How to say “to miss” in Japanese

Ever wondered how to say “to miss” someone or something in Japanese? In English, the verb “to miss” can be used in lots of different contexts. For example, you can say “I miss you” to a wide variety of people. You can “miss” your parents, your friends or your spouse. You can also “miss” objects or locations. A person can “miss” home or “miss school”. They can even “miss” a particular time in their life, such as their childhood.

Unfortunately in Japanese, there is no one singular way to say “to miss” that corresponds to all of the above. Your choice of words depends on whether or not you’re talking about an object or place, or people, and in the latter case also depends on your relationship to the person you’re missing in question.

This article assumes some basic familiarity with Japanese adjectives, verbs and particles, including the “て form”, verb conjugations such as 〜たい、〜ちゃう and suffixes like 〜がる, amongst others, so please brush up before reading further!

Missing things or places

The first thing we’ll learn how to say is how to miss a place or a thing. To do this we can use the adjective 恋しい(こいしい). This is a very common expression that is used all the time in conversation.

Since this word is an adjective and not a verb, it behaves exactly like other adjectives in Japanese, like 好き(な)and 嫌い(な).  For instance, when you want to say “I like Japan” you can say:

(私は)日本が好きだ・です。

Following this same pattern, to say “I miss Japan” you would replace 好き with 恋しい and get :

(私は)日本が恋しい(です)。

Another useful sentence using this pattern is「うちが恋しい」to mean “I am homesick” or “I miss home”.  For example, if you’re off at school and calling your parents to tell them you miss them you could say 「うちが恋しい」. This actually sounds a bit more natural then telling your parents you “miss them” directly, since, as we shall see in the following sections, the various ways to say “I miss you” directly to a person come with certain connotations that may be inappropriate to say to your family members.

Keep in mind that since 恋しい is an い adjective, that in informal speech you do not attach だ to the end like you do with 好き.

Speaking about other people missing places or things.

In the event that you want to speak about another person missing a place, you can still use the adjective 恋しい but you have to qualify it by using a suffix such as がる(seems like) or by quoting them. This is because in Japanese, talking about an other person’s emotions or desires directly without a qualifier gives off the impression that you can read their minds or have some other method of knowing with 100% certainty what they are thinking. Since this connotation does not exist in English, learners of Japanese often make the mistake of talking about others emotions directly without a qualifier.

So, if, for example, I wanted to say “My children miss Japan”, there are a few options:

私の子供たちは日本を恋しがっています。

私の子供たちは日本が恋しいって言っていました。

In the first sentence, I attached the suffix がる to 恋しい to create 恋しがる (“seems to miss”) and then conjugated that into the polite present progressive 恋しがっています. Note that since  恋しがる is a verb and not an adjective, the particle we use with 日本 changes from が to を. This is a good expression to use, if, say, your kids haven’t told you directly that they miss Japan, but have given off signs that they do, such as always talking about their friends back home, or talking about how much they dislike their current home.

The second sentence literally translates to “My children have said they miss Japan” which unlike the first example, works well if your children have literally said to you point blank that they miss Japan.

Talking about missing people

恋しい can’t be used when talking about people. So you can’t say 友達が恋しい to mean “I miss my friends”. It would just sound rather weird.

Instead we have a few different options.

Option 1 – 会いたい

The first is to use the phrase 「会いたい」which literally means “want to see/meet” and comes from the verb 会う(to meet/to see someone) conjugated into the 〜たい form to indicate desire.

For example:

田中くんに会いたいね!- I miss you, Tanaka! (Literally: I want to see you, Tanaka!)

To make it sound even stronger, you can add 「今すぐ」, which literally means “right now” to the beginning:

今すぐ田中くんに会いたいね! – I really miss you! (Literally: I want to see you right now!)

会いたい can also be conjugated into the past tense, 「会いたかった」to mean “I missed you”. For example, if you just saw your friend for the first time in a really long time you could say 「会いたかった」since you did miss them before, but now you’re feeling better that you got to see them again.

Be careful with 会いたい though, as it can have the connotation that you are “missing” the person in question because you have romantic feelings for them. If you say this to someone, they might

Option 2 – 会いたくなっちゃった

会いたくなっちゃった comes from the same verb 会う, but has a few more conjugations attached. First we conjugate it into the たい form to get 会いたい, and then add the verb なる, meaning “to become” at the end to get 会いたくなる (remember that なる attaches to い adjectives by changing い to  く) . We then finally add 「ちゃう」conjugated into its past tense ちゃった to なる to give the added nuance of “I can’t help myself” or “I don’t mean to feel this way”. The final meaning of this phrase therefore becomes something like “I became wanting to see you and can’t help it” or “I just really want to see you so badly”.

This is basically the same as 会いたい above, but sounds a bit more coy and feminine, which definitely gives off a much stronger vibe of having romantic feelings for the person you are talking to.

Option 3 – 寂しい(さびしい・さみしい)

Your third option is to use the word 寂しい, an adjective which literally means “lonely” and which grammatically works like 恋しい up above, since they are both い adjectives. The official prescriptivist pronunciation of this word is さびしい but lots of people will also pronounce it さみしい. In informal speech, either is fine, but if you are trying to be 100% “grammatically correct” from a prescriptive point of view, such as when writing an essay or article, stick to さびしい.

さびしい can be a complete sentence on its own, so just saying さびしい will mean “I miss you!”. さびしい can be conjugated to the past tense 「さびしかった」to mean “I missed you” and can attach to the verb なる to become さびしくなる to mean “I’m going to miss you!” when talking about the future. If you want to make a longer sentence, you can combine さびしい with 会う to get something like:

「会えなくて、さびしい」 which literally means “I’m lonely because I can’t see you” with the verb 会う being conjugated into the “te form” of the negative potential form(会う -> 会える -> 会えない -> 会えなくて)to mean “cannot meet”.

Also, like 恋しい, さびしい can be turned into さびしがる when talking about other people besides yourself:

彼は寂しがっています – “He seems lonely”.

さびしい doesn’t carry the same potential for romantic connotations that 会いたい  does so it’s a safer bet to use with friends who you just want to remain platonic with.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are lots of way to say “to miss” in Japanese that depend heavily on what or whom you are talking about. Since these nuances are heavily tied to Japanese culture itself, it is difficult to fully capture all of the possible scenarios a person could encounter in a single article. So the best way to learn how to say “to miss” like a native is to listen to Japanese people speaking in real life, while paying close attention to what or whom they’re speaking about and their relationship to that person or thing. 頑張って!

 

 

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