Difference Between 大変 and とても?

I’m not sure if this question has ever been asked here before, so if so, please excuse me.
I have seen both 大変 and とても used to mean “very” or “really” but I have never seen it explained if there’s really a difference between the two. Is there a situation in which you would sound unnatural using one over the other? Or is it okay to just use either one most of the time? Thanks to anyone who could help me understand. :]

Edit: I suppose I should include an example of a sentence I have seen using them. This is the kind of usage I’m referring to:
ここのレストランは大変おいしいです。
“This restaurant is very good.”
前の車はとても遅い。
“The car in front of me is very slow.”

大変 means something negative/serious or hardship. For example if you had to work a lot of overtime that’s 大変. とても is always used together with something and just means a lot of. とても幸せ means very happy instead of 幸せ which just means happy.

Feel free to correct me

While this does capture the meaning of what is being said, maybe it would make more sense if it was reworded as:

‘This restaurant is terribly good.’ But in this case it’s using the meaning of ‘terrible’ which maps more to the first meaning from here:

: to an extreme degree : VERY : EXTREMELY

Think of it similar to saying in English something like ‘that was terribly delicious’ or ‘that was awfully good’. In this case when 大変 is used as an adverb like in your sentence it carries the same sort of
meaning of ‘very’ or ‘greatly’.

Adverb
大変たいへん • (taihen)

very, greatly
1906, Natsume Sōseki, Botchan‎[1]:
:
何なんだか大変たいへん小ちいさく見みえた。
Nandaka taihen chīsaku mieta.
She looked very small.

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This is VERY helpful, thank you so much! I definitely understand it much better now.

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I agree with this :+1:

But I have one thing I want to say…

Based on the current discussion one might think that 大変 used to modify a phrase and とても both mean the same thing (i.e. very), however please keep in mind that using 大変 to accentuate something is much more extreme than とても. Use it when you really feel like something is just SO something. This is how “terribly” works as an adverb in English as well, I just figured it is worth saying.

とても is the more often used, and the standard accentuating adverb. Use it as your go-to equivalent for “very” in Japanese.

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Adverbial 大変 is a bit stiff and less conversational than とても (or especially とっても).

If I had to think of a situation I often hear it, it would be in something like apologies like 大変失礼しました

The opposite situation is also applicable, if you are expressing gratitude/happiness… 大変喜ばしいです… but in either case, those are not casual expressions.

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Yep, this was why I brought that up as an analog to English so that it might make the different nuance of meaning more clear.

Totally agree with what you on stating that one shouldn’t just rely too heavily on the fact that the single word English gloss of “very” can be applied to both in translation to assume they are merely interchangeable in all cases. :+1: Like when some people encounter 中々 and just think it can be used willy nilly as well since it means “very.”

Seems the Duolingo lesson could be improved to reduce this ambiguity and confusion.

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I was thinking of 大変申し訳ございません, and then I just saw it in a manga chapter. What a strange coincidence.

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Exactly.

I almost didn’t want to say anything because I figured you already knew what I was going to say.

Like when some people encounter 中々 and just think it can be used willy nilly as well since it means “very.”

Yes.

I believe that actually there is no equality between any two words in any language. The difference in frequency of use, use-case, and connotations make every word unique even if they are total synonyms. Having said that there are still words that are almost indistinguishable, and sometimes a very similar word exists in different languages.

So when learning a new word, it is a good idea to wait until you hear someone else use it before trying to use it yourself.

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