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Archive for the ' Colloquialism' Category


I was going to make a better title but eh, whatever

I think I learned 「別に」 probably around the same time I learned how to say “yes” and “no” in Japanese. That’s how awesome and useful this expression is. Unfortunately, it’s not the type of thing that’s taught in a classroom so I’m putting this one in the “Colloquialism” category, which is just my way of saying, “I take no responsibility for what you do with this stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong. 「別」 is an incredibly useful character and is used in a variety of perfectly legitimate words. I would definitely put it in the top 100 kanji list. For instance, 「別れる」 means to “breakup” or “to part from”, a word just as useful but not as harsh as 「振られる」, which means you were dumped or more literally, “shaken off” (ouch). Or just repeat the same character and you have 「別々」, which is essential for when you don’t want to pay for everybody else’s meal. (”Going Dutch” is, unlike Korea and China, customary and quite common in Japan.) And finally, we have 「別に」, the topic of today’s post.

Don’t try this at class

「別に」 is an expression that is very similar to 「微妙」, in many ways. It has a perfectly normal and standard usage but it can also be considered slang, if you use it a certain way.

A lot of people learning Japanese at school have probably already learned 「特に」, which means “especially” or “particularly”. It’s an useful expression particularly because you can use it with the negative to express a lack of preference.

A) なんか食べたい物ある?
- Is there anything you want to eat?

B) 特にないけど・・・
- Not particularly.

Now, that’s all fine and good but what if we wanted to express a lack of preference for positive answers, for instance, like the following dialogue?

A) Can I borrow this?
B) Whatever, sure.

In Japanese, when somebody asks you if something is ok to do, you normally respond with 「いいよ」 (or いいですよ). But 「特にいい」 doesn’t really work here, because it is not a negative response and you end up with, “It’s particularly good”. That doesn’t make much sense. So how do we translate the, “whatever” into Japanese? Well, why don’t we take a look at the following dialogue?

A) これ、借りていい?
- Can I borrow this?

B) 別にいいよ。
- Whatever, sure.

「別に」 actually means “apart from” but you don’t really need to include from what exactly. So you can use it in place of 「特に」 such as the first dialogue to say pretty much the same thing.

A) なんか食べたい物ある?
- Is there anything you want to eat?

B) 別にないけど・・・
- Nothing really.

The “nothing really” is a loose translation but it reflects the fact that you are literally saying, “nothing, apart from” and being vague about what exactly is separate.

If you were wondering how to express your apathetic, non-caring, and sketchy personality, 「別に」 is just the ticket.

A) 本当に行かなくてもいいの?
- Is it really ok to not go?

B) 別に行かなくてもいいよ。
- Whatever, I don’t have to go.

A) チョコが好き?
- Do you like chocolate?

B) 別に。
- Whatever.


So next time somebody is badgering you with questions, you can just reply with 「別に」. Make sure you say it with plenty of spit and a look of complete contempt while you’re at it. It’ll be like you’re saying, “Uh uh, whatever“, all shaking your head, with one hand on your hip and the other waving a index finger at your victim.

Oh wait, was this the part where I was supposed tell you not to do that?


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How come they never teach 「何で」?

I don’t know how far Japanese language education has progressed in recent years, but back when I was a student, we were taught to use 「どうして」 for “why”. This was great until I went out into the real world and found out that people used another word that I was never taught: 「なんで」. Huh? What the-? Why wasn’t I taught the real deal instead of being handed down a second-rate word that nobody uses? Why eat a California roll when you can have real sushi?

Now that I know some more stuff (you know… stuff… and things…), I can think of two reasons: 1) 「なんで」 is a bit informal and would not be appropriate in some written contexts, and 2) 「なんで」 has some “issues” and they didn’t want to confuse the poor students (we were confused enough as it was).

Only in Japanese, can you write paragraphs explaining the word for “why”

I can understand why you would rather teach 「どうして」 as a teacher. It’s perfectly normal Japanese and you can use it just about anywhere in any context and be “safe”. The only problem is that Japanese people don’t use it that much. Why? Probably because 「なんで」 is shorter and easier to say.

Unlike 「どうして」, you have to be a little more careful when using 「なんで」. First of all, it’s more for conversational Japanese so you don’t want it use it on, for example, official documents. In this sense, 「なんで」 is kind of similar to “how come” instead of just “why”.

