My JLPT book has this question:

ドライブの前{まえ}に(a.まともに b.念入{ねんい}りに)車{くるま}の点検{てんけん}をした。

I chose a, thinking that a reasonable translation was, "Before driving, do a proper check of the car."

The answer turns out to be b, which I guess means, "Before driving, do a careful check of the car."

I suspect that part of the problem is that my English definitions for "proper" and "careful" are close enough that I'm translating まともに and 念入{ねんい}りに too closely.

Even still, the two words are pretty similar. What differentiates まともに and 念入{ねんい}りに that should make b the clear choice in this question?

  • 1
    I can't really answer, but... I think proper isn't exactly a one-to-one translation for まとも(に). Maybe you could take a look at some of the example sentences on Weblio to get a better idea of how it's used. Or maybe the definition on 大辞泉.
    – user1478
    Mar 3 '13 at 9:51

I find that all too often these kinds of questions stem from people trying to translate a word into English rather than investigating the nuances in a J-J dictionary. Borrowing from snailplane's advice, we will avoid translation into English and look at the nuances as explained directly in Japanese.

For まとも(に), we see the following definition:

(2)道理にかなっていて、他人から非難される点のないこと。きちんとしていて、いかがわしい点のないこと。また、そのさま。 「―な商売」「挨拶すら―にできない」

See an alternate definition here.

This is a word that deals with correctness or fairness. It refers to something that is logical, something that cannot be criticized, something that is done carefully and with nothing fishy about it. It's proper in the sense that it is. If you go from the second link, it basically describes a process that is done straight and with no monkey business. No bullshit, just get it done. This isn't the kind of meaning that you normally associate with something as simple as inspecting a car, and especially in your example sentence there's no real complicated meaning going on; it just refers to checking your car before you drive. If there were some well-established social procedure involved in checking your car, and it was imperative to some sort of business venture or something, or otherwise connected to something for which other people are depending on you, then maybe you could say まともに. But you just want to say to check your car carefully, not with this sense of cosmic correctness. If you look at the examples in the definition, it includes business and greetings. If business is done まともに, you can expect that it's by the books and a smooth process. If someone can't even give a proper aisatsu, though, you know they're probably messing a lot of stuff up beyond just saying hello. Also of note is that there is another definition for this word that involves facing someone or something squarely, so you might be able to think of the more metaphorical meaning of this as an extension of the act of looking someone in the eye, or something along those lines.

Now, if we look up 念入り on the other hand:

細かい点までよく注意すること。念を入れること。また、そのさま。入念。 「―な仕事ぶり」「―に点検する」

It's exactly what you're looking for, and even the example sentence includes 念入りに点検する. The meaning isn't nearly as ambitious: it's just paying attention to details. You could probably translate your example to "careful inspection" in English.

The moral of this story is that if you are trying to translate two very nuanced words into English and compare them based on their English translations then you are easily setting yourself up for confusion. Use Japanese dictionaries as much as you can.

  • 1
    +1 Also, the kanji of まとも sort of gives it away as well. 真面 contains 真, which means "proper", but also "true, pure, genuine". Like "proper" in the sense of "upright", which is not necessary for a thorough car check.
    – Earthliŋ
    Mar 3 '13 at 11:33

I like this question because I have never really seen these two words as similar and often struggled to remember the nuances in the use まともな/に. The above advice to look at the definitions in Japanese is correct but if you want a more English oriented explanation, my understanding of these words for JLPT (with some analysis of the kanji) was as follows.

念入りに:thoroughly/with special care [or literally "with some thought put into it"] 

For example:

念入りな 計画 is a "well-prepared plan"


1:〔正面〕〔じかに〕directly; 〔まっすぐに〕straight; 〔面と向かって〕to one's face

2: 〔誤りのないこと〕〔正直な〕honest; 〔妥当な〕proper; 〔ちゃんとした〕respectable

The examples in my notes were:

まともな生活をする: live a decent life

まともな人間なら、そんなことはしない: a decent person would never do that

まともな 仕事:a decent (or proper) job

風を まともに 受ける:face the wind

Hopefully from the above next time you will choose "b" as I did when I read your OP.

References: Most of these examples came from 総まとめ語彙N1. *The definition of まとも from the Apple dictionary which seems to borrow from the Progressive J-E*

  • This definition of まとも is from the Progressive J-E, which labels sense 1 ◇まともに and sense 2 ◇まともな, where the diamond symbol indicates a particular derived form. So I'm not sure it's right to label both 1 and 2 with .
    – user1478
    Mar 4 '13 at 21:47
  • @snailplane: Thanks. There is always something new with this seemingly easy but pesky word.
    – Tim
    Mar 5 '13 at 11:56

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