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I am following a book called "Teach Yourself Japanese", right now I am on using adjectives.

In there, there is an example:

Igirisu no jamu wa totemo oishii desu.

Which I can understand in terms of structure and rules etc..

But in the book, it says that when an adjective is in the negative, "Amari" must be used. So:

Igirisu no jamu wa totemo amari oishii desu.

Is there a reason why amari is used? Or can anyone give me some more information about this word?

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1  
Have you learned hiragana or katakana yet? –  snailboat Jul 28 at 6:27
    
Yes I have learned half of the hiragana characters so far, I only started yesterday. –  user2405469 Jul 28 at 7:20

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

This is a pair of polarity items. One appears in positive contexts, the other in negative:

イギリスの ジャムは とても おいしいです
イギリスの ジャムは あまり おいしくありません

Every language has words like these. For example, in English:

I like pie, too.
I don't like pie, either.

Here, too and either are polarity items. In our positive sentence we use too, and in our negative sentence we use either. It doesn't work very well if we reverse them:

×I like pie, either.
×I don't like pie, too.

We can see something similar in your Japanese sentences. とても means "to a great degree", similar to English very, and in this meaning it appears in positive contexts:

イギリスの ジャムは とても おいしいです
English jam tastes very good.

On the other hand, あまり means "to a low degree", similar to English not very, and in this meaning it appears in negative contexts:

イギリスの ジャムは あまり おいしくありません
English jam doesn't taste very good.

Your book probably didn't mean for you to put them together into one sentence.

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thank you for this, I am at work so I tried forming the second sentence myself, perhaps the book didn't. Could you recommend some things I could practice with adjectives? or any places that will test my knowledge of them? –  user2405469 Jul 28 at 8:31
    
So negative context here means the negation of something, i.e. "not ~"? I see that it is so in the Wikipedia page you linked. It's unfortunate that my brain interprets the word "negative context" in another way, i.e. I associate "negative context" with words like 怖い and 怒っている. –  3 to 5 business days Jul 28 at 12:21

The simplest meaning vs とても/totemo ("very"), used in many first text books, is "not very".

This gives us:

"not very good" for amari yokunai/あまりよくない

and

"not very interesting" for amari omoshirokunai/あまり面白くない

and even

"not very bad" for amari warukunai/あまり悪くない

The best way to practice is to buy a text book (which you can probably trust) or possibly find a website with a few exercises.

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Things aren't completely +/- here. Variations on

あまりにもおいしい
あまりのおしさ

are both perfectly fine; even common. Or how about

とてもできない

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1  
It's true that they're not always a PPI and NPI respectively, which is why I wrote "in this meaning". Both words are licensed in various contexts with different meanings. –  snailboat Jul 28 at 14:27

In very simple terms:

"Amari," used with a negative, simply means "quite."

"amari yokunai" = "quite bad."

"amari omoshirokunai" = "quite uninteresting"

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No, that's quite the opposite of what it means. –  emodendroket Jul 28 at 18:32
    
You could say amari means "quite" or "very" in the positive sense, but when used with a negative it gets interpreted "(not) (very good)," rather than "(very) (not good)." –  emodendroket Jul 28 at 18:33

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