Friday, January 4, 2019

~rashii ~らしい

In Japanese, -rashii ~らしい is an auxiliary adjective that has a couple of tricky meanings. Usually, rashii means "I heard that," or "it seems that," or "it's like that," or "-esque," depending on how it's used.

胸が小さい女子って、そのコトを気にしてる場合が多いらしいぜ。 quote from manga Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん
Manga: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん


The rashii auxiliary is used in a number of different ways:
  1. When talking about something you heard about.
  2. When saying something looks like something else.
  3. When guessing something is happening because of what it looks like.

At first glance, it seems like these three uses are completely unrelated, but they actually share a common principle: assumption.

The rashii auxiliary is used when you have assumption of how something should be. You have an "idea" of it. It's not something you have confirmed to be that way. It's just how you imagine something is from what you know or heard about it.

In the examples below we'll explore how rashii is actually used.

Rumors & Hearsay

The most common way -rashii ~らしい is used is to talk about stuff people heard somehow somewhere from someone about something. In this case, rashii becomes translated as "I heard" most of the time, or "it seems."
  • yuurei ga deru
    Ghosts appear.
  • yuurei ga deru rashii
    I heard that ghosts appear.
    It seems that ghosts appear.

胸の小さい女子って、そのコトを気にしてる場合が多いらしいぜ。 って、3組の木村が…!! quote from manga Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん
Manga: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん
  • Context: Nishikata remembers something he heard from someone who heard it from someone else.
  • {mune no chiisai} joshi tte,
    {sono koto wo
    ki-ni-shiteru} baai ga
    ooi rashii ze.

    Regarding girls [with] small chests,
    I heard that:
    the cases [in which they] be worrying about that are many.
    • i.e. there's a rumor flatter-chested girls often have complexes about it.
    • [With] and [in which] are introducing relative clauses.
    • ki ni suru 気にする
      To mind. To think about. To care about. To worry about.
  • tte, san-kumi no
    Kimura ga...!!

    is what Kimura from the class 3 [said]!!
    • Kimura is marked as subject (Kimura ga) of a sentence that has no verb.
    • Because of the quoting tte って particle, we can safely assume the implicit verb is supposed to be "to say," iu 言う.
    • Kimura ga itta 木村が言った
      Kimura said.

30歳まで童貞だと魔法使いになれるらしい, title of a manga.
  • San-juu Sai Made Doutei da-to Mahou-Tsukai ni Nareru Rashii
    It Seems that [if you] are a Virgin Until 30 Years Old [you] May Become a Wizard.
  • This is a Japanese legend (i.e. rumor) that says 30-year-old virgins become wizards. Since doutei refers to a male virgin, it only refers to male wizards. And yes, this is actually a legend. And yes, someone actually made a manga with this title. [30歳まで童貞だと魔法使いになれるらしい -, 2019-01-04]

In anime, nameless background characters commenting about the main character or a transfer student who just appeared out of nowhere usually whisper rashii rumors around.
  • tatta hitori no iki-nokori rashii
    It seems [he's] the sole survivor.
    I heard [he's] the sole survivor.

If you're playing an RPG, it's possible you'll hear from some village guy a rumor or another that includes the word rashii.
  • mukashi wa ike ga atta rashii
    I heard that, in the past, there was a pond.
    It seems that, in the past, there was a pond.
    • i.e. now there's no pond, but he heard from his grand-grandfather that there used to be a pond up there.

In these cases, the reason rashii works like this is because there's an assumption that you had "heard" is true. That is, the word rashii isn't merely about something you heard about, it must be something you heard about and imagine to be true.

This means that "I heard" doesn't always translate to rashii. For example, if you heard something that you imagine is a lie, that you don't assume to be true, then you wouldn't use rashii with it.
  • chikyuu ga hiratai rashii

    It seems the Earth is flat. (No! You don't believe this nonsense! The Earth is round! You can't use rashii here!)
  • chikyuu ga hiratai tte kiita
    [I] heard that the Earth is flat. (literally.)


Another way rashii is used is like this:
  • anata-rashii あなたらしい
    omae-rashiii お前らしい
    [It's] like you.

The phrases above are used in anime when a character acts like themselves. That is, the speaker has an idea of what a character is supposed to be. Like he's that crazy dude who does crazy things. So when he goes and does something crazy, then:
  • omae-rashii お前らしい
    [This is exactly what I'd expect from you.]
    [As expected from you.]
    [As expected of you.]
    [That's just like you.]

Of course, the same phrases also work with any type of character. If it's that kind-hearted girl who takes care of everyone, then when she goes and takes care of someone else, it's just as you expected of her.

