Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have seen this term used a lot in many different ways.

「さあ、忘れましょうその未来が」 saa, wasuremashou sono mirai ga — in this sense, I assume it means "come". But I have also seen it used as 「でもさあ」 demo saa — which I would assume means "well you know" or some other expression.

Would like to get some more clarification on this word. I know it is informal to use. But the actual meaning and when it is appropriate to use it would help.

share|improve this question
up vote 22 down vote accepted

We are actually talking about two different words here.

In phrases like 「さあ、[忘]{わす}れましょう」 and「さあ、[行]{い}きましょう」, 「さあ」 is an exclamation expressing the speaker's intention to invite or press the other person to perform an action. It has a meaning close to that of "okay", "now" and "come on".

When 「さあ」 is used in phrases such as 「でもさあ」,「あのさあ」 and 「それでさあ」, it is just a filler meaning nothing. Grammatically, it is a particle. It is like "um", "like", "ah" in English. To be strict, the dictionary word is just 「さ」 and 「さあ」 is only its variant pronunciation.

For a filler, each native speaker has his "usual" one that he uses repeatedly, which means that not everyone uses 「さ」 or 「さあ」 actively. Others include 「ね」, 「ねえ」, 「よ」, 「よう」, etc.

share|improve this answer
is まあ also a filler word? – Lưu Vĩnh Phúc Mar 18 '14 at 12:38
It's my impression that it is also used as a negative response when someone doesn't want to explicitly state one, but wants to sort of brush you off anyway. For example, asking for something from a counter worker at city hall that they can't provide (or for which it would be bothersome for them to provide). "Would it be possible to mail me another copy of this record?" "さあ。。。" – Garrett Albright Mar 18 '14 at 16:12
There's also the さあ in response to a question, which basically means 'I have no idea'. – Sjiveru Mar 18 '14 at 17:18
@Sjiveru Yep, I've seen that quite a bit. Sometimes it seems as though it might be viewed as 'Well, I might have an idea, but I'm not going to say.' Maybe that's just me. – Beska Mar 18 '14 at 17:42
さ(あ) always struck me a bit like English "so", analogous as a filler word and also in that it conveys a sense of recognition for the way things are. Meanwhile, まあ has struck me more like "well," when said with a falling or doubtful tone, like "well, no...", injecting a negative sense. 「あれは好きですか。」「まあね。」 → "Do you like that?" "Well, kinda." – Eiríkr Útlendi May 19 '14 at 16:59

filler. doesn't mean anything.

If you want to learn when it is appropriate to use it, you just have to copy natives, and learn all the places where it tends to be used.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.