Imagine that you’re sitting at an Italian restaurant with your friends, and the bolognese pasta you ordered is so good that you want to share this information with everyone at the table.
Totemo(とても), Chou(ちょう), Meccha(めっちゃ) : Japanese Common Phrases That Mean “Very”
“Oishii!” (“This is so delicious!”) you want to say, but it’s not just oishii. It’s REALLY oishii! But, no, wait, it’s not just REALLY oishii, it’s GOD-IN-YOUR-MOUTH oishii!
Today, we’re going to learn three different levels of “very” in Japanese using the words “totemo,” “chou,” and “meccha.” Hang onto your hats!
The most textbook way of saying “very” in Japanese is by using the word totemo (とても). You can also add an extra T in the center of totemo to make it tottemo (とっても). The difference between the two is that the latter places more emphasis. Think of it like saying something is 「とても美味しい」(“Totemo oishii,” “really good”) vs.「とっても美味しい」(“Tottemo oishii,” “really REALLY good”).
Totemo is an adverb that describes adjectives. It is used in both casual and formal speech. It is mainly used by people who are out of school and deal with other adults, superiors, and bosses on a daily basis. Totemo is also used when the speaker is speaking to people unknown to them and to people with whom they want to make a good impression on and keep a good relationship with.
Kono pasuta wa totemo oishii desu ne.
This pasta is very good.
Ano wanpiisu wa tottemo kirei desu ne!
That dress is really REALLY beautiful!
Kinou mita komedian wa totemo omoshirokatta ne!
The comedian we saw yesterday was so funny!
Now that we know how to use “totemo” in Japanese, it’s time to slang it up a bit. Instead of saying something is 「とても美味しい,」 we’re going to say it’s 「超美味しい」(“chou oishii,” “super delicious”).
If you look up the word “chou” in the dictionary, you will find definitions like “super-,” “ultra-,” or perhaps “uber-” (alright I guess that one’s a bit dated…). Let’s take a closer look at the kanji for chou to see how it took on these meanings.
Chou is made up of three different radicals. The one on the left is 走 (sou), meaning to “run.” The one on the top right is 刀 (tou), meaning “sword,” “saber,” or “knife.” And the one on the bottom right is 口 (kou), meaning “mouth.” Put all of these radicals together and you get the kanji 超!
走 + 刀 + 口 = 超
Chou is used in a variety of situations. It is used for trains to indicate a super-express (超特急, choutokkyuu), or it can even be used for camera film to indicate that it is ultra-sensitive (超高感度フィルム, choukoukando firumu). Today, however, we’re going to focus on how to use it in conversation.
Chou, when used in conversation as an adverb to mean “totally” or “absolutely,” is used predominantly by young females. Adult females use it too among their close friends and family, but it’s not as cool when adults say it. Think about it like your mom saying that the salad dressing at Restaurant X is “totally lit” vs. “absolutely scrumptious.”
Kinou tesuto wa chou kantan datta.
The test yesterday was super easy.
Ichi-maru-kyuu no youfku wa chou kawaii.
The clothes at 109 are to-die-for cute.
Dizunii Kurisumasu wa chou suteki datta.
Disneyland Christmas was so totally cool!
Meccha (めっちゃ) originates from the word めちゃくちゃ (mecha kucha). It is an adjective that means “confused; incoherent; disorderly; chaotic.” However, in modern times, Japanese people living in Kansai (an area of Japan with a distinctive dialect) have shortened mecha kucha to meccha and now use it as an adverb to mean “insanely” or “crazy.” When comedians from the Kansai region started appearing regularly on national TV and using meccha, the phrase became more and more popular in Tokyo and other regions of Japan. People thought the word was funny and quaint. Nowadays, most Japanese people understand the meaning of the word meccha; however, it is mostly the younger generations that use it. Males tend to favor using meccha over chou.
Yuuenchi wa meccha tanoshikatta yo!
The amusement park was insanely fun!
Domino piza no haitatsu wa meccha hayai yo ne!
Domino’s Pizza delivery is crazy fast!
Jeison Suteisamu wa meccha kakkoii ssu yo ne!
Jason Statham is sooooo awesome!
Kono pasuta wa meccha oishii yo ne!
This pasta is God in my mouth!
Totemo, chou, and meccha are three different ways of saying “very” in Japanese. Totemo is used in both formal and casual speech. Chou and meccha are used as slang in casual speech mostly by younger females, and less often by older females. Chou is means more along the lines of “super” or “totally” in English. Meccha comes from the word “mecha kucha” and was shortened to meccha by Japanese people living in the Kanasai region. Meccha is used by both males and females and means roughly “insanely” or “crazy” in English.
Now that you have three new common Japanese words to work with, it’s time to get out there and practice! Remember, learning something new means absolutely nothing if you don’t see it in context!
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