Vague Japanese - Does that mean yes or no?

Learn Japanese with Anime, click to learn more!


Japanese has few syllables, so several Japanese words are the same. This is not usually a problem thanks to the context. The big problem is the countless senses that are present in a single word. In today's article we will see some words that can confuse people. Words that not even the Japanese know how to differentiate or explain, making the Japanese vague.

We know the same words with different meanings and ideograms. See the example of the word Hashi which can mean bridge, chopsticks, edge and margin. Another example is the word Kami which can mean God, Paper or hair. We already covered this in the article equal words with completely different meanings. But today we are going to address similar words that can give the opposite meaning of their meaning.

Japonês vago


Words with vague and opposite meanings

This happens even with words we use on a daily basis, but we never stop to think about it. In Portuguese this also happens when a person ends up offering something to us, and we say okay or thanks, sometimes the person is confused about whether or not we are accepting it. The same thing happens in Japanese with the word daijoubu 大丈夫. 

The word daijoubu it means being well, it is usually used as a response after something bad happens. Like the thank you, you can use it to reject something they offer you, to say that everything is fine and you don't need it.

Something similar happens with the word ii “いい”, in which case they can be short for 2 different words, 良い which means good and いいえ which means no. Suppose you invite someone to do something and they respond sore wa ii - それはいい, you are more likely to think that she has accepted, but it may happen that this いい mean no.

Another example that confuses the mind of any Japanese student is the phrase それ好きかも (sore suki kamo), some people end up using this phrase to say that they like someone. The big problem is that the word かも means possibly, perhaps, could or can. So does that mean he likes the person or not?


Another rather vague answer that you can hear in Japanese is どっちでも (dotchidemo) which means anyone or whatever. It may seem that the person is not caring about the conversation or really does not want something.

Japonês vago

Why is Japanese so vague?

Another confusing word is yabai that can mean something good or bad, we wrote an article talking about that word, you can read clicking here. Another slang is the word Ukero which means to receive or to take, but young people use it as ridiculous or hilarious. These are just a few of the thousands of vague words that exist in Japanese. Paying attention and knowing the context is the best way to identify its meaning.


Japanese is full of vague expressions, and really understanding the true meaning is not easy. Vague words prevent shy Japanese from saying yes or no directly or clearly. Japanese people like to give vague answers to avoid hurting or saying something that is bad for another person, they also have difficulties to express what they really think or their feelings. Perhaps this is one of the great reasons why the Japanese have very vague words with no defined meaning.

This article was inspired by episode 9 of the drama Nihonjin at Shiranai Nihongo, I highly recommend it to those who are learning Japanese. What do you think of these vague and undefined words in the Japanese language? Can you understand their meaning?