The term 一応 (
more or less and is often used to make a sentence more polite and humble, especially when we refer to ourselves.
However, in some contexts "too much humility" using 一応 can lead to the opposite effect, that is, making it appear that you are bragging about your skills.
In this post we are going to see all the possible meanings and uses of the term 一応, with examples to understand how this word can take on different meanings depending on the context.
Originally the kanji of 一応 was 一往
In most situations in Japanese it is better to use ambiguous expressions.
This allows us to never sound too direct, especially when we talk about ourselves (we are referring here to 謙遜
An example could be a case where you are asked if you are able to speak Japanese. Even if you think you are very good, it is best to avoid making it explicit, for example by saying:
I'm good with Japanese.
How can you express the fact that you think you are good without seeming too direct?
In this case, you can use 一応 to make the answer more humble, but make it clear that we believe we are good. For example, you can answer:
I am more or less able to speak Japanese.
This sentence conveys the idea that you are not fully capable of speaking the language, but still get along well.
This way 一応 allows you to be modest without giving the impression of being too arrogant
Can you speak English? Yes, I more or less speak it.
As mentioned in the introduction, the meaning of 一応 can also lead to the opposite effect of humility.
Let's see a comparison between two example sentences:
I graduated from university.
I graduated from university.
At a glance, the use of 一応 can give the impression of making the sentence more humble. Actually, the use of 一応 in this context conveys the idea that you are emphasizing being a graduate.
When the use of 一応 emphasizes the phrase, this term can give the idea that you are bragging about something
A more literal translation of the sentence with 一応 could be:
I'm pretty much a university graduate, you know...
The addition in the translation of
you know... gives the idea that the speaker is bragging, almost as if to say
I have completed university, it's clear right?.
Understanding whether 一応 is used to brag or to be humble depends on:
- The tone used in the sentence
- What is said after using 一応
In general, if the speaker is referring to something that is considered important or an achievement, then they are more likely bragging:
What car do you drive? Nothing less than a Mercedes Benz.
In situations where you are unsure of your abilities, but want to try anyway, 一応 is the term to use.
Some consider the excessive use of 一応 with this meaning as an excuse to do poor quality work
Have you finished that job yet? Yes, I more or less finished it.
In this case, the answer implies that the job is complete, but not necessarily perfect or well done.
You can use 一応 like this to also say that you will do something, but don't promise anything about the quality of the final result:
I try to think about it.
You can also use 一応 to ask someone for a favor or for doing a job without putting too much pressure on the person you ask:
Could you give me an answer by tomorrow?
In its basic translation as we have seen 一応 means
more or less.
With this meaning 一応 is placed at the beginning of an expression to indicate that
it is possible, but not completely:
I more or less managed to pass the exam.
You can more or less survive on 80,000 yen a month.
一応 can also have the meaning of
for now. In this sense 一応 indicates something partial; already in progress but not yet completed:
I'll give you 2,000 yen per hour.
And with that the meeting is over for now.
In line with its nuance of "uncertainty", 一応 can be used to say
in any case:
Anyway, I'll go check.
Can you give me your contacts, in case you need?