Language | WELL SAID

Vary your way of emphasis with 'totemo' and its cousins

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Totemo kosei-teki de, suteki desu ne. It’s very unique, it looks great.

Situation 1: Ms. Shiba notices Mr. Tien’s gorgeous tie.

芝: あ、ティエンさん、今日のネクタイ、とても個性的で、すてきですね。

ティエン: ありがとうございます。これは、森さんがフェアトレードで買ってプレゼントしてくれたんです。ケニアの手作り品だそうです。

Shiba: A, Tien-san, kyō no nekutai, totemo kosei-teki de, suteki desu ne.

Tien: Arigatō gozaimasu. Kore wa, Mori-san ga featorēdo de katte purezento-shite kureta-n desu. Kenia no tezukuri-hin da sō desu.

Shiba: Oh, Mr. Tian, your tie today is very unique, it looks great.

Tien: Thank you very much. Mrs. Mori bought it at a fair trade (market) and gave it to me as a present. It’s a handmade product from Kenya, she said.

The adverb とても is one of the many Japanese expressions that can be translated as “very.” In a conversation, the pattern とてもX, where “X” is an adjective, can help add emphasis as in Ms. Shiba’s comment to her work colleague in Situation 1. In a casual conversation between friends, すごく — or its even more casual form, すっごく — can be used instead of とても. In addition to those terms, 超 (ちょう), めちゃめちゃ and めっちゃ are all ways of saying “very” that are often associated with youth slang:

あのお笑(わら)い番組(ばんぐみ)は超おもしろいよ。 (That comedy show is totally hilarious.)

In more formal or written Japanese, 非常(ひじょう)に, 大変 (たいへん) or きわめて can be used for emphasis instead.

Situation 2: It’s almost quitting time at the office and Mr. Mita is still working hard. Ms. Gray approaches him.

グレイ: あれ、三田さん、また残業?

三田: 帰ろうとしていたら課長が来て、この書類、作るようにって。10分ぐらいでできるって言われたけど、とてもじゃないけど、これだけの書類、10分や 20分でできるものじゃないよ。

Gurei: Are, Mita-san, mata zangyō?

Mita: Kaerō to shite-itara kachō ga kite, kono shorui, tsukuru-yō ni-tte. Juppun-gurai de dekiru-tte iwareta kedo, totemo ja nai kedo, kore dake no shorui, juppun ya nijuppun de dekiru mono ja nai yo.

Gray: Oh, Mr. Mita, are you working overtime again?

Mita: I was about to go home when the section chief came and told me to make this document. He said it could be done in about 10 minutes, but it’s not something you can do in 10 or even 20 minutes.

Another usage of “とてもX” is when “X” is a negative expression and the pattern therefore expresses an emphatic negation, as in そんなことはとても言(い)えない (I could never say such a thing). The とてもじゃないけど that Mr. Mita uses in Situation 2 is a set phrase that emphasizes that negative feeling even more.

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. Sere asks Mr. Mita about the previous day’s university reunion, which Mr. Sere could not attend.

三田(みた): とっても楽(たの)しかったよ。原田(はらだ)がセレくんによろしくって言っていた。

セレ: 原田くん、なつかしいなあ!ほかに何(なに)かいいこと、あった?

三田: まあ、いいことと言えばいいことなんだけど…。岡田(おかだ)さんから、この後(あと)二人(ふたり)で飲(の)みに行(い)こうって誘(さそ)われた。

セレ: すごいじゃない!彼女(かのじょ)、ボーイッシュでかっこよくて、とっても人気(にんき)のある人(ひと)だったな。今(いま)は弁護士(べんごし)になっているんだよね。もちろん行ったよね?

三田: 行きたかったんだけど…。昔(むかし)ゼミで一緒(いっしょ)に飲みに行ったことを思(おも)い出(だ)したら、とてもじゃないけど二人だけでなんか飲めないなあ…と。

セレ: ああ、そういえば彼女すごい酒豪(しゅごう)だったよね。それで、先生(せんせい)にも先輩(せんぱい)にも、とっても難(むずか)しい議論(ぎろん)をふっかけてきて…。あれには参(まい)ったなあ。

三田: ぼくは途中(とちゅう)で酔(よ)いつぶれちゃった けど。

セレ: そうだったね。まあ、行かなくて正解(せいかい)だったかも。

Mita: (The party) was a lot of fun. Harada sends his best to you.

Sere: Harada, wow, that takes me back! Did any other good stuff happen?

Mita: Well, it could be considered a good thing … Ms. Okada invited me to go for a drink just the two of us afterward.

Sere: That’s great, no? She was boyish and cool, a very popular person. She’s now a lawyer, right? Of course you went, right?

Mita: I wanted to go … But I remembered that we had been to a drink together with our seminar (group) back in the day, and I knew that we could never go drinking just by ourselves.

Sere: Ah, speaking of which, she was a heavy drinker. Then, she started a very difficult discussion with the professor and our seniors. That was rough.

Mita: I got totally drunk midway through the discussion.

Sere: That’s right. Well, maybe it was better that you didn’t go with her.