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I saw that one of the definitions of ざわざわ (though it doesn't seem to be a common use from what I've seen, but I could be wrong) is restless, uneasy or anxious.

Here is the definition I found:

気持が落ち着かないさま。 「―した散漫な不安」

In the dictionary, 不安 also shares the same meaning: anxious, uneasy, etc.

So, what's the difference between both words? Is it a matter of nuance?

Thanks!

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When you look up a word in a dictionary, let's always pay attention to its word class. Asking about the difference between 不安 and ざわざわ is like asking about the difference between "explosive" and "kaboom". You know they are very different; the former is a noun that works also as an adjective, and the latter is an onomatopoeia (sound of an explosion). They belong to different word classes and thus they are not interchangeable.

Now, 不安 is a noun and a na-adjective. When it works as a noun, it means "anxiety". When it works as a na-adjective, it means "anxious".

ざわざわ is an onomatopoeic adverb and a suru-verb. When it works as an onomatopoeia, it represents a sound — a noise made by people who are confused and/or anxious, like in the picture below. See this article for how onomatopoeic adverbs work in Japanese. When it works as a suru-verb, it means "to buzz (out of anxiety)", "to feel anxiety", "to become uneasy", etc.

In addition, since ざわざわ is an onomatopoeia, it tends to be used to describe a temporary anxiety, confusion, etc. 不安 can be longstanding.

enter image description here

  • Thanks, I know about the onomatopoeia but in the context I read the word it seemed to be used as a verb, hence my confussion. – Romy Garrido Oct 30 '18 at 2:44
  • @RomyGarrido In ざわざわした散漫な不安, ざわざわ is used as a suru-verb (there is した). And する in Japanese has the meaning of "to have a quality of ~". For example, ツルツルした床 = slippery floor, 興奮した人 = excited person. – naruto Oct 30 '18 at 2:49
  • yeah thanks, I just checked again, it is a suru-verb. Thanks for the insight – Romy Garrido Oct 30 '18 at 2:52
  • @RomyGarrido In the case of ざわざわした散漫な不安, ざわざわ describes what the 不安 is like. It says the 不安 is neither very strong nor trivial. It a kind of anxiety that constantly keeps someone a little uneasy. – naruto Oct 30 '18 at 3:00

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