And it works with other personal pronouns too, personal names, titles, etc.:
  • kare-rashii 彼らしい
    aitsu-rashii あいつらしい
    [That's just like him.]
    [As expected of him.]
  • kanojo-rashii 彼女らしい
    [That's just like her.]
    [As expected of her.]
  • Tanaka-san-rashii 田中さんらしい
    [That's just like Tanaka.]
    [As expected of Tanaka.]
  • shachou-rashii 社長らしい
    [That's just like the company president.]
    [As expected of the company president.]


Sometimes, a characters acts unlike themselves. In which case we can conjugate rashii, like the i-adjective it is, to mean something else entirely:
  • rashikunai
    Not like it. Unlike.
    [Not what I expected of you.]
    [That's not like of you.]

For example, in the song Rashikunai らしくない by NMB48, the lyrics about romance: once in love, the speaker stops behaving like themselves.
  • ima made no boku to-wa chigau
    Different from myself so far.
  • reisei-sa wo ushinatteru jibun
    Myself [who's] losing calmness.
    (i.e. mad in love, a situation totally different from life so far.)
  • Lyrics from, accessed 2019-01-14.

Another example: say there's a character that's usually all about fighting vampires and saving the world from evil. That's your idea of them. Then suddenly he becomes an alcoholic loser. That's not your idea of them. That's rashikunai.


But then let's say our fallen vampire-killer gives up on drinking and goes back to his glorious vampire-shooting days. Then we say he:
  • rashiku-natta
    Became like it.
    [Now you've become like yourself.]
    [Now you're more like yourself.]
    • natta なった
      (past tense of)
    • naru なる
      To become.

Fitting The Role

In the previous examples we were comparing someone to themselves, our idea of what they should be like. But rashii isn't limited to that.

We can also use rashii to compare people to our idea of what someone working a certain job should be like, or someone who's supposed to be something should be like.
  • meitantei-rashii
    Like a famous detective.
    [Wow! It's like you're a detective!]
  • When someone goes around searching for evidence, saying "elementary, my dear Watson," stating conclusions, and pointing their fingers at people and yelling "you are the true criminal!" That's meitantei-rashii.
  • kyoushi-rashikunai
    Not like a teacher.
    [He doesn't look like a teacher at all.]
  • Around 90% of anime teachers act unlike what you'd expect a teacher to act like, kyoushi-rashikunai. In many of them, the teachers behave like children. Or worse: perverts.
  • josei-rashiku natta
    Became like a woman (or girl).
    [Now you're looking like a girl.]
  • Say you have a female character who's fighting alone against a patriarchal society and their unrealistic standards for women, or maybe she's really into jellyfishes and doesn't know how to look pretty, and then one day she puts on makeup, dress and a dozen other things, thus for once conforming to what society expects a girl to look like. Then she became josei-rashiku.
  • otoko-rashii
    Like a man.
  • (insert society's expectations here.)
  • otoko-rashi-sa
    Like-a-man-ness. (?)
    How much [it] matches the idea of a man.
    How much of a man [it] is.
  • otoko-rashi-sa wo misero!
    Show how much of a man you are!
    Show what a man you are!

The word rashii isn't limited to people.
  • neko-rashikunai
    Not like a cat.
    • Stands.
    • Speaks.
    • Dislikes milk.
    • Avoids damaging furniture.
    • Doesn't look at people as if they were its servants.
    • Ugly.
    • Totally different from what you imagine a cat to be like.

Acting The Role

When conjugated to its adverbial form, rashiku, it often refers to an action you'd associate with an idea. That is, to act like a proper X. For example:
  • otona-rashiku furumai-nasai
    Act like an adult.
    Behave like an adult.
  • yuusha-rashiku maou wo taosu
    To defeat the demon king like the hero.
    Do as one would expect of the hero and defeat the demon king.
    To act like a proper hero and defeat the king.

In many Japanese RPGs, and inspired isekai anime, the yuusha is the chosen one who's prophesied to defeat the demon king. He has literally one job. So if you want to act like a proper hero, you ought to stop doing side quests and head to the demon world or castle and defeat the bad guy already as everybody expects of you!


Since rashii is an adjective, it can also qualify a noun to say something is what you'd expect of something else. In this case, "-esque" is usually a good translation.
  • hiiroo-rashii katsuyaku
    Activities like those of a hero.
    Hero-esque activities.
    (we don't get to do much of that, professional heroes don't fight villains, which is the sort of activity you'd expect of a hero, instead, we mostly pick up literal trash from the streets and do odd jobs to help the community.)


In many cases, rashii can be interpreted as "-ish" instead of "like." For example:
  • neko-rashii 猫らしい
    Like a cat.


The word rashii may also be translated as "-ly" sometimes.
  • otoko-rashii 男らしい
    Like a man. Man-like. Man-esque. Man-ish.
  • onna-rashii 女らしい
    Like a woman. Ladylike. Woman-esque. Woman-ish.
  • ai-rashii 愛らしい
    Like love? (No, this doesn't work!)

