5 Useful M-Words You Must Know When Learning Japanese!

5 Japanese M words

When learning a new language, you will always find some popular words. They can have a special meaning or can only be a trend of the moment, but they will surely exist. The Japanese language makes no exception! Here’s a list of 5 popular and useful M-words.

1. Muda・ むだ

Muda むだ (無駄) means “useless“. It’s an expression to use in everyday conversation.

泣いてもむだです。Naite mo muda desu.Crying is of no avail.
そんなことは時間の無駄だ。Sonna koto wa jikan no muda da.That’s a waste of time.
むだなこと。Mudana koto. It’s useless.

2. Muri・むり

Muri むり (無理) means “impossible“. It’s one of those short and clear expressions, especially for beginners to make a concise negative reply, at the same time not sounding rude.

In addition, try to remember the expression “むりをするなよ!” (muri wo suruna yo) which can be translated as “Take it easy/ Don’t overdo it”. You will hear that often in Japan, almost as a greeting to express concern about you, making sure you will take care of yourself.

その宿題は一人ではむりだ。Sono shukudau wa hitori dewa muri da.That homework is impossible to do alone.
わたしにはむりだ。Watashi ni wa muri da.I can’t do it.
無理を言うな!Muri wo yuuna!Don’t be unreasonable!

3. Mochiron・もちろん

Mochiron もちろん (勿論) is one of our M-words with a positive meaning: it means “of course / sure / certainly“. Therefore, use it to agree to proposals or requests!

「一緒に行ってもいい?」 「もちろんさ!」“Isshoni ittemo ii?” “Mochiron sa!”“May I come with you?” “Absolutely!”
「天ぷらは好きですか」  「もちろんです」“Tempura wa suki desuka?” “Mochiron desu!”“Do you like tempura?” “Of course!”

4. Mottainai・もったいない

Mottainai もったいない (勿体無い) is one of the unique expressions of Japanese culture. There’s no precise translation to this, so try to focus on the concept it expresses. The overall meaning when using もったいない is disagreement for something being wasted. Basically, it can refer to anything: material things, waste of time, or when someone “does not deserve” a certain thing.

By this expression, the speaker can disagree in a non-argumentative tone. In addition, he/she can express respect when a superior is commending him/her.

なんてもったいないNante mottainai!What a waste!
こんなに良い天気の日は家にいるなんてもったいないよ。Konnani yoi enki no hi wa uchi ni iru nante mottainai yo.It’s a shame to spend such a nice day inside.
それは私にはもったいない言葉です。Sore wa watashi niwa mottainai kotoba desu.I am not worthy of those words.

5. Maa-maa・まあまあ

Finally, the last of our M-words is Maa-maa. まあまあ is a -na ending adjective which means “decent, passable, so-so“. It’s perfect when the speaker wants to deliver a neutral and casual tone. It is normally used in a reply to the question ”how (どう)?”.

Furthermore, it’s used to calm down a situation with the meaning “Oh, come on / now then…”, like in the second example.

「試験はどうだった?」 「まあまあな」“Shiken wa doudatta?” “Maa-maa na.”“How was the exam?” “Not so bad.”
まあまあ、そんなに怒らないで。Maa-maa, sonna ni okoranaide. Now then, don’t get so angry.

Another point to be noted, while translating in reverse, English to Japanese, “okay” doesn’t always give the same meaning as maa-maa. Depending on the context, okay can have various meanings. Maa-maa is just one of them. 

Hope you found this article useful!

Author: Valeria (graduated at Ca’Foscari University Japanese Studies)

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