Second, things can get kind of confusing because 「なんで」 in kanji is 「何で」 and 「何」 is the kanji for 「なに」. 「で」 is also the particle for describing means. You can see the problem this overlapping might cause.

-A: With what (by what means) do you eat spaghetti?
-B: Why do you eat spaghetti?

The sentence above can have two meaning and there is no way to tell without any context. The dictionary says that 「何で」(なんで) means “why”. But if you write it in kanji, it looks identical to 「なにで」. There’s even a Japanese page with a survery of 「なんで」 vs 「なにで」. In general, 「なんで」 means “why” and 「なにで」 means “by what means” so when you want to make things absolutely clear, you should write it in hiragana.

In terms of ambiguity, 「どうして」 also has the same type of issues because 「どう」 means “how” and 「して」 is the te-form of 「する」.

-A: I don’t know what I should do (how to do so that it’s good).
-B: I don’t know why it’s good.

The first translation is more likely, but the second interpretation is possible as well. There’s no way to tell for sure without more context. (Aren’t you glad you didn’t pick an easy, sissy language to learn?)

Because two just isn’t enough

「何故」 is yet another word that means “why”, which we need because… I’m pretty sure there’s a good reason. 「何故」 is more formal than the other words for “why” and has, I feel, a sharper sting to it, if that makes any sense. It’s more suitable for when you want to ask hard-hitting questions such as, for example, a narrative for a documentary. As a result, you don’t hear this too often in regular, everyday conversations.

-Just why, exactly, did this happen?


Now that you know all the ways of saying “why” in Japanese (minus local dialects I’m not aware of), you can ask questions like the following in a variety of ways.

Why, Lord, why, is Japanese so complicated?!!

There, aren’t you happy now?


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It’s that guy, fellow, chap thing

No offense, but where’s some of the more practical/useful stuff? For a while there, you had me checking this blog everyday – and learning something new every time you posted something. These days…not so much. – jljzen

Ouch. Ok, I admit, I’ve been incredibly lazy with this blog lately. Sometimes I go on a writing spree then I get burned out and have to do something else for a while. It doesn’t mean I’ve run of things to write about. In fact, I would rate this post an 8 on the practical/useful scale. What? You want to know what the scale is based on? Sorry, I’m too busying writing this to answer your question.

This word is used all the time… kind of

「奴」(やつ) is yet another one of those words that just can’t be easily translated into English and yet it’s often used in casual conversations. Look it up at the WWWJDIC and it’ll say, “(1) (vulg) fellow; guy; chap; (2) thing; object”. Hmm… I don’t know about you but when I hear “chap”, I picture, “Quite splendid, I must say!” and “Would you like two cubes of sugar with your tea or just one?” “Fellow” and “guy” isn’t very helpful either. The second definition is also too vague to really make much sense to me. Yahoo 辞書 isn’t much better as it says pretty much the same thing. So why don’t we take a closer look at what the definitions are trying to tell us and how the word is actually used in Japanese?

There was a fellow, a guy, and a chap…

The first definition may sound like the beginning of a joke but what it’s trying to say is that 「やつ」 is a naughtier version of 「人」. It’s impossible to translate because it can have either a good or bad meaning. In any case, by using 「やつ」, it becomes obvious that you don’t have much respect for that person. So you should use this only for your homeys or at least when the person in question is not around to hear you. (God, I can’t believe I just said, “homeys”.)

A: この学校って、変なやつばかりだな。
- This school is just full of strange guys.

B: みんなオタクだからよ。
- It’s because they’re all nerds.

A: 10,000円を貸してくんない?
- Can you send me 10,000 yen.

B: いいよ。
- Sure.

A: マジで?!お前って、本当にいいやつだな!
- Really? You’re really a great guy!

It’s, you know… stuff

The second definition of 「やつ」 refers to generic things. In this case, since objects don’t have feelings, you can use it much more freely than the previous definition.

A: 丸くて赤いのがあるじゃん。すっごく高いやつ。あれを買ってよ。
- You know there’s that round, red thing? The really expensive thing. Buy that thing for me.

B: 全然分かんないけど、とにかく嫌だ。自分で買ってよ。
- I have no idea but anyway I don’t want to. You buy it yourself.

