I'm unsure about the meaning of ようす in some dictionary definitions. Most of the time I translate it in my mind to "State of being + adjective" but sometimes it doesn't seem to fit, like in the definitions I have for these two kanji:

峨 : 山の高くけわしいようす

嵯 : 山が高くけわしいようす

So, is it along the lines of "The fact, for a mountain, of being tall and steep" or rather "Looking high and steep like a mountain"?


1 Answer 1


「[様子]{ようす}」 surely means "state", "situation", "circumstances", etc., but whether or not one of those English words should actually be used in the English translation of a definition of a Japanese word (or a single kanji as in this case) is a separate matter altogether IMHO.

Unlike in other languages including English, it is just customary in Japanese culture to end a definition with a noun such as 「様子」、「こと」 and 「さま」. This occurs in definitions for words of multiple parts of speech including nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc. and sometimes even verbs.

In other words, Japanese-speakers simply "expect" a word (or kanji) definition to come in the noun phrase form because that is how we traditionally define words for one another both in spoken and written Japanese. That is how it is done whether it is a mother explaining a word to a toddler or a big dictionary or professor giving a word definiton to a Ph.D. student.

So, the important question is: "Is the same thing as above practiced by English-speakers?"

If yes (or a strict literal translation is required for some reason), go ahead and give a definition in the noun phrase form starting with a word like "state".

If no, forget 「ようす」 and form the definition the way it will sound most natural to English-speakers, which I presume would be like:

"craggy and steep (as of a mountain)"

Finally, the translation "looking high and steep ~~" sounds strange to me. That is not really what 「ようす」 means in a word definition.

  • 1
    Thanks that was extremely useful, as always. I think you're right with the problem for me being that it's a noun phrase. Would the definition have the same meaning if phrased 「高く険しい山の様子」? If yes, would it be ok for it to appear in a dictionary like this or would it sound clumsy?
    – Alox
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 16:23

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