The other day, I made a random post on social networking saying:

~はかわいいそうだ = ~ is apparently cute

~はかわいそうだ = I feel sorry for ~

I received some unexpected responses to the post, so I am going to explain a bit more about かわいい, かわいそう, かわいらしい and related sentences today.


かわいい is one of the best known い-adjectives in Japanese, which everyone remembers as “cute.” That is correct but かわいい is a very subjective word, so even if everyone else thinks the subject is ugly, you can still say かわいい if you love him/her/it. For this reason, the following sentence can be interpreted in 2 ways.

A: 末っ子(すえっこ)が一番(いちばん)かわいい
= (objective) The youngest child is the cutest (to everyone).


    = (subjective) The youngest child is the most lovable (⇒ I love my youngest the most). 

If you want to distinguish these two meanings, the best way to do that is to use かわいらしい to describe the “objective cuteness.”  

A’: 末っ子(すえっこ)が一番(いちばん)かわいらしい

    = The youngest child is the cutest (to everyone). 

かわいらしい is a separate い-adjective meaning “cute” but it does not imply the speaker’s “love” to the subject as かわいい does.


Now, if I add the hearsay auxiliary verb そうだ・そうです to the above sentence A, it becomes:

B: 末っ子(すえっこ)が一番(いちばん)かわいいそうだ。

    = I hear the youngest child is the most lovable.
      (⇒ I hear people love the youngest child most, though I am not too sure about that.)

Then, taking one い out of Sentence B changes the meaning completely as かわいそう is a な adjective which describes the speaker’s sorriness for the subject.

C: 末っ子(すえっこ)が一番(いちばん)かわいそうだ。

    = I feel sorriest for the youngest.

 かわいそう can also be used like: 


= The sad story made me cry.

I hope you can see かわいいそう(だ) and かわいそう(だ) are completely different.


Now, Let’s go back to Sentence B: 末っ子(すえっこ)が一番(いちばん)かわいいそうだ。(= I hear the youngest child is the most lovable.) If we bring a third person into this sentence, the “love” factor gets clearer. Let’s add my sister, 姉(あね), to the sentence this time.


B’: 姉(あね)は末っ子(すえっこ)が一番(いちばん)かわいいそうだ。

    = I hear my sister loves her youngest child the most.

Here the hearsay auxiliary verb そうだ can be replaced with ~らしい. (I will talk about the difference between そうだ and らしい one day, but these sentences here mean almost the same.)

D: 姉(あね)は末っ子(すえっこ)が一番(いちばん)かわいいらしい。

    = It seems that my sister loves her youngest child the most.

Now in Japanese, if who you are talking about is clear to everybody, it is possible to omit “[person]は”, so you can omit 姉は from Sentence D and make another sentence, D’.

D’: 末っ子(すえっこ)が一番(いちばん)かわいいらしい。

    = It seems that somebody implied loves the youngest child the most. 

Can you compare this D’ and A’ I explained earlier?

A’: 末っ子(すえっこ)が一番(いちばん)かわいらしい

    = The youngest child is the cutest (to everyone).


Yes, the difference between D’ and A’ is just a letter い. So having one い or two いs makes a rather large difference in meaning when used with そう and らしい.


I hope you now know the differences between かわいいそう and かわいそう, かわいいらしい and かわいらしい.


I will provide related audio clips and explanations about how you should pronounce them on Thursday.


By the way, sometimes these words are written with kanji like 可愛い、可哀想、可哀相、可愛らしい, but as かわいい、かわいそう(な)、かわいらしい are all 和語(わご- indigenous Japanese words), these kanji are 当て字(あてじ – a kanji character used as a phonetic symbol rather than for its meaning). It is more correct to write these words in Hiragana only.

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