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10 most commonly used Japanese words for expressing surprise Posted by on May 19, 2016 in Culture, Grammar

When it comes to expressing your emotional feelings,there are many ways of expressing them. In today’s post, I would like to cover “expressing surprise” in Japanese. Many of these expressions are very short, so you can master them all very quickly. Read on~!



1. えーーー?! (Pronounced as ehhhhhh~)   – meaning “What?”

This expression is super popular. You don’t need to say anything else except this to express your disbelief. Whenever I say this, I tend to exaggerate the way I say it a bit too much, but be careful not to over exaggerate the expression.


2.  ほんと? 本当? (Pronounced as Honto?~)- meaning “Really?”

This expression is popular as well. It literally means, “really?” in Japanese. You can also add “ni” at the end and say “Hontoni (ほんとに?)?” or you can also add “nano” by saying “Honto nano (ほんとなの)?”


3. まじ? まじで? (Pronounced as Maji?  or Majide?~)-meaning “Really?”

Another way of saying “really?” just like the above, however, this one is a bit more informal. I often say this among my close friends or family members. You probably don’t want to use this expression to someone you might not know too well or someone who is in higher social status or older than you.


4. うそー?  (Pronounced as Uso-?) – meaning “that’s a lie!”

Another popular expression to express your disbelief. The tricky part is to extend your last part of “そ” . The longer you say the last word, the more disbelief you will show to your friend. Again this expression is a very informal one.


5. 信じられない!しんじられない!(Pronounced as shinji rarenai!) – meaning ” I can’t believe this!”

Many of us use this word after saying one of the expressions above 1 through 4, just like in English. You could also start your conversation with this expression and ask questions to your friend.


6. すごいねー!(Pronounced as Sugoine!) – meaning ” That’s awesome!” or “That’s unbelievable!”

You want to be careful when you say this, but this expression can be used towards something positive or negative. When you say this in  cheerful mode, then yes, it will sound like you are happy for your friend, but you could also use this expression when you hear something you cannot believe. It all depends on the tone of your voice.


7. どうしてー?(Pronounced as Doushite?) – meaning ” why?”

We often say this when we can’t understand what we just heard or what just happened. When you hear something you don’t agree with, this is a popular expression to use.


8. なんでー?(Pronounced as Nande?) – meaning ” why?”

Along with the expression above, this is a very similar one. You are in disbelief and that you want to ask, “why?”


9.どうしたのー?(Pronounced as Doshitano-?) – meaning ” what happened?”

If you are in disbelief, and want to ask your friend what happened, this is what you would say in Japanese.


10.うわ~!(Pronounced as Uwa~-?) -meaning “wow!”

This is the expression in Japanese, just like “wow” in English. When you can’t believe what you are seeing, or can’t believe what you are hearing, you often say this followed by some expressions, such as “すごい!Sugoi!”


Hope you learned some new expressions today, and as I said, these are typically very short expressions, so you can easily memorize them and start using!


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About the Author: keiko

Born and raised in Japan. She currently lives in U.S. with her husband and two kids.


  1. William:

    These lessons are brilliant. What stands out is how you explain the distinguishing characteristics of Japanese in a way that makes it more understandable.

  2. エドワドー:

    Another expression of disbelief is へえ?(Pronounced “Hey” with a rising intonation). へえ is rather informal–sometimes extra-elongated for comic effect.

    A quick え?(“Eh?”) can be used as an expression of surprise, but perhaps not one of disbelief.

    ほう?(Pronounced “ho-” with a rising intonation) can also be used to express mild surprise and/or interest–not unlike how “Oh?” may be used in English. ほう? is more common with the older generation; it is appropriate for both informal and formal use.


    Essential Japanese Vocabulary by Akira Miura
    Elementary Japanese by Yoko Hasegawa