Expressions that don’t make sense in English/Japanese

I was wondering if anyone had other examples of this kind of idea pairs where they are expresered very differently between both languages.

A classic one to illustrate is as follows:

English: I lost my keys.
日本語:鍵が知らない。(I don’t know my keys)

Another version i recently came across is:

English: I can’t believe my eyes.
日本語:目を疑う。(I doubt my eyes)

It’s not that they are wildly different, but just subtly different in a hard to predict way that I find interesting.

Do others have interesting versions of these to share.


If you get tired of something, for example you get tired of bananas because you eat them every day because it’s the only reasonably priced fruit you can buy in Japan and you love fruit, you say:

English: I’m tired of bananas
Japanese: バナナ飽きた (I’m bored of bananas)


Curious about this one, never heard it used by the Japanese people in my life.

I mean, it makes sense as in like “I don’t know where my keys are”, but I feel like it would be more common to say “鍵をなくしちゃった” or “鍵が/を見つけれない” or something along these lines.

Do you have any example of this expression being used by a native / a resource aimed at Japanese natives?


I just came across one in a Bunpro sentence, actually.

English: I haven’t had milk in a long time.
Japanese: 長い間牛乳を飲んでいない.

I think grammatically 長い間 (long time) stands on its own, but for some reason the phrasing makes me read it as “I haven’t had the long interval milk.”


Great topic!
I love this one:
JP: 〜〜に目がない

I met this expression when my JP teacher on italki used it, so this is something of actually being used in real world. Literally it meaning “I have no eye for~~~” Now try to guess what it actually means w/o checking out it with your rikaikun!


EN: I’m crazy about ~~~

Now when I think about it, it’s pretty weird in EN as well. If you check dictionaries, you’ll see craziness being some sick mental state, mostly in bad sense.


Off the top of my head it is like the third scene of the opening of Parasite.

The little girl says, "パパ、ママ知らない。お腹すいたんだけど”
Dad, where’s mom/I don’t know where mom is, I’m hungry.


Im curious if that has to do with it being a relative time clause.

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One which confused me a tiny bit at first but is actually pretty obvious is:
酒の席 ‘the drinking seat’.
It just means ‘over drinks’.

For example:
I made a blunder over drinks that will be the subject of laughter for the rest of my life.


〜食べれる? ‘Can you eat…/ Are you able to eat…’
It is used to ask if a person likes a certain food, and not used to ask to see if they are allergic to something.

This is something that was brought to my attention by my wife, and up until recently I thought nothing of it, but now that I think of it, it is really strange that we phrase it like this when want to know if a person likes or dislikes something.


This is a perfect example of this kinda idea.

I new one came up for me recently. This time from English.

Dyslexia has a very specific meaning and connotation in English, but in Japanese is generally translated as 失読症. But this word in Japanese has a much stronger and negative connotation that almost akin to the valence that illiterate does in English.

Whereas a word that just reflects for a difficulty with certain kinds of symbol parsing or associated reading difficulties does not really exist. Similarly the katatakanago ディスレクシア is also not really used as those kinds of learning disabilities are not widely discussed or acknowledged at least in my professional circles unfortunately.

I don’t think it’s exactly what you’re looking for, but a sentence that went something like this これは好きな人におすすめです (I don’t remember exactly how it went but it was something about food) was quite a headache for me some time ago. I thought it meant “I recommend this to the people I like” and was quite confused by the official translation. I came back to it yesterday and finally understood it. Let’s add an example missing piece これはラーメンが好きな人におすすめです. Now, at least to my understanding, 好き modifies 人 with な, but is itself modified by ラーメンが, which now makes perfect sense. “I recommend this to people who like ramen.”

I know this is pretty out of context, but this was the first time I saw 好き used in such a way and was completely smashed by it even though it’s one of the first nouns everyone learns.

Every now and then I come across a sentence that I cannot wrap my head around at all. It’s nice to see that at least in this case I made enough progress to understand it by myself.

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I mean that is an interesting example honestly

It is kinda like saying, “This is my recommendation to ramen liking people.”

Whereas in English we are more likely to say something like:

  • “If you like ramen, this is my recommendation.”

As if that kind of construction only makes sense if you are talking to a specific person. No third person version comes immediately to mind.

Oh. My. God. Dude, let me tell you… I recently joined a Discord server that was created to draw together native English and Japanese speakers in an effort to help the learners among us have access to helpful native speakers of each others’ languages, and every day has been a new, fresh hell of “no, look, I’m not good enough with linguistics to explain exactly why this doesn’t work but you actually want to say such-and-such.”

It’s almost easier to list the expressions between the languages that do work when translated directly. Tangentially, this isn’t directly related to expressionisms, but just yesterday, I tried to explain how to use the word “it” to a Japanese person, as the topic of when/why you want to include or omit the word “it” from phrases like “I understand [it]” came up, and in my efforts to do so, I came to the conclusion that English is stupid and I hate it. I mean, I always knew it was terrible in the back of my mind, but now, to quote Xenoblade, “I’M REALLY FEELING IT!!”

It’s easy to overlook the simplest of stuff that really sets the spirits of the two languages apart, like how you express gratitude to someone. There was a guy wanting to know how to thank his hair stylist and he was wondering if saying お疲れ様でした as a customer would be weird (which it would have been).

Meanwhile on the JP side there was someone wanting to know how to say an English version of マジか without inviting their conversational partner to give a reply, as according to them, this rhetorical question is less prone to actually being read as a question in Japanese than “seriously” is in English, so I ended up going over some common expletives with that person and even recording some audio of myself sitting like an idiot in front of a mic reciting common English expletives to show how one’s tone of voice can have a strong impact on whether or not a listener feels invited to reply.

この両方の言語ズはもう呆れたよ :laughing: I’m so done with these two languages!


Right, comes up every day. Here is a fun one I just learned.


Bananas do not make you fat.

Not, bananas don’t get fat.

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