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 ninki 人気 that's "popular" in the general sense.


Grammatically, moteru works just like any other verb in Japanese. For example:
  • kare ga moteru 彼がモテる
    He moteru's.
    He is popular.

It's particularly used in relative clauses:
  • moteru otoko モテる男
    A man [that] moteru's.
    A man [that] is popular.
    A popular guy.
    Men that are popular. Popular men.
  • moteru onna モテる女
    A woman [that] is popular. Women that are popular.
    A popular woman. Popular women.
  • moteru hito モテる
    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 モテない人
    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 私がモテない
      I'm not popular.
    • nowa のは
      The wa は particle marks the noun we're talking about.
      The no の particle is a nominalizer turning motenai into a so it's syntactically correct for wa. The -nai suffix turns the verb moteru into an i-adjective, by the way.
    • dou verb-te-mo どう〇〇ても
      Regardless of how you verb.
      No matter how you verb.
    • omae お前
      You. (second person pronoun.)
    • -ra ~等
      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 悪い
      "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 why you don't have a boyfriend?
    • Aldnoah Zero, Arudonoa Zero アルドノア・ゼロ
    • kimi ga motenai 君がモテない
      You aren't popular.
      You [don't have a boyfriend].
    • riyuu 理由
    • The noun riyuu gets qualified by the relative clause kimi ga motenai.
    • The reason [why] you aren't popular.
      Why you aren't popular.
    • oshieru 教える
      To teach. To tell [information].
    • ageru あげる
      To give [something] to [someone].
      To do [something] for [someone].
    • In this case:
    • oshiete ageru 教えてあげる
      To tell [why you aren't popular] for [you].
    • agemasu あげます
      (polite conjugation.)
    • oshiete agemashou あげましょう
      Let [me] teach [you]...
    • agemashou ka あげましょうか
      Let [me] teach [you]...?
      Should [I] teach [you]...?

For reference, the words for "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" in Japanese are kareshi 彼氏 and kanojo 彼女.
  • motenai otoko モテない男
    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 彼女のいない
    A man [that] doesn't have a girlfriend. Men without girlfriends.
  • motenai onna モテない女
    A woman that's not popular. Women that aren't popular.
  • kareshi no inai onna 彼氏のいない女
    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 モテたい人
    Someone that wants to be popular.
    People that want to be popular.
  • motetai otoko モテたい男
    A man that wants to be popular.
    Men that want to be popular.
  • motetai onna モテたい女
    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?ドキッ モブ君。いや・・・別に・・・
Manga: Mob Psycho 100, Mobu Saiko Hyaku モブサイコ100 (Chapter 5)
Manga: Mob Psycho 100, Mobu Saiko Hyaku モブサイコ100 (Chapter 5)
  • motenee yo.
    [You] won't be popular.
  • e? え?

Manga: Mob Psycho 100, Mobu Saiko Hyaku モブサイコ100 (Chapter 5)
  • kin'niku wo tsuketemo anta wa motenai.
    Even if [you] gain muscle you won't be popular.
    • kin'niku wo tsukeru 筋肉を付ける
      To attach muscle. (literally.)
      To gain muscle. (through exercise.)

Other conjugations:
  • motetakatta モテたかった
    [I] wanted to be popular. (past tai-form.)
  • motetakunai モテたくない
    [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 4)
  • 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.
    • Yer a popular, Harry!
    • kuru 来る
      To come.
    • kiteru 来てる
      kite-iru 来ている
      To come and be [here].
      To have come [here].
  • eeeee!!?
    *internal screaming.*


The word moteru 持てる means "to be able to hold" something. It's the potential form of motsu 持つ, which means "to hold" or "to have" something.
  • kasa wo motsu 傘を持つ
    To hold an umbrella.
  • kasa wo moteru 傘を持てる
    To be able to hold an umbrella.
  • kibou wo motsu 希望を持つ
    To have hope.
  • kibou wo moteru 希望を持てる
    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.

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 人気漫画
    A popular manga. (has many readers.)

It can also be used to say a place has nobody in it.
  • ninki no nai basho 人気のない場所
    A place without ninki.
    A place without people.
    A place where nobody's around.
    • The ideal place...
    • kokuhaku suru 告白する
      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.