OMG!: How to Use Sugoi in Japanese : You’ve heard it before.
You’re walking through a café in Japan, and you pass a table full of young women. A waiter comes around the corner with a birthday cake lit up with showering sparklers. The women at the table clasp their hands together in awe.
OMG!: How to Use Sugoi in Japanese
“Sogoiiiii!” they say, almost too loudly (okay, yes, too loudly).
You pass another table full of salarymen wearing suits and ties.
“Sugoi desu ne,” one of them says using the more polite phrasing. Perhaps he’s speaking to a senior colleague or boss.
You pass a final table of just two women this time, both of them sophisticated in dress and poise.
“Sugoku samui desu yo ne,” one of them says as she draws a steaming mug of tea to her lips.
What are these people talking about? What is this ubiquitous Japanese word すごい (sugoi), and how do we use it? Today, we’re going to answer these questions.
Sugoi (great, wow, amazing, etc.) is an i-adjective that can also be converted into an adverb. It’s most often written in hiragana, but it’s not uncommon to see it written using kanji as well. Here is what it looks like when written using kanji.
Let’s take a closer look at the meaning of this kanji in the next section.
凄 (sai, sei): Meaning of Sugoi
This kanji is pronounced “sai” or “sei” when read by itself. When it’s attached to a word, it takes on a different sound. In the word sugoi, it makes up the “sugo” part of the word, and the hiragana character “i” is then attached to the end to form the i-adjective “sugoi.”
The character “sai” is formed by taking four simpler characters, called “radicals,” and grouping them together. These four radicals are 冫(hyou) on the left side; 十 (juu) and 彐 (kei) on the top right; and 女 (jo) on the bottom right.
冫+ 十 + 彐 + 女 = 凄
The first radical, hyou, means “water” or “ice.”
The second radical, juu, means the number “ten.”
The third radical, kei, is a variant of an old kanji meaning “pig’s head.”
The fourth radical, jo—or the more familiar onna—means “woman.”
When grouped together, these four radicals form “sai.”
The meaning of sai is formulated by combining the individual radicals hyou, juu, kei, and jo.
Hmm…let’s see…water, ten pig’s heads, and women…
Your guess is as good as mine as to how those four things wind up with the meaning of “great/wow/amazing.” Perhaps in ancient Japanese times water, women, and pig’s heads were hot commodities, so the people threw them all together into one kanji and screamed, “Sugoiiii!”
Actually, I think you’re better off asking a historian or linguist about this one…
Now, let’s take a look at the next section to learn more about sugoi and how it is used in modern Japanese.
Let’s revisit the examples from the café in the opening section.
In the first example, you walked past a table of young women at a birthday party. Perhaps they called the café in advance to say that it was someone’s birthday, but, rest assured, when the cake came out showering sparks into the air, they were genuinely surprised.
“Sugoiiiii!” they shouted, which is no different than young English-speaking women shouting, “OMG!!!!”
If there’s one thing young women in Japan are known for shouting it’s, “Kawaiiiii!” However, “Sugoiiiii!” comes in at a close second place. In English, we are inclined to say things like, “That’s awesome!” or “Oh my god!” when we’re met with something that exceeds our expectations or surprises us. The Japanese express the same sentiment by saying, “Sugoiiiii!”
Now, let’s look at the salarymen example. Sugoi can also be used in more formal situations by adding “desu.”
You also don’t even have to be genuinely surprised. Sometimes our friends or associates tell us something that we may not find particularly impressive, but we want to be polite and show that we care about the people we’re speaking to. In order to do this, we can attach a number of different particles to the end of sugoi. This allows us to be more mellow without the need to scream at the top of our lungs. Some examples of particles we can attach to sugoi are ne, da yo ne, and desu yo ne.
A: Kyou watashi no aka-chan ga hajimete arukimashita! (My baby took its first steps today!)
B: Sugoi desu ne. (Great!)
A: Kinou inu ni chin-chin o oshieta! (I taught my dog to sit up and beg yesterday!)
B: Sugoi ne. (Wow.)
A: Boku wa backflip dekiru yo! (I can do a backflip!)
B: Sugoi da yo ne! (Fantastic!)
Now, let’s look at the two women having a chat over tea. In this situation, sugoi is used as an adverb to describe samui (cold). Therefore, it functions more like the word “really” or “exceptionally” in this sentence.
“Sugoku samui desu yo ne.” (It’s really cold, isn’t it?)
When we want to turn i-adjectives into adverbs that describe other adjectives (or verbs), we change the -i at the end of the word to a -ku. So, instead of sugoi, we have “sugoku” because we are turning it into an adverb.
A: Pizza wa dou? (How’s the pizza?)
B: Sugoku oishii yo! (It’s really good!)
A: Avengers wa mimashita ka? (Did you see The Avengers?)
B: Un, sugoku omoshirokatta! (Yeah, it was so good!)
A: Disneyland wa tanoshikatta? (Did you have fun at Disneyland?)
B: Un, sugoku tanoshikatta! (Yeah, it was really fun!)
There are many things in our lives that surprise us or surpass our expectations. Therefore, in these situations, we can use the word sugoi to show people that we are impressed.
Sushi wa sugoku oishii desu ne!