Japanese People Constantly Tell Me No One Uses These Words

This! Sometimes I find the hardest part about learning a language is learning how the natives use it, because it’s stuff which is often overlooked. I guess it’s mainly something you just have to learn through communication with a native


Still, I think a list of vocab here that are “never used” would be useful.

I can relate to this so much!!
I tried to used the JLPT N2 grammar in conversation occasionally and was often told it was so
かたい :confused: It’s hard to learn grammar/vocab if you don’t have the opportunity to use it in real life situations

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You are quite the company man, aren’t you?!

EDIT: I just realized this is an ancient thread. I assume you figured the following out in the last 4 months but instead of deleting this post I’ll just leave it up and maybe it will be useful to someone.

を can be used with transitive passives. Go read up on passives again, specifically the indirect passive and the polite passive. You can use passive verbs when talking about other people’s actions to show respect, and when you want to indicate that someone else’s actions were outside of the subject’s control but they were still affected by them.

In this instance that sentence has the same meaning as 何を飲みますか but is more polite. In the indirect passive it’s used to highlight someones experiences outside of their control. For instance, 私は友達にコーヒーを飲まれた indicates that the speaker’s friend, outside of the speaker’s control, drank coffee and that somehow affected the speaker (often negatively but not necessarily). It’s hard to translate to English because unlike the direct passive, there’s not really a direct equivalent.

I recently befriended a Japanese guy, who’s an aspiring(?) writer / novelist.
When it comes to novels, they have a lot of these “words that no one uses” in them - words that are more expressive and nuanced, than the words that appear in daily conversations. Similar to English literature, there’s a lot of words mainly used in writing only. BUT the difference is, English natives seem to generally still know and understand the “written language” -words, whereas Japanese people may not*.

To elaborate, this guy said that because he needs to keep using these more nuanced words in order to keep his skills from getting rusty and affecting his writing, he’s has also become able to somehow evaluate the smarts (quoting his own choice of words here) of the person he’s talking to. By this I mean, that the less educated and less books one reads, the amount of difficult words they know also becomes smaller (should be obvious).

When this guy notices that the person he’s speaking to is having difficulty understanding his words, he has to adjust to simpler Japanese. If the person is “smart” (again, only using his words here), he can talk freely and know that he’s being understood. I find it at the same time fascinating… hmm… phenomena, so to speak, as well as a shame - conversations could have the potential to become much more vivid than they are now, but still everyone seems pretty much content with the extent they’re able to express themselves with the regular vocab (then again, Japanese people and unrestrained self-expression…? :3 )

Hence you may run into people who tell you “no one uses these words”, when they are unfamiliar with the vocab. If they had more info, they could tell you also “this is mainly used in writing” or “That’s actually a legal term… not everyone knows it” etc. (Please note: I’m not saying the people who tell you about words that aren’t used are stupid! Just that even if they’re Japanese, they might not be the equivalent of an Oxford dictionary)

I see @tsukuba has come across a related situation:

*My 1-on-1 Japanese “teacher” said she has to use a Japanese-Japanese dictionary when she’s reading novels. She said it’s somehow fun to see different, nuanced ways of expression being used, since she doesn’t know them herself.


I can highly relate to your friend. As one with English teaching background (in the United States) as well as a chronic reader, I witness this very phenomenon when I speak with people in English. Most of my friends also have a wider vocabulary, so we through around a great number of “not commonly used” words. Words like the aforementioned “atrocious” are normal words in my opinion.

Like the analogy Leebo made in this post, spoken vocabulary in English is widely dominated by words from Old English, German, and French (the latter two of which may have originally come from Latin, but have been far distorted from their form), while the “high brow” vocabulary usually found in business talk, documentation, and books comes from Latin and Greek. I think that comparison of Latin-based vs non-Latin-based vocabulary and Chinese-based vocabulary vs Japanese-based vocabulary is quite well placed.

There are numerous studies making it clear that the amount one reads is correlative to the size of vocabulary known. Just as you won’t often find the common Joe in the US sitting in a Starbucks reading works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a lot of younger Japanese people read modern young adult novels and light novels over classical literature outside of school.

Teaching at a kindergarten has made me more aware of this too, as my Japanese vocabulary sometimes exceeds that of what is easily understood by small children. I once attempted to try to distinguish lightning (the actual plasma) with thunder (the sound) for weather by referring to lightning as 稲妻, but my Japanese teachers quickly whispered to me that it was too difficult a word for them (of course, it doesn’t help that 雷 can mean both).

Another note is kanji usage of normally hiragana words. I’d say, of those with whom I’ve chatted on Tinder, it’s a close 50-50 of who uses こと and who uses 事. It’s only a spacebar/tap away, but it more closely indicates the literary habits of the speaker, similarly to how usually those with higher English vocabulary have a tendency to type more appropriate English, using less abbreviations and “text talk” replacements for words.


Even if someone is more “literary” there are guidelines for when to use one or when to use the other.

Like, for instance, I’m pretty sure the nominalization particle こと should be written in hiragana. This is kind of a common thing where words that are abstracted into a grammatical function tend not to be written with the kanji, no matter how much of a “smarty pants” the person is (for lack of a better term).

