I've noticed that some of my Japanese friends with fluent but imperfect English often say "too adjective" when a native English speaker would say just "very adjective".

(I am asking about "too" in the sense "too big", not as in "me too")

Does this reveal that English makes a distinguish that Japanese doesn't make or one which Japanese speakers would find too subtle?

How would I unambiguously express each in Japanese?

  • What's that "adjective" means btw? – YOU Jun 13 '11 at 5:58
  • @YOU: "too big", "too much", "too fast", "too hot", "too long" etc, but not the other ways we use "too" in English. – hippietrail Jun 13 '11 at 6:00
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    @hippietrail, ahh haha, I see. I thought "adjective" as a real word. – YOU Jun 13 '11 at 6:02
  • @YOU: Sorry I hoped putting adjective in italics would help but if you have a better suggestion I'd like to make it as clear as possible (-: – hippietrail Jun 13 '11 at 6:08
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    No problem, italics should be enough. I was thinking the word "subjective" in my mind when I read your question, so I wrongly assumed "adjective" as similar words like "subjective" :P – YOU Jun 13 '11 at 6:13

Not only "too [big]" and "very [big]", but I have also very often heard "so [big]" added to the mix of confusion by semi-conversational Japanese (not sure it's related, but it sure sounds like it).

A potential lead for an explanation might be in the nuance of 「〜すぎ」in Japanese: it is generally more neutral than "too ~" in English. In fact, it is often colloquially used as a synonym for "very ~" (when used with a positive adjective):

美味しすぎ! → This is really good! (with positive, not negative, nuance) [col.]

When quizzed about that, Japanese coworkers agreed that, in their mind, there wasn't such a strong difference between "too ~"/"so ~"/"very ~"... possibly because of the softer divide between 「〜すぎ」 and 「とても」. I doubt there is a stronger grammatical explanation for this (but would love to hear if there is).

  • Interesting. My western mind has never made that connection between 過ぎ and any of the various verys... – deceze Jun 13 '11 at 8:28
  • In English there is the colloquial form of "too" which has the same meaning as "very" ("This is too tasty!"), but I still believe that there is a formal difference between the two Japanese forms. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 13 '11 at 9:08
  • @Ignacio: I am aware of that (in fact, similar colloquialisms exist in at least 2 or 3 western languages I can think of)... But honestly, the English version of this colloquialism is a lot less common than its Japanese counterpart. Your example "This is too tasty!" is both quite rare and generally only positive when used in the larger expression "too X to do Y" (e.g. "too tasty to share"), which is a whole different thing... – Dave Jun 13 '11 at 9:51
  • An informal survey among two Japanese here confirmed both opinions: One said they're completely unrelated words, but are misused by young(-ish) people in expressions such as 美味しい過ぎ, while another confirmed that he thinks of both words as very much related (but has a good enough grasp of English as to not confuse too and very). – deceze Jun 13 '11 at 11:15
  • +1 I've also heard ”すぎ” used as a synonym for "very" from many (in particular) young people. – phirru Jun 13 '11 at 11:34

I've always heard that "very" is 「とても」 (「とても美味しい」), whereas "too" is 「~過ぎ」 (「大き過ぎ」).

  • +1 I think Japanese makes an even clearer distinction than English between between too and very with the -sugi postfix. Not sure how one can confuse the two... – deceze Jun 13 '11 at 6:47
  • @deceze: I'll have to pay closer attention, it may only be one friend and he's not nearby at the moment. – hippietrail Jun 13 '11 at 8:08

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