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From early on, I've used こら and ほら somewhat interchangeably. They both mean "hey!"

I picked them up from friends early on without without really having a sense of the difference.

Now, after some time, I've come to understand that ほら is simply "hey!", as in just getting someone's attention, and こら is "hey" with a flavour of "dude, what the hell?" mixed in.

The thing is, I still tend to slip and use こら when maybe I should say ほら, and vice versa. Old habits die hard.

My question is, when I mix up and say こら instead of ほら, how bad is it?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

こら is uttered usually when the speaker is scolding or blaming someone. ほら is used to draw someone’s attention to something. They are not interchangeable.

I do not know how bad it is to mix them up, especially if other people know that you speak Japanese as a foreign language, but using こら in an inappropriate situation can be rude and may give the impression that you consider that you are superior to the addressee.

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You also can't roll your Rs with ほら: ほるるるるらーっ! Nope, doesn't sound right. – Derek Schaab Sep 7 '11 at 14:00
What about when you are drawing someone's attention to the following scolding your about to give them? – taylor Aug 14 '12 at 6:41

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