In books that I've come across and even in dictionaries, I've seen the word 「好きな」 translated as "favorite". I'm a little confused by this because 「好きです」 normally gets translated as "like", or in my mind, "is liked".

I'm wondering what is the Japanese idea behind the word 「好き」. For instance, in English, the ideas of "like", "love", and "favorite" all have a relationship, but at the same time are different. So I can say I like the colors red, blue, green, and yellow, and I love (especially like) the colors red and blue, but I can only say my favorite color is blue. There can only be one favorite since the idea itself implies that it is the #1 most liked thing.

When we were in school, if the teacher asked, "What is your favorite color," and you proceeded to rattle off a list of multiple colors, you would be corrected; the teacher would say, "Those are all colors that you like, but which one do you like the most?"

In Japanese, I understand that you have the terms 「好き」, 「大好き」, and 「一番好き」. When I look up 「好き」 on Kotobank, I see it translates 「好きな詩」 as "one's favorite poem". But how can this be translated as your favorite poem? Shouldn't 「好きな詩」 just be a poem that you like? Wouldn't your favorite poem be 「一番好きな詩」?

Returning to the color example, if someone asked 「好きな色は何ですか?」, would you respond with only one color, or would it also be acceptable to respond with more than one color?

  • To my mind, neither 「好きな」nor "favorite" necessarily mean "the most liked" or "the only liked". The specificity of "favorite" in English depends on the article or pronoun it is paired with (eg. "my favorite" vs "a favorite"). I suspect this is another case of bi-lingual dictionaries losing the subtleties of the non-exact mapping of words between the languages.
    – ekimyedips
    Commented Oct 23, 2014 at 22:42
  • @ekimyedips For the word "favorite", I agree, it would not mean "the only liked" thing. But in most cases that I could think of for English, including checking in the dictionary, it would mean "the most liked". You can still like other things, but your favorite would be the most liked thing. The one exception one would if I said my favorite colors are red and blue, I mean that I like both colors so much that I cannot choose between the two of them. Thus, I have two #1 colors. But that seems to be more of an exception to the rule, and normally a person would make that distinction. Commented Oct 23, 2014 at 22:49
  • @ekimyedips (cont.) Looking at your other statement, if we use them in a sentence, I would get "This is my favorite song!" and "This song is a favorite (of mine)." The first to me means the song is your #1 song -- it's at the top of your list. The second statement seems like it could mean it's a song that you like a lot, but it might not necessarily be your #1 song. The first usage of favorite, however, is the one that I hear people using most frequently. I'm not sure how to map these distinctions in Japanese, though. Commented Oct 23, 2014 at 22:53
  • @ekimyedips (cont.) Between the two statements, there also is a difference in emotional overtone. The first statement has a much higher emotional component behind it; the second statement is a little less intense, a little more emotionally neutral, more like you're just stating a fact. It's like you're just letting someone know, "Yeah, I like this song." (Maybe it's a song you like, but you've also heard it a million times, so the intensity has worn off vs. your favorite song ALWAYS conjures that emotional intensity.) Do the Japanese words also carry these emotional overtones? Commented Oct 23, 2014 at 22:57
  • My impression (as a non-native), is that 好きな carries the emotional intensity that you are talking about but not the exclusivity that "my favorite" does in English.
    – ekimyedips
    Commented Oct 23, 2014 at 23:10

1 Answer 1


「好きな~」 generally corresponds to "~ which one likes", and one can safely have multiple 好きな色 and 好きな食べ物.


Some E-J dictionaries say "favorite" is "特に好きな" or "好きな", which means the English adjective "favorite" is usually stronger than 好きな. And as far as I know, English has no single-word adjective which exactly matches 好きな. I think "favorite" is sometimes chosen because it is not practical to translate 好きな as "which I like" every time you see it.

  • Thank you! You have confirmed my suspicions. I have never heard of 「特に好きな」before. While it seems to convey a stronger meaning than just 「好きな」, it seems to basically mean the same thing as 「大好きな」, which still doesn't seem to catch the nuance of the English "favorite". Is it safe to say that 「一番好きな」is the only term that corresponds to the English "favorite"? Are there any other terms that mean the same as 「一番好きな」? Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 14:44
  • Also, if I just want to say "a book that I like", would there be a difference between 「好きな本」「私の好きな本」and「私が好きな本」? Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 14:51
  • @MarnellSample Yes, you can say "一番好きな" or "最【もっと】も好きな", but use them only when "#1" is really important to you. When you ask someone's favorite just out of curiosity, 好きな is usually enough. I don't see any meaningful difference between 「私の好きな本」 and 「私が好きな本」. You can drop 私の altogether if there is no ambiguity.
    – naruto
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 15:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .