A little Japanese primer on using ‘chotto’ in Japanese

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Chotto kaimono ni itte-kimasu.

I’m going shopping for a bit.

Situation 1: On Sunday, Mrs. Shiba is going out for a while and leaving their son, Jun, at home with his father.

妻: 買い物に行ってくるから、ちょっとの間、じゅんを見ていてくれる?

夫: うん、いいよ。じゅん、ちょっとパパと遊ぼうか。

Tsuma: Kaimono ni itte-kuru kara, chotto no aida, Jun o mite-ite kureru?

Otto: Un, ii yo. Jun, chotto Papa to asobō ka.

Wife: I’m going shopping. Can you look after Jun for a bit?

Husband: OK. Jun, want to play with Dad for a while?

Today we’ll introduce some uses of the adverb ちょっと, which comes up in all manner of conversations. It is the phonetically altered version of ちっと, which itself is the colloquial form of 少 (すこ)し, a term used to refer to a little amount of something, such as time. ちょっと/少し is used as in the following examples: おなかがいっぱいで、ちょっとしか食(た)べられない。 (I’m full, so I can eat only a little.); デートだから、ちょっとだけおしゃれして行(い)こう。 (Since it’s a date, I’ll get a bit more dressed up than usual.). The wife’s ちょっと in Situation 1 means “for a short time,” maybe 10-20 minutes. In that example, ちょっと is used as a noun-modifier that attaches via the particle の, just like here: ちょっとのことで、そんなに大騒(おおさわ)ぎしないで。(Please don’t make a fuss over such a tiny matter.).

Situation 2: Mr. Tian is talking on the phone with a client.

ティエン: 23日に、弊社にお越しいただけますか。

顧客: あ、すみません、23日はちょっと…。24か25なら、都合がつくんですが…。

Tian: Nijūsannichi ni, heisha ni o-koshi itadakemasu ka.

Kokyaku: A, sumimasen, nijūsannichi wa chotto … . Nijūyon ka nijūgo nara, tsugō ga tsuku-n desu ga …

Tian: Could you please come to our office on the 23rd?

Client: Oh, I’m sorry, the 23rd is a bit (inconvenient) … I could come on the 24th or 25th.

When ちょっと is used with a negative form of verb or negative phrase, it shows that something is impossible or quite difficult, as in: 私(わたし)には、ちょっとわかりません。(I don’t know about it.). This usage also applies to affirmative forms that have negative meaning, e.g., むずかしい (difficult), だめ (no good), こまる (troublesome), etc. So, when declining the counterpart’s invitation or suggestion, just using ちょっと and leaving that dangling can convey the sense of inconvenience, and — as in Situation 2 — it sounds more polite or reserved than uttering the full sentence.

Bonus Dialogue: Department head Yamani has been talking with the president of Okawa Co.

大川: …それで、弊社(へいしゃ)からの申(もう)し出(で)に対(たい)して、御社(おんしゃ)ではどのようにお考(かんが)えなのでしょうか。

ヤマニ: 私(わたくし)個人(こじん)としては、ぜひこの プロジェクトを進(すす)めたいという気持(きも)ちなのですが、上層部(じょうそうぶ)のほうにちょっと 問題(もんだい)が…。

大川: 問題とおっしゃいますと…?

ヤマニ: 共同(きょうどう)プロジェクト推進派(すいしんは)と反対派(はんたいは)に、ちょっと意見(いけん)の違(ちが)いがありまして…。

大川: どのようなことが争点(そうてん)になっているのでしょうか?

ヤマニ: ちょっと、くわしくは申し上(あ)げられないのですが、このプロジェクトで開発(かいはつ)する商品(しょうひん)の将来性(しょうらいせい)と言(い)えば、ご推察(すいさつ)いただけるでしょうか。

大川: ああ、そのようなご意見は、当然(とうぜん)予想(よそう)しておりました。その点(てん)について、重役(じゅうやく)の方々(かたがた)に直接(ちょくせつ)ご説明(せつめい)させていただければいいのですが…。

ヤマニ: そうですね。社長(しゃちょう)ご自身(じしん)が説明してくださるのが一番(いちばん)です。近(ちか)いうちに、機会(きかい)を作(つく)りましょう。

Okawa: … So, what does your firm think of our official offer?

Yamani: Personally, I’d like to go full steam ahead with this project, but there are some problems upstairs …

Okawa: What do you mean by problems?

Yamani: There’s a bit of disagreement between the camps for and against collaborative projects.

Okawa: What kind of issues are there?

Yamani: I can’t speak about the details right now, but can you guess if I say it concerns the prospects of the product we are trying to develop in this project?

Okawa: Oh, naturally I expected such opinions to come out. I wish I could explain about that point to the executives.

Yamani: Good idea. If the head of Okawa Co. explained it, that’d be best. I’ll schedule a meeting for ASAP.