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Though this question has been asked a lot, I do not find any explanation with the literal meaning and the logic behind the expression (with 別 referring to "distinction").

As a result, it's difficult to understand the difference between this expression and expressions like 特に, both being translated as "[not] particularly". Furthermore, I have trouble understanding how 別に with this meaning is translated in negative sentences as "it's not like ..." such as in "別に欲しくない" being translated as "it's not like I want it or anything".

If you were to literally translate the meaning of this expression in English, what would it be?

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    I feel like the literal definition is already there. It does mean "particularly." It's just a type of "particularly" that only gets used with negative statements.
    – Leebo
    Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 11:16

2 Answers 2

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特に is an objective expression and can be used in formal or academic writing. On the other hand, 別に sounds much more informal. Depending on the context, 別に can easily sound like saying "meh".

Both 別に欲しくありません and 特に欲しくありません basically mean "I don't want it in particular", but it is recommended to use the latter when you want to sound polite. (When you want to fend off salespeople or telemarketing calls, using the former is just fine!)

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に works as an adverbializer.

別 is a noun and it means "separate".

別に is an adverb meaning "in a separate way".

Then it becomes easy to understand "別に欲しくない" -> "I don't desire it in a separate way" or "It's not desire inducing (to me) in a separate way" (completely literal)

You can see how the translations make a idiomatic jump towards "It's not like I want it or anything". Although it's grammatically incorrect, it's already established lingo of tsunderes in its English representation.

Additionally, something being separate from other things also gives the meaning of it being special, more important, particular, etc.

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  • Thank you for translating it literally, somehow it's what makes it easy for me in general. In this case however, I'm failing to understand how "in a separate way" makes any sense here in giving the feeling of "not in particular" or "it's not like ..."
    – Gyabu_7
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 13:47
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    "It's not like..." is not a literal translation. It's an interpretation of intent but grammatically inaccurate. Something particular is something that is different from other elements in a group, that is to said it's separated from them in some regard. The "not" comes from the negative verb. Although 別に is used mostly paired with negative verbs, the meaning is still "in a separate way". Dictionaries say "(not) particularly" and "in negative sentences) precisely because the "not" comes from the verb.
    – 0149234
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 14:14

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