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Is there any real translation for the word "variable" meaning the general concept of "a changing something" ?

Edit: Similar words are "parameters", "elements", "requirements".

Example / Context:

  • "There are too many variables to find the perfect location for the movies": time, distance, habit, preference,...
  • "What are you going to do today?", "The answer to this question has too many variables."
  • (programming in general)

Problem with "変数"
In general the word "variable" is translated as "変数". However, this is a wrong translation in many cases, as the Japanese literally means "variable number". This might make sense in calculus (not math), where this translation probably stems from, but it does not represent the actual meaning of variable.

Edit: Background
I use the word "variable" fairly often in English, so I need an understandable equivalent. "変数" works in Math and Advanced programming, but not in everyday parlance. Among other problems I encountered people wondering why I am suddenly talking about numbers.

Edit: Towards the solution (from the comments)

  • パラメーター is difficult, as it's not Japanese
  • 変動要因 seems a little difficult to understand, but
  • 要因 sounds like a very good fit for everyday parlance.
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    The "variable" in your sentence seems to mean close to the word such as "parameters" "elements", "requirements", etc. Does your 変数 is used to describe in a context fo computer programming? Aug 11 at 2:29
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    I'm confused on 2 points: (1) what do you mean by "calculus (not math)". 変数 is an excellent translation of variable in math where variables represent quantities that can change. I agree with @kimiTanaka. What you describe sounds like parameter. (2) Are you expecting a one-to-one correspondence between words in one language (variable in English) and words in an unrelated language (Japanese). I'm not sure how else to understand your words "real translation." Why expect there to be a constant translation in all cases? In short, clarification would be greatly appreciated.
    – A.Ellett
    Aug 11 at 3:12
  • I know, that was perhaps too many puns, but still I think they're applicable.
    – A.Ellett
    Aug 11 at 3:14
  • Did you actually check the definition of 変数 in Japanese? It need not be restricted to numbers.
    – Leebo
    Aug 11 at 6:41
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    @DarkTrick 変数 is the go-to translation for "variable", and 引数 is the go-to translation of "argument". Worrying about the kanji 数 seems to be an example of etymological fallacy to me.
    – naruto
    Aug 14 at 7:53
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IMO 変数 is not bad even in the context you provided. 変数 in math and programming contexts can safely hold non-numerical values such as strings, sets and functions. Still, if you do want to avoid 数, you can also use 変動要因 or パラメーター at least in that context.

EDIT: 不確定要素 is another common phrase that can be used in this context. This entry has an example. (And I'd say it's very common despite its length; rest assured that any native Japanese adult understands this.)

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  • I think you're onto something there naruto, I was thinking of other words that would fit the meaning of OP's context but not that of programming or math, and I think factor (要因) might be a good candidate. It clearly means either something that you need to take into account or a part of a multiplication (and there's no grey area like with variable or parameter). Aug 11 at 10:39
  • I really like the idea of 要因. Maybe even 要素, close to the meaning of "parameter" (?) This goes a little away from the idea of changing, but might be better understandable than in everyday parlance.
    – DarkTrick
    Aug 11 at 11:38
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    @DarkTrick You're making sentences for educated adults, right? It's hard to imagine someone who doesn't understand 変動要因. If you like to use 要素, use 不確定要素 which is a fairly easy word despite its length.
    – naruto
    Aug 11 at 12:11
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    @DarkTrick I've also run into situations where 変数 isn't understood like "variable" is in English outside of math contexts. Using 要因 instead worked for me.
    – By137
    Aug 11 at 15:18
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可変値 is another translation for “variable” that is used in technical fields and covers not only numbers but other types of values.

可変要素 may be used in non-technical contexts, though it still sounds somewhat technical.

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I feel, that both current answers ander their comments together are the best fit for an answer. As an effort to "accept both", I merged their content here and made the answer a Community wiki. Please feel free to edit and improve.

@naruto:

IMO 変数 is not bad even in the context you provided. 変数 in math and programming contexts can safely hold non-numerical values such as strings, sets and functions. Still, if you do want to avoid 数, you can also use 変動要因 or パラメーター at least in that context.

It's hard to imagine someone who doesn't understand 変動要因. If you like to use 要素, use 不確定要素 which is a fairly easy word despite its length.

@By137

I've also run into situations where 変数 isn't understood like "variable" is in English outside of math contexts. Using 要因 instead worked for me.

@aguijonazo

可変値 is another translation for “variable” that is used in technical fields and covers not only numbers but other types of values.

可変要素 may be used in non-technical contexts, though it still sounds somewhat technical.

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  • So wouldn't the answer to your question be no, there's no single 'real' translation to fit all English meanings? Aug 15 at 10:32

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