This one stumped my Japanese friend that I was having dinner with earlier tonight. We were talking about the fact that tomorrow is Monday and I had a tough work week ahead. She said ガンバレ, I paused, and asked what was the difference between that and 頑張{がんば}って . She paused, then said I should ask someone else. Like a lot of native speakers, some word choices just come naturally and she's never examined the hows and whys.

I notice just now that when I type them in, my IME's first suggestion for がんばって is in kanji, and the first suggestion for がんばれ is in katakana. Is that indicative of a difference in meaning and usage, or merely convention in writing?

Also, I do know that がんばって can be followed by ください, and I think がんばれ can't. So perhaps it's just a matter of the form of the verb? Still, even if that's the case, I'm wondering if there are different implications for choosing one or the other.

Anyone know what the difference is?

Please note: In accordance with the discussion on meta regarding linguistic terminology, I'm going to request that answers be in plain English (and Japanese) so that everyone can understand. Or, at least, please know that I wouldn't mark an answer as correct if it only contained technical linguistic terms. Thanks for your understanding.

  • 1
    Might be related there is also the term ガンバ Jul 10, 2011 at 13:52
  • @Dave M G: Did @sawa's comment on my answer lead you to accept another one (that is basically a summary of what I said in my answer)?
    – repecmps
    Jul 13, 2011 at 7:46
  • 1
    Repecmps has the best answer.
    – oldergod
    Mar 29, 2013 at 1:55

4 Answers 4


「がんばって」 and 「ガンバレ」 from my experience are used rather interchangeably.

They do stem from the same verb 「頑張る」: So, 「がんばって」 = 「頑張って」 while 「ガンバレ」 = 「頑張れ」.

Strictly speaking, 「頑張って」 is a request, while 「頑張れ」 is a command. Hence, 「頑張れ」 carries a slightly heavier tone as well as a bit more casual. However, it is a very small difference. As well, the differences have been blurred by the extensive over-use of the phrase.

The reason for 「ガンバレ」 to be typeset in katakana is because it is an emphasis of the characters. Say you were sitting at a sports day, cheering on your friend, this is where 「ガンバレ」 might be slightly more appropriate.

Overall, there is not a big difference between the two words. It is more of a word choice depending on your speaking style.

  • 1
    +1 for request vs command.
    – repecmps
    Jul 11, 2011 at 5:34
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    @Greg: Nice answer covering all the bases brought up in the question. Further exploration: would it be fair to say that because both forms have become so common and interchangeable, that the nuance of command versus request is essentially gone, or would it be more accurate to say native speakers intuitively choose the more appropriate one depending on context?
    – Questioner
    Jul 12, 2011 at 4:54
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    @Dave: Sorry, I've been a bit preoccupied with a family visit lately. I would say that for the most part, the nuance is essentially gone at this point. Many of the speakers who use ガンバレ will most likely not be using the command form (e.g. 行け) for the same listener. Although, I'm sure you can find people who extremes, you should be rather safe with the use of either. Jul 16, 2011 at 4:35
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    Just thought I'd add abit: 「頑張れ」 is not a command. It signifies an intention to influence the listener's actions (aka imperative mood). This may or may not be a command depending on how the words are said (tone etc).
    – Pacerier
    May 24, 2012 at 18:43
  • @DaveMG Both forms are not always interchangeable and they have a different nuance.
    – oldergod
    Mar 29, 2013 at 2:21

がんばれ is the imperative form of がんばる

For most verbs of action it is clearly used to give an order and can be perceived as rude or very familiar in most cases. (You might have often heard 死ね in movies. This is the imperative form of 死ぬ.)

がんばれ, of course is not rude. It's familiar and encouraging. With the use of katakana it can be viewed as a slogan or propaganda.

がんばって is the request form of the same verb.

Most people think this form is a more polite way to order someone to do something. But technically it is not correct. You make a request but you can expect it to be refused.

You can make it a polite request by adding ください

In brief:

  • がんばれ

    Use with close friends and family. Is often accompanied by a movement of the fist and gives an idea of strength.

  • がんばって

    Is used with people with whom you would use the neutral form of speech but not necessarily very close people. This is the simple "good luck" or "hold on" (etc...) without much involvement from the speaker.

  • がんばってください

    is the polite for of the above. Implies more 'distance' between the interlocutors.

  • @sawa: request forms is basic grammar knowledge. See accepted answer that you didn't downvote. You examples have all different nuances and meaning, they are useless and off-topic.
    – repecmps
    Jul 13, 2011 at 7:42

I think they are pretty interchangeable as expressions of support.

As far as nuances are concerned, がんばれ seems a little bit stronger to me. When someone is having a hard time, or working for something out of the ordinary (university exam, sport tournament), family and supporters would shout "がんばれ". It sounds (a bit) harsher, it's more direct than がんばって.

Also, you probably wouldn't say "がんばれ" to someone you don't know or just met; you'd have to say がんばって(ください).


The first difference is that "がんばれ" is more informal, while "がんばって(ください)" Is a little more formal. If you understand the whole in-group/out-group thing, plus acknowledging whether the person to which you are saying this is "above" or "below" (or "equal") to you in standing (based on age, etc...), that would be the main criteria for choosing one over the other. If the person you are saying that to is an equal or "inferior" (not in reality, just in the way the Japanese order their relationship hierarchies), "がんばれ" would be a more likely choice, especially if familiarity is also an ingredient. The higher someone is above you, the more politely you would want to say this (or anything), also keeping in consideration how well you know them and whether they would consider you to be "in-" or "out-group" with regard to the context of saying it.

Little of this translates well into English. Having been around Japanese culture for 25 years, I can tell you that the Japanese take these things very seriously, but they expect that "foreigners" are not able to understand the nuances, and they therefore tend to give "us" a great leeway with our inadequate use of their language. Because much of my experience in Japan was in more formal settings, I learned to err on the side of formality, and this has paid off for me greatly with many Japanese I had relationships with coming to respect me for my respect of their culture.

Therefore, my advice is, when in doubt, use "がんばってください" to show your respect for the Japanese people and their culture. I believe it will go a long way to endear you to them.

  • I don't know why this answer was downvoted, especially without comment, as Craig is clearly a new user...
    – Billy
    Jun 28, 2013 at 0:41

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