5 Pairs Of Japanese Words That People Frequently Confuse

5 Pairs Of Japanese Words That People Frequently Confuse

Japanese is a relatively harder language to learn compared to other foreign languages like French and Spanish. Even putting kanji writing script aside, there are numerous words in Japanese that sound extremely similar but have quite different meanings. This can make your attempt to learn Japanese in Singapore even more challenging and complicated.

Nonetheless, the complexity of Japanese should not discourage you from learning the language. With the help of Japanese language courses and enough practice, you can certainly become fluent in the language in time. To help improve your mastery of the Japanese language, here are 5 pairs of confusing Japanese words that you should take note of.

1. Kawaii and Kowai

The term “kawaii,” pronounced as kah-wah-ee-ee, is a Japanese word for adorable or cute. It is a very popular word that you will often see in a lot of different contexts, especially since the Japanese culture is fond of anything and everything cute. However, you should be careful whenever you pronounce the word.

If you try to say “kawaii” a bit quickly, you may end up pronouncing “kowai” instead. The term “kowai,” pronounced as koh-wah-ee, means afraid, fearful, or scary. Like kawaii, kowai is also a popular word. When you see an adorable thing and want to praise it, be sure to pronounce your “ka” and the extended sound of “ii” properly to avoid misunderstanding!

2. Okaasan and Okusan

The distinction between this pair of Japanese words is a little less disastrous, but it can still result in a bit of confusion. The term “okusan,” pronounced as oh-koo-san, is a polite word for wife. On the other hand, the term “okasan,” pronounced as oh-kah-ah-san, is a polite word for mother. The critical difference here is in the second syllable: when referring to a mother, be sure to pronounce it “ka” with a prolonged vowel sound, while with wife, it is pronounced as “ku.”

3. Sawaru and Suwaru

This pair of Japanese words is sometimes a bit difficult to distinguish because only one sound separates them. The word “sawaru,” pronounced as sah-wah-roo, means to feel or touch. On the other hand, the term “suwaru,” pronounced as soo-wah-roo, is a word for sit down. When trying to offer someone a chair, pronounce the sound “su” loud and clear. Otherwise, you might make that person feel reasonably uncomfortable. 

4. Aru and Iru

The Japanese language is very particular when it comes to discerning between living and non-living things. So, when you are describing things in your surroundings, it is important to make the distinction or risk confusing the person you are conversing with.

For instance, if you are trying to describe a non-living thing in a forest, you must attach the sound “aru,” pronounced as ah-roo, at the end of the sentence to describe the nature of its existence. Meanwhile, if you want to point out your friend in a casual way, you may pronounce the sound “iru” at the end of your sentence to describe them as a living being. Basically, “aru” and “iru” makes the distinction between pointing out a living and a non-living thing.

5. Ani and Oni

The term “oni,” pronounced as oh-nee, means demon or devil. On the other hand, the term “ani,” pronounced as ah-nee means big brother. Ani is basically the casual way to say the word “big brother.” It is typically used when you refer to your own brother. However, when it comes to the formal way of saying “big brother,” the Japanese word for it is “onii-san,” pronounced as oh-nee-ee-san.

This is where it gets a little confusing. The formal term “onii-san” is usually used when either talking to your own brother or to someone else’s brother. Because this sounds quite closer to “oni,” you need to make sure you stretch the sound of “ii” when pertaining to someone’s older brother. Otherwise, you might end up calling them a devil!


It goes without saying that Japanese is a challenging and complicated language to learn, especially with so many similarities in its words and pronunciations. Nonetheless, Japanese is also a very fun language to learn at the same time. Although it can test your intellect, memory, and skills at times, you will surely enjoy the experience of learning Japanese.

If you are in search of the best Japanese course from a good Japanese language school in Singapore to help you enhance your understanding and mastery of the Japanese language, Japanese Explorer is the language school you can trust! We are proud to offer excellent teaching methods specifically tailored to your needs and preferences, so you can master Japanese in the most effective way. Whether you prefer group, private, or online Japanese lessons, our native Japanese teachers will surely guide you towards Japanese fluency in no time!


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