I don't know how to differentiate between these 2 meanings of 控える:

  1. 〔止める,見合わせる〕 勝手な発言は控えてください
    Please refrain from speaking without permission.

  2. 〔少なめにする〕塩分を控えなさい
    Cut down on your intake of salt.

In this sentence:


How do we know if it's limiting or stopping completely?

2 Answers 2


控える basically means cutting down on or refraining from, but to a reasonable extent rather than stopping completely. In the case of 塩分, it's impossible to completely remove salt from your food in the first place. In the case of 少なくともそれまではお酒とたばこは控える, most people would probably try to stop using/abstain from them completely, but some people may just cut back. If a physician seriously wants a patient to stop smoking completely, they would unambiguously say 禁煙してください or タバコは止めてください.


In your case, the actually implied prohibition level is still not clear without broader context. But if I'm allowed to guess from that piece, I tend to think you are advised to stop.

Generally speaking, 控える is a polite way to tell people that something is strongly discouraged, i.e. the less the better, but you might do it to a degree that doesn't get much in the way of the goal. This verb has another meaning "wait on someone at the side", so you can see that you are expected to do nothing, or at least act without being obstructive. For example, imagine if the chair says 勝手な発言は控えてください in the hearing of the entire conference room, so it practically equals "don't do".


According to 大辞泉:



In my experience, 控える in medical advice lingo is "never" in most cases. If they want to tell you to reduce the amount, I feel they will say 控えめにしてください.

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