Saturday, July 30, 2016

moteru モテる

In Japanese, moteru モテる means "to be popular," in the sense of a guy being popular with girls, or of a girl being popular with guys. Being romantically popular. Like a bishoujo 美少女, with thousands of admirers, love letters, a boyfriend, and so on.

Mantama まんたま, a parody of Gintama 銀魂, features Kintoki 金時 as the last man in the world, so all the girls fall in love with him, because he's literally the only boy in the world.
Anime: Gintama 銀魂 (Episode 256)

Not to be confused with: the homonym moteru 持てる, which means "to have" or "to hold" something; or with ninki 人気, which means "popular" in the general sense.


Grammatically, moteru works just like any other verb in Japanese.

  • kare ga moteru
    He moteru's.
    He is popular.

It's particularly used in relative clauses:

  • {moteru} otoko
    A man [that] {moteru's}.
    A man [that] {is popular}.
    A popular guy.
    Men [that] {are popular}. Popular men. (plural.)
  • {moteru} onna
    A woman [that] {is popular}. Women [that] {are popular}.
    A popular woman. Popular women.
  • moteru hito
    A popular person. Popular people.


The word motenai モテない means "to not be popular." It's the negative form of the verb moteru, with the nai ない suffix. It's often used in reference to hiriajuu 非リア充 characters, e.g. otaku オタク.

  • {motenai} hito
    A person [that] {doesn't moteru}.
    A person [that] {isn't popular}.
    People [that] {aren't popular}.

This word is probably best known in the west for being part of the full title of WataMote わたモテ:

  • watashi ga motenai nowa dou kangaete-mo omae-ra ga warui!
    [As for why] I'm not popular: no matter how [I] think [about] [it], [it's] you [guys] [fault]!
    • watashi ga motenai
      I'm not popular.
    • nowa
      The no の particle is a nominalizer turning the VP watashi ga motenai into a noun.
      The wa は particle marks the noun as topic.
    • dou verb-te-mo
      Regardless of how you verb.
      No matter how you verb.
    • omae お前
      You. (second person pronoun.)
    • -ra
      Pluralizing suffix. Turns the word into a plural; normally only used with nouns that refer to people. So it makes "you" into "you all," "you guys," etc.
    • warui

      "Bad." (literally.)
      Fault. (for doing something bad.)

In the series, the protagonist Kuroki Tomoko 黒木智子 does not moteru, that is, she motenai, she's not popular.

Since moteru means to be popular romantically, and, consequently, to end up having a girlfriend, or boyfriend, the verb motenai モテない can sometimes imply you don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend, and it ends up getting translated as such. For example:

  • {kimi ga motenai} riyuu wo oshiete agemashouka?
    Should I tell you the reason [why] {you don't have a boyfriend}?
    • kimi ga motenai
      You aren't popular.
      You [don't have a boyfriend].
    • riyuu
    • oshieru
      To teach. To tell [information].
    • ~te-ageru
      To do [something] for [someone].

Aldnoah Zero アルドノア・ゼロ

For reference, the words for "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" in Japanese are kareshi 彼氏 and kanojo 彼女.

  • motenai otoko
    A man that's not popular. Men that aren't popular.
    A man [that doesn't have a girlfriend]. Men [that don't have girlfriends].
  • kanojo no inai otoko
    A man [that] doesn't have a girlfriend. Men without girlfriends.
  • motenai onna
    A woman that's not popular. Women that aren't popular.
  • kareshi no inai onna
    A woman [that] doesn't a boyfriend. Women without boyfriends.


The word motetai モテたい means "to want to be popular," it's the tai-form of moteru モテる.

  • {motetai} hito
    Someone [that] {wants to be popular}.
    People [that] {want to be popular}.
  • motetai otoko
    A man [that] {wants to be popular}.
    Men [that] {want to be popular}.
  • motetai onna
    A woman [that] {wants to be popular}.
    Women [that] {want to popular}.

In anime, a lot of characters that are "not popular," motenai, also happen to "want to be popular," motetai. They want girls giving them love letters, bringing hand-made box lunches and stuff. Or maybe they just want a girlfriend.

え?モテたいの?モブ君。 ドキッ いや・・・別に・・・
Manga: Mob Psycho 100, Mobu Saiko Hyaku モブサイコ100 (Chapter 5, 簡単に言うとモテたい)
モテねーよ。 え?
Manga: Mob Psycho 100, Mobu Saiko Hyaku モブサイコ100 (Chapter 5, 簡単に言うとモテたい)
  • motenee yo.
    [You] won't be popular.
  • e?
Manga: Mob Psycho 100, Mobu Saiko Hyaku モブサイコ100 (Chapter 5, 簡単に言うとモテたい)
  • kin'niku wo tsuketemo anta wa motenai.
    Even if [you] gain muscle you won't be popular.
    • kin'niku wo tsukeru
      To attach muscle. (literally.)
      To gain muscle. (through exercise.)

Other conjugations:

  • motetakatta
    [I] wanted to be popular. (past tai-form.)
  • motetakunai
    [I] don't want to be popular. (negative tai-form.)


The word motemote モテモテ means someone is "very popular," that they moteru very much. More literally, if you imagine one mote as being popular once, motemote is being continuously popular: pumping out that popular aura.

See Reduplication for words like it.


The word moteki モテ期 means a period of time in which somebody's popular, literally their "popular season," or "popular period."

A couple of series have been made with this word in the title, and they're all about someone who wasn't popular suddenly becoming popular, entering their moteki, and having characters of the opposite sex interested in dating them.

モテ期来てるな えええええ!!?
Manga: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai ~Tensai-Tachi no Ren'ai Zunousen~ かぐや様は告らせたい~天才たちの恋愛頭脳戦~ (Chapter 6, 白銀御行は隠したい)
  • Context: the student council president informs someone of a fact.
  • moteki
    kiteru na

    モテ期 来てるな
    [Your] popular period... has come, huh.
  • eeeee!!?
    *internal screaming.*


The word moteru 持てる means "to be able to hold" something. It's the potential verb derived from motsu 持つ, which means "to hold" or "to have" something.

  • kasa wo motsu
    To hold an umbrella.
  • kasa wo moteru
    To be able to hold an umbrella.
  • kibou wo motsu
    To have hope.
  • kibou wo moteru
    To be able to have hope.

It's not to be confused with motteru 持ってる, a contraction of motteiru 持っている, both meaning "to be holding" something or "to be having" something.

See also: i-nuki-kotoba い抜き言葉.

The "to be popular" moteru モテる, which this article is mostly about, is a slang that probably came from this "to have" moteru 持てる.

As you can see, despite being read the same, they're written differently: the popular moteru is written with katakana, while the normal moteru is written with kanji.


The word ninki 人気 means "to be popular" too, but it means popular in general, and not popular romantically. For example:

  • ninki manga
    A popular manga. (has many readers.)

It can also be used to say a place has nobody in it.

  • {ninki no nai} basho
    A place [where] {ninki is nonexistent}.
    A place without ninki.
    A place without people.
    A place where nobody's around.
    • The ideal place...
    • kokuhaku suru
      To confess. (your love, or your crimes, etc.)


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  1. Using Mob Psycho 100 as an example. Excellent.

  2. In your Mob example, you used "motenai" which I believe you said to mean unpopular, instead of "motetai". Was this intended?

    1. No, that was a typo. The text read "motetai" but I typed "motenai" as romaji. Thanks for noting. I've updated the article.