Zenbu vs Subete: Which Japanese Word to Use?

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Do you know the words zenbu (全部) and subete (全て)? Both mean everything, whole, completely and all... They are simple words that are part of our daily lives and can be confusing. In this article, we will try to understand the differences between these 2 words, see examples of how to use them correctly and also alternative words that can express the idea of everything.

Why are there 2 totally different ways of saying everything? Note that both words are compounded with kanji (全) which means whole, all and complete. Several words make use of this ideogram such as:

  • Encyclopedia - 大全 - taizen
  • Not everything, nothing - 全然 - zenzen
  • All members - 全員 - zen-in
  • Every country - 全国 - zenkoku
  • Whole, fully, certainly - 全体 - zentai
  • Annihilation, total destruction - 全滅 - zenmetsu
  • The whole school - 全校 - zenkou

The kanji (全) is also present in a verb often used to express exasperation (mataku – 全く) which means really, entirely, in fact and completely. For this reason we must be careful when trying to use the words zenbu or subete when there is already another word or expression that indicates the totality of something.

What are the differences between subete and zenbu?

We can start by saying that subete (全て) is a word of Japanese origin while zenbu (全部) is composed only with ideograms and came from Chinese origin. The word zenbu is also composed with kanji (部) that indicates section, department, part, parcel, component and element. That is, the word zenbu is indicating the whole part or the whole element. Remembering that the word subete is usually written in hiragana すべて.

It is believed that subete is a softer word, while zenbu seems to be more objective. subete in some cases it can sound more beautiful and poetic. Both can be used as nouns, but only subete (全て) can be used as an adverb. Although there is no evidence for this, subete it is used in more formal situations than zenbu. Zenbu is often used to refer to money, counting, and numbers.

Subete is a slightly more advanced vocabulary than zenbu, it is common for a child of 3 or 4 years old to say zenbu when he wants all the toys, but when he reaches 10 years old he can come out saying subeteZenbu tends to be more used for everything that is finite or has a limit. It is common to hear zenbu (全部) more often than subete (全て).全部 feels more completely while 全て feels more like everything, everyone. Zenbu is often used to refer to money, counting, and numbers.

The word 全部 is not appropriate to use to indicate a group of people. We can conclude that すべて and 全部 are interchangeable in many situations. I don't understand, すべて tends to be used more in general themes, abstract ideas or something academic.

Saying everything in Japanese - zenbu vs subete - which one to use?

Examples of uses with 全部 and 全て

There are several things to explain about 全部 and 全て. To explain better, let's do this by showing examples. We use the particle の to say all or all of something. The problem is that 全部 (zenbu) can mean every part, so be careful not to get confused when forming sentences using the の particle. See some examples:

  • Suppose you want to say that you love everything about someone or something. You must use [Someoneの全部...], if you use [全部のsomeone...] you are saying that you love every part of that someone or something. (If you love each part of everything in the same way lol)...;
  • 彼は本を全部読んだ。
  • Kare wa hon o zenbu yonda;
  • He read the book from cover to cover

This phrase could also indicate the whole book or all the books. But the word zenbu can indicate the whole part of something.

  • それは全部で100ドルでした。
  • Sore wa zenbu of 100-dorudeshita;
  • It was a total of 100 dollars;

Using 全部 to indicate the total amount spent.

  • 我々は全部で、7人です。
  • Wareware wa zenbu of nananin desu;
  • We are 7 people in total;

This phrase uses 全部 to say the entirety of a group.

  • 生徒は全部で何人ですか?
  • What is the total number of students?
  • Seito wa zenbu de nanijindesu ka?
  • 神の目には人はすべて平等である。
  • Kami no me ni wa hito wa subete byōdōdearu;
  • In the sight of God, all men are equal;
  • すべてのバスは満員です。
  • Subete no basu wa man'indesu;
  • All buses are full;
  • その男はすべての希望を失った。
  • Man has lost all hope;
  • Sono otoko wa subete no kibō o ushinatta;
  • お金がすべてではない。
  • Okane ga subetede wanai;
  • Money is not everything
  • 全ての人間は平等である。
  • Subete no ningen wa byōdōdearu;
  • Every human being is equal;
  • それが全てです。
  • Sore ga subetedesu
  • That is all;

If you want to be sure which word is most correct in a sentence. Just paste part of it in google and see which one appears more results using the locator (CTRL + F).

Other words meaning "everything"

There are many similar words that can also indicate all or whole. Let's see some below and mention their differences between 全部 and すべて.

有らゆる - Arayuru – This word indicates each and every, it is equivalent to every in English. While the words subete and zenbu can focus on the whole group, arayuru focuses on each individual member of the entire group.

全体 - Zentai - Whole, all - This word does not indicate everyone in general but all. For example - Entire page, entire body, or entirety of something. 絶対 - Zettai - It indicates certainly, definitely, absolutely and unconditionally. These are two very similar words with similar meanings, so be very careful not to confuse them.

全然 - Zenzen - While it means everything its real meaning is nothing, not everything, none or not at all. Be careful, because colloquially this word can be totally inverted and indicate things like "totally" and "totally good".

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