In the example above, I could have used 「物」 instead of 「やつ」 but that just sounds too stiff in the type of casual language used in the example. 「やつ」 sounds much cooler and more hip.

The 「こ、そ、あ、ど」 version

You are probably already familiar with a variety of generic words starting with こ、そ and あ indicating proximity. Just like you have 「これ」、「それ」、and 「あれ」 to mean, “this”, “that”, and “that” (way over there), the same versions of 「やつ」 are 「こいつ」、「そいつ」、and 「あいつ」 respectively. There is also 「どいつ」, the question word for 「やつ」, similar to 「どれ」. You can use these words to refer to both people and objects. In the case of objects, it becomes a rougher and more casual version of 「これ」、「それ」、「あれ」、and 「どれ」. These words are great for when you want to add a bit of punch when referring to the objects around you.

A: すごいんだよ。こいつをパソコンに入れると性能が何倍も上がるんだよ!
- It’s awesome. If you put this in the computer, the performance increases manifold.

B: あ、そう?よかったね。
- Is that so? That’s nice.

I almost want to translate the 「こいつ」 from the previous example as “this shit” but I don’t think it’s quite as strong. If you think of it as a word somewhere between just “this” and “this shit”, I think you’ll have a good idea of what the difference is between just 「これ」 and 「こいつ」.

As before, you can use it to show disdain or a lack of respect for people. In this case, 「あいつ」 is probably the most common because it means that the person is not there to actually hear you.

A: あいつはもう嫌いだ!
- I hate that punk, already!

B: そうよ。もう別れた方がいいって。
- That’s right. As I told you, it’s better to just break up.


I hope this post sheds some light on the side of Japanese you’ll never see in textbooks. Despite the stereotype, Japanese people are not nice and polite all the time as the textbooks make them out to be. It’s life, shit happens, and of course, Japanese has a language for those occasions. You’ll hear these words more often than you expect especially among the younger (kind of delinquent?) crowds where it seems like they use 「こいつ」、「そいつ」、etc. all the time when referring to people and things.


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So many ways to say, “say”!

Just when you thought I was making empty promises, here is the third and final post devoted to the word 「言う」 and the wait was worth it because the third post is a podcast!

Podcast Link
Various Slang for 「言う」 (length: 14:19)

You can subscribe to this podcast with iTunes from the following link:

Subscribe to this podcast with iTunes

This podcast features Akina as we discuss various slang for 「言う」 such as pronouncing it as 「ゆう」 or replacing 「という」 with 「つ」. We also get an explanation of 「というか」 in Japanese as well as looking at variations such as 「ていうか」、「つうか」、and 「てか」.

We also discussed 「つ~の」 and the fact that you need to have the declarative 「だ」 for nouns (and na-adjectives).

I also learned some new words like 八方美人、むずい and some culture from 10 years ago.

This is the last of three posts discussing 「言う」 so make sure to check out the previous two posts if you haven’t read them yet.

The first post discussed “Defining things with 「いう」“.
The second post discussed “Using 「というか」 to rephrase things”.


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Kansai people hate it when you say 「じゃん」

But who cares about them, right? That’s right, Tokyo all the way man. Whoo hoo! Sure people are cold and rude here but at least they don’t get into your business. And plus, Osaka is like a tiny, tiny version of Tokyo. (Let the flames begin!)

Ahem. Anyway, now that I got my usual pointless introduction out of the way, I once heard that 「じゃん」 was originally part of a regional dialect from… somewhere. Whether that’s true or something I just made up, this little expression has spread to gain enormous popularity in Tokyo and probably throughout the rest of the Kanto region and beyond. (I purposely made that vague because I have no idea how far this expression extends. But I’m sure it’s pretty far.)

In any case, it’s common enough that I decided to write a little about it describing what it means and how to use it. If you live in the Kansai region all I have to say is, “Ha Ha! You suck!”. But still, since you’ll hear this slang all the time in TV and movies, why don’t you just go ahead and read the rest of this post instead of hating me because I said you suck.

On a side note, I’d like to mention that this is one of those topics that is easier to explain verbally but for now, I’m just going to go with a written explanation. I leave it up to you to get out into the Japanese speaking world to learn how this expression actually sounds in real life.

