Word of the Week: とんでもない

It’s time for Word of the Week again! Last week we looked at a Japanese word or phrase beginning with ‘te’ (て), and focussed on the word 手作り (てづくり) (tezukuri), which means ‘handmade’. This week I’m looking for a word or phrase beginning with ‘to’ (と). A big thank you to everyone who joined in with their suggestions:

Japan Australia suggested ‘tooi’ (遠い), ‘far’; ‘tomare’ (止まれ!), ‘stop!’; ‘totemo oishii’ (とても美味しい), ‘really tasty’; and ‘tondemo arimasen’ (とんでもありません), ‘unthinkable’, ‘absolutely not’, ‘don’t mention it’; lovelycomplex22 suggested ‘torokeru’ (蕩ける / とろける), ‘to melt’ or ‘to be enchanted with’; and Rockin’ suggested ‘tondemonai’ (とんでもない), which is the same as ‘tondemo arimasen’, and ‘tobacchiri’ (とばっちり), ‘splash’, ‘spray’, ‘quarrel’.

I’m afraid I don’t have much time to write a long post this week as I need to do some last-minute cramming for the JLPT tomorrow (eek!) so, briefly, let’s look at…



‘Tondemonai’ is an expression with a few different meanings. Among them are:

  • unthinkable
  • outrageous
  • absolutely not
  • not at all
  • impossible
  • bullshit
  • don’t mention it

Looking at the variety of meanings, it seems you have to be quite careful how and when you use ‘tondemonai’! Most of the time the meaning is quite negative, but in polite/formal Japanese (keigo), ‘tondemonai’ can mean ‘don’t mention it’ or ‘no trouble at all’. Here are some examples of ‘tondemonai’ in use:

Doushite konna tondemonai jikan ni denwa o surunoda?
Why did you call me at this outrageous time?

Kare wa kanzen da nante todemonai.
He is far from perfect.

A: 君の車を貸してくれない?
kimi no kuruma wo kashite kurenai?
Can I borrow your car?

B: とんでもない
No way!

A: いろいろとありがとうございました
iroiro to arigatou gozaimashita
Thank you very much for all your help

B: いえいえ、とんでもないです
ieie, tondemonai desu
Really, no trouble at all!

As you can see, it’s quite a versatile word!

Interestingly, there seems to be a bit of debate about whether or not it’s ok to say ‘tondemo arimasen’ as a more polite version of ‘tondemonai’. In most cases I have read that this is not ok, and that ‘tondemonai’ is a word in its own right, not a verb with a nai-form ending, and therefore the ‘nai’ cannot be changed to ‘arimasen’. However, ‘tondemo arimasen’ does come up when you search on jisho.org

One website I visited suggested that if you wanted to make ‘tondemonai’ sound more polite, you could say ‘tondemonai koto desu’ (とんでもないことです) or ‘tondemonai koto de gozaimasu’ (とんでもないことでございます). Although ‘tondemo arimasen’ may not be grammatically correct, it is a phrase that is widely accepted and in use. After all, language is constantly evolving!


Next week’s post will be about a word or phrase beginning with ‘na’ (な), so please leave your suggestions below. The word can be a verb, adjective or expression, but no nouns please! For example, ‘nagai’ (ながい) meaning ‘long’ would be acceptable, but ‘Nagoya’ (名古屋), the place, would not. I look forward to reading your ideas! (*^_^)v

Word of the Week 2014

10 thoughts on “Word of the Week: とんでもない

  1. I’ve been waiting a long time to add my favourite Japanese word – Natsukashi. Hope I’ve got it right and I meets the criteria!


  2. Thanks for choosing my suggestion. It is perfectly fine to use ‘tondemo arimasen’ as a more polite version of ‘tondemonai’. You can also use ‘tondemo gozaimasen’ as an even politer version.

    A few suggestions for next week are:

    Nani mo nai (何もない) Nothing
    Naigashiro ni suru (ないがしろにする) To make light of / To ignore
    Nanto ie ba ii desu ka (なんと言えばいいですか) What should I say?


  3. 私の書いた「とんでもない」を取り上げて下さってありがとうございました。





    • 「な」のsuggestion ありがとう!

      JLPT はちょっとたいへんでした。でも、がんばりました。9月にテストけっかがあります。まちます。。。


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