7 Ways Japanese Ki (気) Creates Interesting Meaning

7 Ways Japanese Ki Creates Exciting Meaning気 (ki): energy, life force. A word you learned from Dragon Ball and any other battle anime. The hero will point somewhere along his stomach to chest area and explain that “this is where ki comes from.” While it may sound like 気 is a pretty unnecessary word to know, it is actually extremely common and is used to create a multitude of phrases. After all, one of the first phrases you learn “元気ですか – how are you” has it in it.

The phrases that use 気 seem to be all over the place with their creativity and unique form. And that’s why I love 気.

7. 気をつける

Literal translation: place your energy
Actual meaning: watch out, be careful

6. 気を失う

Literal translation: lose your energy
Actual meaning: become unconscious

5. 気を悪くする

Literal translation: make energy bad
Actual meaning: make someone feel uncomfortable, or unhappy

4. 気になる

Literal translation: becomes energy
Actual meaning: something concerns you, something bothers you

3. 気がある

Literal translation: there is energy, have energy
Actual meaning: have (romantic) interest in (someone)

2. 気を使う

Literal translation: use energy
Actual meaning: carefully assess a situation and act in a way that you aren’t bothering someone and are attending to someone else’s needs.


Literal translation: don’t make it energy
Actual meaning: don’t worry about it

And now you can handle your 気 like a pro. Any other interesting 気 phrase formations you know?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


7 Ways Japanese Ki (気) Creates Interesting Meaning — 14 Comments

  1. I was actually thinking a post on this would be good!

    I had 気のせい and 気が変わった in mind. I love 気!

    Oh! Don’t forget 気に入る!

  2. I scrolled down to add 気のせい but, since that’s already taken, I’ll contribute 空気読めない (“someone who can’t read the air”) to the list.

  3. From the right person, the phrase 気になります can move mountains.

    Funny thing, I’ve long-known “ki” as a term for a spiritual power, but until now I’d never connected it to 気! Thanks for the combination “d’oh!”/”awesome!” moment.

    • 気になります is great because it can be super ambiguous.

      Yeah, it’s a really interesting connection to the phrases when you break down the 気 kanji.

    • 殺す気がないよ!

      And for those who want to know this one, this 気 is used when you want to show willingness to do something.

      But a literal translation would be “You have the energy to kill me?”

  4. 気が早い:hasty; impatient

    It’s often glossed with negative English words but I think I’ve heard it used in positive ways as well such as being eager to do something.

  5. This being the World cup period and all, I’ll have to add 気合 to the list.

    Though I find saying that “energy” is the literal translation of “気” to be quite debatable. I’d never really checked its definition in a J-dic until now but, based on examples like the ones listed in the article, the definition of 気 I’d arrived at on my own was that it meant something like consciousness/awareness, except that at a rawer level, focusing on intentions/reactions rather than actual thoughts. Looking now at the J-dic (I use http://www.weblio.jp/ as my main dic these days), definitions ② through ⑦ confirm this view.

    Honestly, if someone asked me for an example of a Japanese word I consider hopelessly untranslatable, 気 is the one I would think about, except it’s a terrible example to give because I wouldn’t even be able to explain to a westerner what it means.
    In the end my view is that precisely because ethereal philosophical abstractions like “mind” or “consciousness” or “soul” or “vitality” are NOT well defined, there is no reason why different cultures would have precise analogues of those notions, and 気 is the perfect exemple of an ethereal abstraction which is so incredibly central to the way the Japanese interpret the world and that yet has no true analogue for us.

  6. Oh, just remembered two more 気’s, which are really two for the price of one:

    気取る[けどる]: to perceive something;
    気取る[きどる]: acting to impress those looking at you / to imitate someone.

    How I hate Kanji homographs…

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