Ok ok, get to the point!
Simply put, 「じゃん」 is an abbreviation of 「じゃない」, the negative conjugation for nouns and na-adjectives. However, this only applies to 「じゃない」 used in the following fashion.

-Because [he's] a salaryman, doesn’t [he] do a lot of overtime?

The important thing to note about the example above is that 「じゃない」 here is actually confirming the positive. In fact, a closer translation is, “Because he’s a salaryman, he probably does a lot of overtime.” But it’s still a question so there’s a slight nuance that you are seeking confirmation even though you are relatively sure.

「じゃん」 is a shorter slang for expressing the same type of thing except it doesn’t even bother to ask a question to confirm. It’s completely affirmative in tone.

In fact, the closest equivalent to 「じゃん」 is 「じゃない」 used in the following fashion.

1) まあ、いいじゃない。
- Well, it’s probably fine (don’t you think?).

This type of expression is the only case where you can attach 「じゃない」 directly to i-adjectives and verbs. Once you actually hear this expression in real life, you’ll see that it has a distinct pronunciation that is different from simply using the negative. Plus, you have to realize that this type of 「じゃない」 sounds rather mature and feminine, unlike 「じゃん」, which is gender-neutral (and arguably inclined toward younger speakers). (Ha! And you thought Japanese was easy!)

Like the above, specialized use of 「じゃない」, you can also attach 「じゃん」 directly to verbs and i-adjectives as well as the usual nouns and na-adjectives. Because slang is usually created to make things easier, it’s not surprising that the rules for using 「じゃん」 are so lax and easy.

Finally, let’s get to the examples. Hopefully, you can see that 「じゃん」 is basically saying something along the lines of, “See, I’m right, aren’t I?”

1) ほら、やっぱりレポートを書かないとだめじゃん
-See, as I thought, [you] have to write the report.

2) 誰もいないからここで着替えてもいいじゃん
-Since there’s nobody, it’s probably fine to change here.

Example Conversation
A) たかしくんは、ここにいる? – Is Takashi here?
B) 知らない。- Dunno.
A) あっ!やっぱ、いるじゃん!- Ah! See, he is here!

There’s also another variation which attaches the question marker as well. The meaning is mostly the same but it adds more to the questioning, confirming tone.

A) 駅の近くにカラオケがあるじゃんか。- There’s a karaoke place near the station, right?
B) うん。- Yeah.
A) あそこのすぐ隣だ。- It’s right next to there.

So, let’s recap on what 「じゃん」 is and how it’ s used.

1. Though derived from 「じゃない」, 「じゃん」 is always used to confirm the positive.
2. It can be attached to the end of any sentence regardless of whether it ends in a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb.

Ok, the explanation was confusing but actually using 「じゃん」 should be a piece of cake!


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というか、I have to go

A friend of mine from college spoke in the most interesting fashion because she could seamlessly weave Japanese and English together in the same sentence. She would say things like, 「Meは行かないけど、Youは?」, which amused me to no end.

You see, she had attended American School in Japan, a school filled with students completely fluent in both Japanese and English, so I guess there was no problem speaking in a hybrid language that only 1% of the world’s population would understand. I know, it sounds like a great school to send your kids to because they will become bilingual automatically. The only problem is, unless you’re a diplomat or simply rich, spending a little less than $20,000 a year for tuition might be a bit tough on your wallet.

Anyway, to finally get to the point of this whole spiel, my friend and a bunch of us were chatting in the language lab when she suddenly realized that she had to leave. She promptly left the scene after saying (much to my delight) “というか、I have to go.”

Now, what did she mean by 「というか」 and why didn’t she just say, “I have to go” instead? How does adding that extra phrase change the meaning of the sentence? I previously discussed how to use 「と」 and 「いう」 to talk about the very thing itself. In this post, I’ll try to give you an idea of what 「というか」 means and when to use it.

Ok, to finally get to the point

「というか」 attaches the question marker 「か」 to 「という」, so it’s reasonable to assume that a questioning element is being added here. In fact, 「というか」 is used in order to indicate that you want to rephrase or express the same thing in a difference way. Literally, it means “I might say this or something else (in order to express what I’m trying to say) ” This expression is obviously the most useful in actual conversations when you might say something and want to rephrase yourself in mid-sentence. The order goes like this: [the first expression]というか[the same thing rephrased].

