれば あきれられる
( あきら ) める (Akirameru) あきらめます あきらめない あきらめて あきらめれば あきらめられる

"( ) きる (Akiru)" means to get bored with the something, or having too much of the same thing for a prolonged long. The word "( あき ) れる (Akireru)" means to be surprised or astonished in a negative sense by something because it is so surprising or horrible. "( あきら ) める (Akirameru)" means to quit or to give up because there is no more hope or prospect.

【Example】校長先生( こうちょうせんせい ) 長話( ながばなし ) ( ) きた。
【Meaning】I got bored with the principal's long speech.
【Example】( かれ ) 何度( なんど ) ( おな ) じミスを( ) ( かえ ) している。( あき ) れて( なに ) ( ) えない。
【Meaning】He keeps making the same mistake over and over again. I'm so dumbfounded that I can't say anything.
【Example】学力( がくりょく ) ( ) りず、受験( じゅけん ) ( あきら ) めた。
【Meaning】I did not have the academic ability so I gave up on taking the entrance exam.

You may get tired of, or even discouraged from studying Japanese, but please don't give up, and keep trying instead!


Now that I have explained the differences between similar terms, have you been able to sort them out? It is important to understand the difference in meaning, but it is probably easier to memorize them using example sentences. Learning this way is more effective, as you can learn the terms that are often used together, while learning the usage of verbs and adjectives at the same time.