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I was watching an anime. A boy is in a hurry and he's running, and ends up accidentally hitting a girl. He inmediately apologizes and says 大-大変申し訳ございません! He looks very nervous while speaking. The girls notices this and she looks worried (about him) at first, then she just smiles and says "別に". It's clear that she doesn't want to sound rude at all, she seems to simply want to comfort him and tell him it was nothing and he shouldn't worry. But I often read that 別に is an expression that expresses indifference and a lack of concern, so I wonder when it's supposed to be a perfectly normal reply and when it sounds rude. In this context, is it fine?

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It's not wrong to say just 別に in this situation, though it's not particularly polite or gentle, either. It may sound a little blunt or distant as compared to something like 大丈夫ですよ. Maybe the girl was also a little flustered?

別に is a negative polarity item. When said on its own, it can mean "Not at all", "No problem", "Nothing in particular", "Not really" and so on, depending on the context. In this context it clearly means "No problem" or "I was not particularly bothered". It can be rude as a reply for a question like "What's your impression about (something)?"

Related:

  • Thanks a lot, naruto. I've seen a pretty similar context where this word is used again. It's a boy that tells her girlfriend he won't text her again while she's on college, because he thinks this bothers her. She answers with "べつにそんなの". If I'm right, べつに means the same thing as my example above, right? Basically " I don't mind/Not at all". So again, it's not rude(?). – YTKN Mar 20 '18 at 5:07
  • @RomiGarrido Yes, that usage is fine, though it sounds a bit like tsundere :) – naruto Mar 20 '18 at 5:09
  • Lol xD Mind if you explain why? You're actually right, the girl is kind of a tsundere >u< – YTKN Mar 20 '18 at 5:13
  • @RomiGarrido As I said, 別に and そんなの can sound blunt and indifferent -- at least superficially. – naruto Mar 20 '18 at 5:32
  • You're right, but そんなの is also used to talk about something distasteful/undesirable, right? I think the girl may have used a weird choice of words here to express she doesn't mind(?). Thanks for the clarification. – YTKN Mar 20 '18 at 5:46

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