One of my favorite verbs in Japanese has to be “ganbaru” (頑張る). This is one of those words that is a little difficult to translate into English.

In this article, we’ll take a look at “ganbaru” and the different ways you can use it. This will be a fun word for you to add to your vocabulary, and it’s used often enough that it’s really useful to know.

Most important Phrases – がんばって [Ganbatte] 

How Do I Translate Ganbaru?

When I typed this into the dictionary, I got a lot of different definitions. It can mean “to persevere,” “to persist,” “to insist that,” “to stick to,” or “to refuse to budge,” and those aren’t even all the definitions.

Looking at the kanji can help us understand this a bit better. The first character (頑) means “stubborn,” and the second (張) comes from the verb “to stick.” So literally, it means something more like the last few definitions, such as “to refuse to budge.”

But I have to say, I hardly ever hear it used in such a literal sense. 

“Ganbaru” is usually used to mean “to do your best” or “to work hard.” This follows those first definitions more. You can kind of think of it as sticking to something and not giving up.

This is also the word I use when I want to say “I’m trying.” I say “Ganbatteiru n desu kedo,” (頑張っているんですけど), which means “I’m doing my best, but…” This is useful because it can be a bit tricky to say “try” in Japanese, and there isn’t really one way to say it.

Ganbatte ne!

One of the most common phrases you’ll hear this verb in is “Ganbatte!” I would translate this as something like “Do your best!” or “Good luck!” depending on the context. 

You’re going to hear this phrase all the time. You might have heard this pretty often in anime, but it’s actually one of those anime phrases that Japanese people use regularly. In this form, it’s pretty casual, but you can make it formal just by adding “kudasai” after it. 

If you tell someone you’re studying Japanese every day, they might tell you to “Ganbatte.” If you’re running a race and you’re getting close to the end, you might hear people tell you to “Ganbatte.” If someone asks how learning to bake has been going for you, you can say “Ganbatteiru!”

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Isshokenmei Ganbaru and Other Things You Can Say

You might hear people use “ganbaru” with other words to slightly change the meaning. One I heard all the time in Japan was “Isshokenmei ganbaru” (一所懸命頑張る). That’s a lot of kanji. “Isshokenmei” is a good word that means basically “putting all your effort into ____.” So this phrase is “Putting all your effort into doing your best.” People say it when they want to emphasize the effort they’re putting into something. 

There are also a few slang versions of this I’ve heard around. I had some friends who would shorten “ganbatte” into “ganba.” This isn’t grammatically correct, but honestly, when is slang grammatically correct? 

You might hear other versions of it (I had one friend who said “ganbaramba” and that was cute) depending on dialects. But everyone will understand “Ganbatte,” no matter their dialect

This Is A Cultural Thing

Most of these phrases that are really hard to translate are directly connected to Japanese culture. This is one of those. 

In Japanese culture, hard work is highly valued. This is a way to tell people you’re working hard without being too in their face about it (humility is also important in Japanese culture). 

It’s also a nice thing to say to encourage people to put their best foot forward. If you tell someone to “Ganbatte,” you’re recognizing that they’re doing something hard and offering encouragement. It’s a nice sentiment. 

Hard work is so important in Japanese culture that being told you look tired (as in, you look like you’ve worked hard) is a compliment. 

So feel free to throw this word into your vocabulary. It’s a great way to cheer people on and offer support. If you listen carefully, you’re going to hear this one used all the time by native speakers. Besides, it’s a lot of fun to tell your friend to “Ganbatte ne~!”

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