As you can see, when rashii has the meaning that something is like something else, that it has the properties of something, that it fits the role of something else, the exact translation can vary a lot depending from word to word, context to context, and how literal the translation wants to be.
  • onna yori onna-rashii bishoujo
    1. A bishoujo [that's] more woman-like than a woman.
    2. A bishoujo [that's] more like a woman than a woman.
    3. A bishoujo [that's] more feminine than a woman.
  • daga otoko da だが男だ
    1. But is a man.
    2. But [he] is a guy.
  • Steins;Gate, Episode 2.

It's best not to worry about it.

Some words don't even work so straightforwardly. For example:

With baka バカ, "stupid," we get baka-rashii バカらしい, which means something you heard sounds like it's stupid. That is, it's absurd, nonsense. You wouldn't say "stupid-like" here.

With iya 嫌, an adjective used toward something you don't want, you get iya-rashii 嫌らしい, which means something is "unpleasant." (it may also mean "lewd," probably because something "obscene" is, supposedly, something unpleasant that you don't want.)

Then you have a bunch of words that end in rashii らしい, but if you remove the rashii part what remains isn't actually a word. For example:
  • subarashii 素晴らしい
  • mezurashii 珍しい
  • atarashii 新しい

You can find these and other words that end in rashii on [*らしい]

可愛らしい vs. 可愛いらしい

An important thing to note is that when you have an i-adjective the suffix rashii replaces the -i ~い ending, but the auxiliary adjective rashii does not replace the -i ending.

Depending on whether the ending is replaced or not, the function of rashii differs. When it's a suffix, it means something like -ish or -ly. When it's an auxiliary adjective, it probably an assumption, that you heard something from someone, etc.

For example:
  • kawaii 可愛い
  • kawaii-rashii 可愛いらしい
    It seems that it's cute.
    I heard it's cute. (auxiliary adjective.)
  • kawai-rashii 可愛らしい
    Cute-ish. Lovely. (suffix.)

らしく Conjectures

Sometimes, when rashii is in its adverbial form, rashiku, it can be part of a subordinate adverbial clause, which results in a meaning like: "as if X were true, Y is happening."

X is our assumption. Our guess. Y is what we're actually observing. In other words, we saw Y happening, and we are guessing X is the cause. Because it looks like X is happening too, but we don't have proof of that. We only have proof of Y.

For example:
  • taifuu ga sekkin shiteiru rashiku, fuuu ga tsuyomatte-kita
    Like a typhoon were approaching, the wind and rain grew stronger.
    The wind and rain grew strong as if a typhoon were approaching.
    It seemed a typhoon was approaching: the wind and rain grew stronger.

In the phrase above, we observe the wind and rain are getting stronger. We aren't observing typhoons, though, we don't know for sure if a typhoon is coming. But we imagine it could be coming, because the wind and rain are getting stronger, and when typhoons approach it causes that.

Another example:
  • dareka no shisen ni kiduita-rashiku, futto atama wo ageta
    Like [he] noticed somebody's gaze, [he] suddenly lifted [his] head.
    As if [he] noticed somebody [looking at him], [he] suddenly lifted [his] head.

In the example above, we can tell "he" was looking down at something, and then he lifted his head. Why did he lift his head so abruptly? Well, I'm guessing that was because he didn't want to be seen looking at whatever he was looking at, so when he realized someone was looking at him looking at it, he swiftly pretended he was totally not looking at it.

You know what I'm talking about. ;)

Except you don't because that guess is totally wrong. The example is actually from a Japanese translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived. The English equivalent would be this:
  • ...he did seem to realize he was being watched, because he looked up suddenly at the cat, which was still staring at him from the other end of the street.

So "he" didn't avert his gaze after being noticed as I guessed. He seemed to have noticed he was being looked at by something and looked back to see what was looking at him. It was the cat.

Well, I suppose guesses and assumptions aren't always right on the mark. Although, the author narrating the story is probably better at guessing what "seems" to be happening than a mere reader like me, so you can probably trust the rashiku of narrations.

らしい vs. ようだ

A word that's like rashii is the na-adjective you よう, and its inflections you-da ようだ, you-na ような, you-ni ように, etc. This word, you-da, can be used to say something "seems" like something else.

The difference between rashii and you-da is that rashii is always an unconfirmed assumption: you either heard from someone a rumor, or you're comparing something to something that's not real, that's ideal. Meanwhile, you-da is used when you have actually checked something, and conclude it seems to be something else.

For example:
  • tada no shikabane rashii
    I heard it's just a corpse.
    It seems it's just a corpse.
    (I don't know for sure because I didn't actually see it. It's just what I heard from someone else. But it was a pretty trustworthy source, so I'm guessing it's true.)
  • tada no shikabane no you da
    It seems to be just a corpse.
    (after inspecting it, I'm pretty sure it's just a corpse. Nobody told me this, I saw its corpseliness with my own two eyes.)

Further Reading


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