the definition for 一体【いったい】:

Adverb : ...the heck (e.g. "what the heck?");  ...in the world (e.g. "why in the world?");  ...on earth (e.g. "who on earth?");

—Before an interrogative, forms an emphatic question. 一体どこで彼に会ったんだ。Where on earth did you meet him? いったいなぜ彼を駅に連れて行ったの?Why on earth did you take him to the station?

Noun : one object;  one body;  unity

one form;  one style one Buddhist image (or carving, etc.)

Adverbial noun :

generally;  in general; → 一体に

Given the definition of the noun, why does this word possess an implied incredulity when used before an interrogative?

  • Where's the verb or adjective making "the heck"/"on earth" adVERBial? If "what"/"who" are (pro)nouns, aren't they adjectives? In any case, you noticed the part where it says it emphasizes a question? That has nothing to do with the noun definition, and so long as "the heck"/"in the world"/"on earth" accomplishes that, it's valid. (It might be useful to know your source for the block quote, so I can point out how it went wrong, or where you mistook it.) Jul 1, 2012 at 21:11
  • Search suggests your source is WWWJDIC. I'm not actually sure whether you're asking, "why is it a noun in one definition but an adverb in another?" or "how does this noun definition lead to this (adverb) definition"? I don't actually like calling that definition adverbial...weblio's definition actually classifies it as an auxiliary/supplementary (副). Jul 1, 2012 at 21:18
  • @SomethingJapanese I think yadokari wants to know why the adverb definition is seemingly unrelated to the noun definition. Jul 1, 2012 at 21:19
  • Then I guess my first comment was a little off-target...sorry. And that's not a question I know the answer to, so...hm, it'll be interesting to see if anyone has an answer. Jul 1, 2012 at 21:28
  • I am interested in why the 一体 in " 一体どこで彼に会ったんだ。Where on earth did you meet him? " expresses incredulity.
    – yadokari
    Jul 1, 2012 at 22:50

1 Answer 1


Given the definition of the noun, why does this word possess this adverbial meaning?

Your definition list is incomplete. Another sense means "the whole", "entirety", "general". This sense--while still a noun--is used like an adverb and may be accompanied with に, such as 一体に今年は寒かった. It is from this usage that the adverbial sense derived. Adverbially, the meaning changes to "on the whole", "in general", "in short" etc. Adverbial quote: 一体生徒が全然悪いです (Sōseki, Botchan*) When used in a question, it emphasizes the questioner’s feelings, which you are translating as "what the heck".

  • Note: This is a famous, well-known quote with 全然 + non-negative predicate.
  • thank you for your answer. I rephrased my question to be clearer. if 一体 forms an emphatic question when used before an interrogative, why would "on the whole", "in general", "in short" provide such emphasis? If I replace most translations of this use of 一体 with "on the whole", "in general", "in short", it seems much more staid and tame than how i think this word works in Japanese.
    – yadokari
    Jul 1, 2012 at 22:54
  • I understand why "on the whole", "in general", "in short" could mean "why in the world..?" but is there an added meaning that supplies the seeming extra emphasis?
    – yadokari
    Jul 1, 2012 at 23:36
  • 2
    Actually, there is a variant 一体全体. It could even be the case (but I am not sure) that 一体 is shortened from 一体全体.
    – user458
    Jul 2, 2012 at 9:03
  • +1: The 全然 predicate always has to be negative was an old myth.
    – Jesse Good
    Jul 5, 2012 at 1:52

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