Another example would be ところ. If you’re actually talking about a place, 所 is fine. But if you say something like 入ったところ (meaning “just entered”) then 所 would be strange.

いく and くる as well, in their helping verb roles, stay in hiragana


Ah, that is true. I should have specified that I meant outside of uses as a nominalizer, referring specifically to cases where people don’t use the kanji when its completely appropriate (like 楽しいこと), similar to 物. Thinking on it, I suppose a better example is 子供, where one can find 子供、子ども、and こども. I wanted to think of a case where the kanji was usual yet some didn’t use it. It seems like most words that come to mind that I’ve seen in hiragana are more commonly hiragana. Even with 子供, I remember receiving a reply that omitting the second kanji is actually a sort of political correctness due to the meaning of the second kanji.


I wonder if there is a perceived difference among native speakers about obscure sino-japanese vs obscure native japanese words. It would make sense that a problem with an obsure kanji term is that it is most likely a homonym with much more common kanji vocab. Does anyone know if it is generally more undersandable when one uses an uncommon native japanese word? (or has anyone had the experience of being warned that their audience might not understand a native japanese word like the above lightning example)

(i’m thinking of some stuff that I have been reading lately that has onomamopeic words that I have had a hard time finding, or rarer adjectives).

This might not be a well formed question, sorry.

In my experience there are some Japanese words that people don’t know that well. I can’t think of any specific examples, but occasionally I’ll look up something on Jisho, browse the options, and realize that the sino word or katakana word is more common than the native one; or I’ll use what seems like the more accurate native word but my teacher will correct it. In those cases I assume the Japanese word probably took on an “aged” or “formal” connotation and fell out of use…

As said above, there is some wonkiness to use the kanji you’re learning. And it’s not all spoken.

For instance, to climb is のぼる。However, no one would actually write it as 上る。Or at least very few, Japanese searches actually auto-correct you to 登る. (Or I believe it’s that.

But you need a selection of words using 上。

I apologize in advance if it sounds like I’m lecturing you. This isn’t intended that way, your post just made me think about this and I thought others would be interested as well.

TLDR: 上る is okay for climbing stairs because it has a general usage

のぼる has many meanings, and there are 3 common ways of writing it. 上る, 登る, and 昇る.

They all have different usages. As you mentioned, 登る is typically used when someone moves vertically to a high place by foot. I suppose that’s a roundabout way of saying it’s usually used with mountain climbing.

上る does have specific usages. Such as 上り電車 or 都に上る.

But it’s also used generally, so something like “climbing stairs” is okay to write with 上る.

The last one 昇る, is more like “ascend”. So for like ascending to heaven, the sun rising, or when you move vertically by some kind of machine power (elevator, escalator, etc).

However, children do start out only knowing 上, and I think until they acquire those other ones it’s probably not a huge deal for them to use 上る for everything. I doubt they spend too much time dealing with the abstract differences between usages in first grade.

Similarly, technically the appropriate kanji for the “watch” meaning of みる, as in “watch TV” is 観る.

But I think first graders will probably not be scolded for using 見る in the meantime.

So, I think it’s okay for we second-language learners to also take on the kanji as we learn them. Unless you really are trying to discuss abstract stuff early on, then it might be worthwhile to check out a disambiguation article for the kanji you’re choosing from.

Here’s a source for the fact that you can use it for climbing stairs:



I have a very helpful disambiguation book that uses little comic strips to illustrate the differences


Thanks for the recommendation. I’m always looking for new books.

You’re very welcome! I love sharing good resources

Well I’m by no means an expert, but considering that usually only roughly 1000-2000 words make up everyday language in most languages and WK teaches almost 6000 vocabs (which don’t include kana-only words), it’s almost inevitable that there are some words that are less useful or not used often.

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I haven’t read through all of the responses in this thread, but I think it would be worse if your Japanese friends had “NO IDEA” what you just said! They knew what you said because your vocabulary is strong! It’s simply that people don’t speak that way.

If I said, “I’m a mindless groping mass of melodious corruption…”, you’d likely have me committed or at least stop talking to me.

If I instead said, “I love to fart in crowded elevators…” we’d be dating very soon!

Enjoy WaniKani! It’s an invaluable tool!

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OMG I love that movie! The Never ending Story is a classic

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This thread is pretty awesome, all of you pay for a service for a profit-oriented business, and when someone brings up that it’s flawedm, 90% of you tell them off and say bullshit like it’s important to learn words nobody uses.

I get constantly laughed at by my Japanese gf and Japanese friends for using vocab I presumably ‘learned’ in wanikani, only to be told that Japanese people don’t use these words at all (I am a resident of Japan, but rarely use Japanese in a professional environment). Given that I pay for this servie to teach me vocab, I’d say that the company should fix the vocab, but apparently most of their customers are ignorant weebs who don’t give a crap about the usability of the product they are paying for.

I mean I don’t really care aout weebs telling each other that it’s important to study archaic bullshit vocab, but let’s be real, this thread is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. Entertaining read nevertheless.