- Isn’t that not good, or to rephrase, serious shit? (read about やばい)

As you can probably tell, this phrase is great for when you’re not sure how to phrase something like the following example.

- Miki-chan is your girlfriend, right?

- Um, you might say girlfriend, or friend, or something…

That last example was very hard to translate but it should make perfect sense if you understand the fact that he is rephrasing how he defines Miki and adding the question marker 「か」 to show uncertainty.

This phrase is especially useful for people learning how to speak Japanese because I’m sure you’ve experienced plenty of times when you didn’t know the exact word for something in Japanese. With this phrase, you can throw out several alternatives that kind of get at what you’re trying to say.

というか、I have to go

Going back to the original question, why did my friend add 「というか」 when saying just, “I have to go” would have been perfectly fine? I think it’s important to realize that she was in the middle of a conversation at the time. Essentially, she wanted to rephrase what she was talking about in order to correct it into the fact that she had to go. In effect, this is equivalent to saying, “Hey, what am I talking about? I have to go.”

By using 「というか」, you can backtrack and correct things said earlier and at the same time imply, “Hey wait a minute, that’s not it!” This is especially the case when everything has already been said and you are starting a new sentence with 「というか」.

In other words, 「というか」 can also be used to correct yourself or others by rephrasing what has already been said.

- I hear that [he's] going out with some other woman.

- That’s just another way of saying [he's] cheating!

This is the second of three posts discussing 「言う」.

The first post discussed “Defining things with 「いう」“.
The third post is about “Various ways to say 「いう」“.


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When it’s not quite good enough to be 「まあまあ」

In this short post, I’ll be talking about 「微妙」(びみょう), a na-adjective that is used quite often in Japanese. The word 「微妙」 itself describes a state of delicate balance and indicates that things can easily go one way or the other.

You can find many examples from the WWWJDIC of this usage such as the following sentence.

-The word has a delicate shade of difference in meaning.

While the word when used in this fashion is not slang, there is one more way to use 「微妙」 that can be considered slang: a negative version of 「まあまあ」.

Many of you probably have already learned 「まあまあ」 in the classroom as a way of describing something as “so-so”. However, while 「まあまあ」 means neither good nor bad, it has a favorable connotation. 「微妙」 on the other hand, while also used to describe something that is neither good nor bad, looks at things in a negative light. To illustrate, let’s look at the two different responses to the following question.

Q: 味はどう? – How is the taste?

A1: まあまあ。- It’s not bad.
A2: 微妙・・・。- Umm… it’s not that good.

The first answer is saying, while the taste is not great necessarily, it not that bad. The second answer takes the opposite stance and indicates that while the taste is not terrible, it’s just not very good. It’s similar to the “cup is half-empty/half-full” distinction. While both mean the same thing, the attitude is completely opposite from each other.

Here are some interesting examples of 「微妙」 that I came up with. Be careful not to insult anybody using this word (unless that’s your intent)! That’s probably why they only teach you 「まあまあ」 in class.

1: あの子は、かわいくない? – Don’t you think that girl is cute?
2: う~ん、微妙だな。 – Hmm, nah, not really.

1: 明日、時間空いている? – Do you have time open tomorrow?
2: 明日は、ちょっと微妙かも。 – Tomorrow might be a bit shady.

As you can see from the second example, like most slang, you can use 「微妙」 in all sorts of situations. Try it on your Japanese friends today!


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It’s, like, like 【なんか】

Like, if there’s any equivalent to like, the word “like” in Japanese, it has to be like 「なんか」. 「なんか」 is a contraction of 「なにか」(何か), which means “something”. However, 「なんか」 can be used to mean something very similar to the English “like”. Take a look at the example below:

ゲームなんか興味ないよ。- Not interested in something game.

First, you’ll notice the total lack of particles. You’ll see that a lot in casual speech. Another thing to notice here is that 「なんか」 essentially means “things like” in this example. This usage is distinct for 「なんか」 and you won’t see 「なにか」 used in the same way.

In fact, just like the word “like” in English, you can stick 「なんか」 just about anywhere and still make sense! Be careful though because this might become a habit and you might, like, start sounding like the way you do when, like, you use like, like everywhere.

Hey, like, when I got on the train today, there was like a strange person and like he was mumbling something I couldn’t understand.

