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somebody called me 美人

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somebody called me 美人

Postby sampaguita » Wed 11.11.2009 9:08 am

When I was in Japan, a group of old ladies called me 美人 (bijin). What is the difference between 美人, きれい and 美しい? And are these words often used as compliments in Japan? Are they often used on foreigners? And are these words only used as compliments to strangers by old people? Thank you for the insights!
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Re: somebody called me 美人

Postby Mike Cash » Wed 11.11.2009 10:26 am

Noun
Adjective
Adjective
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Re: somebody called me 美人

Postby IceCream » Wed 11.11.2009 10:34 am

yeah, i think its a compliment :)

美人 is used for beautiful women, きれい for pretty, and 美しい... well, i've only heard it used for objects and ideas so far.
But that doesn't mean anything, except that i haven't got the difference in nuance yet, so maybe someone else knows.
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Re: somebody called me 美人

Postby Harisenbon » Thu 11.12.2009 12:14 am

IceCream wrote:美人 is used for beautiful women


Like mike said, 美人 isn't used for beautiful women, 美人 means beautiful woman.
It's a noun, not an adjective.

キレイ can generally be thought of as clean, pretty or tidy
キレイな部屋、キレイな顔

while

美しい is beautiful.
美しい人、美しい景色
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Re: somebody called me 美人

Postby IceCream » Thu 11.12.2009 12:27 am

Harisenbon wrote:Like mike said, 美人 isn't used for beautiful women, 美人 means beautiful woman.


In the situation of [a beautiful woman] 美人 is used. 美人 also means [beautiful woman].

Anyway, do you know what the difference is in nuance (if any) between when someone would say 美人, and when someone would say that a woman is 美しい? (Aside from one being an adjective and the other being a noun). Are they used for different types of beautiful women?
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Re: somebody called me 美人

Postby magamo » Thu 11.12.2009 5:53 am

Edit: fixed some serious typos

Technically 美人, きれい and 美しい are 名詞, 形容動詞, and 形容詞 respectively. English translation of Japanese grammar terms isn't standardized, so different teachers use technical terms differently. Different textbooks may use the exact same term for different things too. If you're learning Japanese grammar in English, you might want to take a look at this Wikipedia article. It's not important, so pick your favorite terms for adjective-ish words.

Some linguists think 形容動詞 is a special 名詞 (noun), and in this sense, 美人 and きれい are nouns. Actually 美人 is one of examples that are quite difficult to categorize in one grammar group, so you could say it's somewhere between 名詞 and 形容動詞. This kind of thing may not be explained in your Japanese courses or textbooks, but it's quite important.

Harisenbon wrote:
IceCream wrote:美人 is used for beautiful women


Like mike said, 美人 isn't used for beautiful women, 美人 means beautiful woman.
It's a noun, not an adjective.

Haven't you ever heard 美人な奥さん, 美人な彼女 and such in Gifu? I don't know if this is considered wrong in standardized tests, but it's pretty common and you can hear this usage on any day of the week in Japan. If you google for "美人な奥さん" with quotes, you'll get a bunch of resul... wait. They're mostly porn sites. But if you try "美人な" (with quotation marks), you can find lots of examples where 美人 is used as 形容動詞 or na-adjective if that's your favorite grammar term.

美人 is of course a usual noun as well, so it can mean a beautiful person/people. Actually it's less 形容動詞 than more 形容動詞 words such as 豊か and 未熟 in the sense that 美人さ (beautiful-ness) sounds informal. It makes sense and is used in real life, but it's not as "proper" as 豊かさ, 未熟さ etc., which can be used in a formal context.

As for nuances, 美しい is more heavier and more often used in writing than きれい. Etymologically, 美しい was 愛し (うつくし) and referred to a more affection-like sense. Actually it still has a deeper sense than きれい. Both have multiple meanings, so you might want to look in your dictionary if you want to use them to refer to a non-human object.

Usually 美人 is only used for people for obvious reasons. It could mean a beautiful guy, though usually it refers to women (The same goes for きれい and 美しい, by the way.). As is the case with many other positive words, it could have a negative connotation depending on context. I think it has a more 美しい-like sense than きれい when used as 形容動詞. Also, I think きれいな女性 and 美人な女性 are not that different when it comes to formality/heaviness, but you might want to avoid 美人な女性 and similar usages of 美人 until you develop a native-like intuition about when you can use the word as 形容動詞.

Also, while 美人 and きれいな人 only refer to the person's appearance in most cases, 美しい人 tends to imply something more. This might be due to the slight sense of affection. 美しい is also used for "heart," "relationship," etc. and means pure, virtuous, or something along those lines. So if the speaker is using it in this sense, 美しい人 can look ugly.

sampaguita wrote:And are these words often used as compliments in Japan?

Virtually any positive word can be used as compliments and sarcastic comments in Japan. Men may avoid using those words because some women think it's sexual harassment.
sampaguita wrote:Are they often used on foreigners?

Being sarcastic to a person who doesn't have a firm grasp of Japanese is very rude in Japan, so foreigners might hear them as compliments more often than as sarcasm. And you're supposed to be very nice to guests in the Japanese culture, so some Japanese people might have a habit of using them on foreigners. But they're not particularly often-used-on-foreigners kind of words.
sampaguita wrote:And are these words only used as compliments to strangers by old people?

No. If the stranger isn't beautiful, it's a different story though.
Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away and you have their shoes.
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Re: somebody called me 美人

Postby sampaguita » Mon 11.16.2009 8:43 am

Wow, thanks a lot for the reply, magamo! It was very comprehensive, thank you!

Thanks to everyone who replied too!
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