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I am having difficulty understanding the difference between とても and なかなか. The English meaning is the same, so are they interchangeable?

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    – Eddie Kal
    Mar 24, 2022 at 16:29

3 Answers 3

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As a native Japanese speaker I think it's weird "とても" and "なかなか" seem to be the same in English.

That's because "とても" suggestion a different degree (either higher or lower) than what I expected and also "なかなか" sounds more or less equal to what I expected.

When the amount or value compared with what you expected is high, you should use "とても" but when the amount or value almost equals or is a little more or less than what you expected, you should use "なかなか".

I think like this. This explanation is based on my life in Japan for more than 35 years.

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As a supplement to the existing answers, I would say なかなか would be closer to the English words 'pretty', 'rather', or 'quite' than 'very' which とても matches.

I have an example that may make this difference clearer, though it may be an odd example; in the forging minigame in Dragon Quest XI, a well-made item can turn out ちょっといい which is +1, なかなかいい which is +2, or とてもいい which is +3.

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    なかなかいい which is +2, or とてもいい which is +3. -- Oh, that's a とてもいい example!
    – chocolate
    Mar 25, 2022 at 0:40
  • very well と fairly well (と pretty well, quite well ?) はどのくらい違います? すごく・とてもいい、結構・なかなかいい、みたいな感じですかね?
    – chocolate
    Mar 25, 2022 at 0:43
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    @Chocolate  その通りです。「very」は「とても」や「すごく」に近いと思います。「fairly」も「pretty」も「quite」も「結構」とか「なかなか」とかとほぼ同じくらいですが、「quite」と「fairly」のほうが「pretty」よりもう少しフォーマルな感じです。
    – Angelos
    Mar 25, 2022 at 0:48
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First, they are not of the same language level, とても is polite, なかなか is casual.

とても is "very".

なかなか is "very" with the nuance of "not bad".

If you say とても美味しい to someone who cooked something, they're pleased. If you say なかなか美味しい, they'll be mad because it'll be taken as if you're looking down on them - "Not too bad for somebody like you" kinda thing.

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