Updates for August 25, 2014:

+The site has MOVED. If you still see this page, please clear your web browser cache and go to

Mar 9, 2011

Words That Don't Translate: 一応

Going to start off the “Words That Don't Translate” series with a word that I've been finding in my thoughts a lot recently, because it's just such a useful word once you understand it. The word is 一応 (いちおう) and it means something along the lines of, “It's this, but it's also not.” That's not exactly a stellar explanation, but that's why this word doesn't really translate – its meaning is hard to nail down.

Let's present some examples:

一応の成功 (いちおう の せいこう) which essentially means something along the lines of, “Some degree of success.” You'd say something like this if you'd taken a test and you needed a 71 - and you got exactly a 71. You succeeded, but you barely did so. 一応 basically expresses a sort of regret or that you've got conflicting feelings about what you're saying.

一応目を通す (いちおう め を とおす) would mean, “At least glance at it/look at it.” In this situation, it's again expressing an idea of, “to at least some degree.” If you do something 一応 it means you did it halfheartedly or just for show – you didn't dedicate yourself to it or fully complete it, but you did do it.

限界に近いが一応オーケー (げんかい に ちかい が いちおう おーけー) means, “Even if it's close to the limit, it's still at least okay.” In this case, 一応 is expressing that things are close to the border of not being okay, but for now it's alright. Adding in 一応 expresses the doubts and conflicting feelings that a person feels about whatever is going on.

Hopefully these examples and explanations have helped to make 一応 make some sense. If you spend time immersed in authentic Japanese, then you'll be seeing this word a lot. After a while, you'll probably end up like me and find it has wormed its way into your thinking (even if you're not thinking in Japanese or about anything Japanese related).

Related Articles:


  1. yes, there are in most languages some words or phrases that can't be translated, only paraphrasing works quite often only.

  2. That's interesting. I read your examples and thought that maybe "barely" would work, but it doesn't work for the second at all and it's a bit of a stretch for the first too.

  3. It's funny how words can bury themselves into your head. I sometimes find myself thinking of basic French words I learned in school