The Difference Between 嫌 and 嫌い
Do you love everything? If not, at some point you are going to need to express your dislike or disgust of something. When you do, you are presented with two seemingly identical words.
Both な adjectives.
Both use the same kanji.
Both easily mistaken for another.
Both extremely common in daily speech.
Both defined in English as “dislike.”
Same word? Nope.
How they came to be
Verbs are all-powerful in Japanese. They give birth to many other words. 嫌い is a mere child of a verb. Ever wonder why like and dislike are verbs in English but not in Japanese? It’s because they are verb-offspring.
嫌い comes from 嫌う.
好き comes from 好く.
Haven’t come across these verb forms just yet? They are less common in their base form, but you will hear and say your fair share of their passive forms 嫌われる or 好かれる (hopefully the latter).
嫌 also has a verb form 嫌がる, but it’s creation is slightly different than the above two, and is used to refer to other people.
Head to the dictionary!
Any time you don’t know the difference between 2 similar words, you start at the Japanese-Japanese dictionary. Since an English dictionary is often only the best approximation of a word, when 2 words are already this close, approximations are dangerous.
Not very helpful. It let’s you know that it comes from 嫌う, which you already knew. Then it defines itself by using the word 嫌 as part of the definition. Even worse.
If you do a bit of down-the-rabbit-hole searching on 嫌う, you’ll eventually get yourself to 好ましくない and 好きではない. In other words, 嫌い is the opposite of 好き.
How about the definition of 嫌?
Not wanting something.
Not wanting to do something
Disagreeable or unpleasant
Maybe the difference is…
At this point you see a difference, so you check some answers online. There you’ll find some misinformation.
One is an adjective, the other is a noun.
They mean the same thing
They are different in scale (one is hate, one is dislike)
To avoid misinformation, the best answers come from native Japanese pondering the same question to other native Japanese people, in Japanese.
Native Japanese answers
*I’ve translated answers for ease of understanding.
嫌い: permanent dislike of something
嫌: finding something/some situation/some manner that is disagreeable to you, making you unable to accept it.
嫌い: the opposite of 好き
嫌: a refusal of, a rejection of, a denial of…
嫌い: not liking
嫌: not wanting
Some examples can help illustrate this even better.
1. 私とデートしてください (Please go out on a date with me!)
Prepare to get rejected and expect to hear:
2. この会社で働くのはもう嫌だ (I don’t like working at this company anymore!)
You had a really bad day, and are expressing your hate for working at your company. Everything about it you find disagreeable and don’t want to work there anymore.
3. 私は納豆が嫌いだ (I don’t like natto)
You are stating a permanent dislike for the sticky delight natto.
I still don’t get it
Here’s what you are probably thinking: “Those 3 example sentences could technically all fit with the other word.”
True, but it would change the meaning and nuance a bit. There is one great answer given by a native which I feel really hits it perfectly:
嫌い (and 好き) relate towards your plus/minus feelings of something or someone. 嫌 also has a meaning of 嫌い, but while 嫌い is your general feeling towards something, 嫌 includes more of a spontaneous and negative decision/reaction. And when 嫌 is involved with some sort of action or occurrence, you are including your feeling of refusal, denial, or rejection towards that action.
How do you feel?
One final example.
You’ve always disliked the difference between these 2 words. Whenever you see the 2, you get annoyed. You can state frankly:
Or maybe you hadn’t thought about it that much, but now that you are reading it, you are caught up in this distinction between words. Your frustration grows. You want to throw your hands up in the air in defeat.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Thanks for this interesting distinction. Even though I’m still using Jalupnext beginner, I did notice the two words and wondered. But I didn’t wonder as much as you evidently did!
There is a lot to wonder about these words!
Just started to catch up with your articles, Adam. This is awesome. The first native explanation was very clear and precise.
Glad it could clear things up!