If you add 「さ」 to the end of almost every phrase, you get what young people sound like in Japan nowadays. Sigh… so sad.

Hey, like, when I got on the train today, right? There was like a strange person, right? And like he was mumbling something I couldn’t understand.


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Oh crap, it’s 【やばい】

I was thinking of writing a theme-based post with all sorts of useful expressions and examples but I’m too lazy so I decided to do another one like the last one and just talk about one word. This time, I’m going to introduce yet another slang that you’re going to hear all the time, especially among the younger crowds.

Let’s say you woke up at 8:00 in the morning. You look at the alarm clock and you realize that you are totally late for school. If you are a robot like those characters in Japanese textbooks, you might say something like 「どうしよう」 to mean “What shall I do?” (Lit: “How shall do?”). Now let’s say you’re a real human being, you’re late, and you’re in deep shit. In Japanese, you would very likely say, 「やばい!」.

A) 授業は、もう始まっちゃっているぜ。- Class has already started, man.
B) マジで?!やばい!- For real? Oh crap! (Lit: Dangerous!)

「やばい」 in the dictionary is defined as “dangerous” and that’s a good way to remember it as long as you keep in mind that it’s the “oh shit” variety and not the “watch your head” type of danger.

You can use 「やばい」 in all sorts of fun ways. For instance, if you want to warn your friends that that one girl is crazy and they should watch out, you might call her 「やばい」. Or you found out that you totally bombed a test. You can even use it in a positive sense such as calling something dangerous because it’s so delicious.

A) 試験はどうだった?- How was the test?
B) 全然ダメだった。- Totally no good.
A) それって、やばくない?- Isn’t that dangerous?
B) うん、やばい。- Yeah, I’m screwed.

A) そんなにうまいの?- Is it that tasty?
B) やばいよ。- It’s dangerous.
A) うそだ。- Yeah right. (Lit: It’s a lie)

Tune in next time when I’ll hopefully have more than just single vocabulary explanations!


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Using 「マジ」 for real

I’m back! Most of you probably don’t know this (or care) but I actually have a real full-time job. And this being Japan, full-time means more like 9 to 8 rather than 9 to 5. So those of you who think I sit at home in my boxers working on my computer, I’m actually stuffed in a crowded train disguised amongst hundreds of Japanese businessman. And since our project is running late on the release date, I’m working more like 9 to 10… and I don’t mean one hour. No really. マジで。 And I suppose that’s just as good as any lead-in to the topic at hand: “How to use マジ to talk about what’s real.”

What is マジ?

Once you start practicing Japanese with real people outside of the classroom, you’re bound to run into the word 「まじ」 probably sooner rather than later.

You probably already know 「本当」, the word you use when you want to say things like, “Really?” or “Yes, really.” But most of the time, you don’t want to sound like a wimp by saying things like, “Oh really? That’s nice.” What you really want to say is something like, “For real?” or “No way!” or maybe even, “You’re shitting me!”. That’s where 「まじ」 comes in. 「まじ」 is often said to be a shortened form of 「真面目」 which means “to be serious” (although there are other theories regarding its origin). 「まじ」 is also often written in katakana to show that great emphasis that 「マジ」 contains.

A: クリスは、彼女ができたんだって。 – I hear Chris got a girlfriend.
B: へ~、マジ? – Heh, for real?

Using the 「で」 Particle for マジ

One thing to remember in terms of grammar is the use of particles. When you use 「本当」 as an adverb, you attach 「に」. However, for 「マジ」 you attach 「で」. There’s no logic that I can figure out to this but then we are talking about slang here.

A: 本当に忙しくて大変だったよ。 – I was really busy and it was tough
B: そうなの? – Is that so?

A: あいつ、マジで退学しちゃったの? – Did that guy really drop out of school?
B: うん、マジで。 – Yeah, for real.

Differences between 「本当」 and 「マジ」

Besides the difference in the particles, 「本当」 and 「マジ」 are quite different in their tone and usage. For instance, 「本当」 sounds cuter, more polite, and more feminine than 「マジ」 which sounds very rough and crude. In fact, you should take care in using 「マジ」 with your superiors. Having said that, I think 「マジ」 is a really useful word to know that you’re going to hear over and over again in daily conversations.


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