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During Q&A in English, "well" and "uhm" are two ways to begin a reply.

If you known the answer, you begin the reply with "Well... ". This creates a pause such that the speaker can arrange his thoughts and construct the clearest answer with good sentence structures. If you aren't sure of the answer, but want to guess anyway, you begin with "uhm...".

In Japanese, my opinion is that it's natural to begin a response to a question about which you are unsure of with "あの、... blah blah.".

But, how do you begin to reply to a question about which you are confident? While I do know the answer, I want a pause so that I can arrange my thoughts. If I lead with "あの", it could look like I am taking a guess.

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そうですね might be what you are looking for. –  Yang Muye May 19 at 0:34

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

えっと is ubiquitous for this purpose. To buy yourself more time you can say えっとですね.

そうですね is another option and carries the nuance of "that's a good/valid question". An English equivalent might be "Right...".

You can combine the two as

えっと、そうですね。[response]
そうですね。えっと、[response]

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Actually, thinking about it, you could use そうですね to express approval, agreement or disagreement with the question. A hesitant slow そうですね would show reluctance or difficulty (or in a different situation, be used to deliver a negative response) –  Tim May 19 at 4:24

Or alternatively to えっと(ですね.), perhaps はい、わかりました。・・which also communicates that you have understood the question in a positive manner.


I think your fundamental question has been jointly answered but it is worth mentioning:

  • The way you deliver these responses is important. そうですね for example can be used to express agreement or approval if said quickly or relucutance/discomfort/thoughtful consideration if said slowly. (And in a different situation, the expression can be also used to communicate a reluctant "No".)
  • There are other responses with English equivalents. For example,「いい質問です。」would work and, if you really want to buy time, you could repeat the question for audiences benefit.
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I think that はい、わかりました might be used in the same context, but its purpose is not to be a mere filler. It has content. えっと, or そうですね don't. –  Earthliŋ May 19 at 1:41
    
@Earthliŋ yes. I very much like the phrase "そうですね". But, to sound natural, I'd think near-native Japanese would need to follow. As my Japanese is very poor, "えっと" is appropriate for me I think. –  user312440 May 19 at 1:47
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@Earthliŋ: I have added the added the content in this context as I hear it. –  Tim May 19 at 1:56

Since you mentioned "well", (それ)じゃ(あぁぁあーあ〜) is commonly used for this.

Also, I don't know if it's regional or not, but in Osaka many people also use マー. This is more unsure, along the lines of あの.

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