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From Old Japanese. Found in the Man'yōshū, completed some time after 759 CE.[1]

The ultimate derivation remains unclear. The term occasionally appears in texts from the Heian period (794–1185 CE) with the phonetic spelling mumashi (in the classical terminal form),[2] suggesting a possible pronunciation of */mmasi/ with an emphasized initial /mm/ sound, similar to the reconstructed readings for (*mma, horse) and (*mme, plum). The resulting reconstructed adjective stem of *mma- could indicate a derivation from onomatopoeia; compare English mmm as an expression of approval for something tasty.

Alternatively, umai is listed in some sources[3] as perhaps deriving from verb 熟む (umu, to ripen, to become ripe). There is a derived compound term where the meaning is clearly from the adjective, and the spelling uses the kanji from the verb. However, the verb does not appear in historical sources with an emphatic initial /mm/, and it seems to be cognate with 膿む (umu, to fester, to become pussy, to produce pus, intransitive),[4] possibly also with 生む, 産む (umu, to bear, to give birth to; to produce, transitive).


  • Tokyo pitch accent of inflected forms of "うまい"
Source: Online Japanese Accent Dictionary
Stem forms
Continuative (連用形) うまく まく
Terminal (終止形) うまい [ùmáꜜì]
Attributive (連体形) うまい [ùmáꜜì]
Key constructions
Informal negative うまくない まくない
Informal past うまかった まかった
Informal negative past うまくなかった まくなかった
Formal うまいです いです [ùmáꜜìdèsù]
Conjunctive うまくて まくて
Conditional うまければ まければ


うまい (-i inflection, rōmaji umai)

  1. 上手い, 巧い: good at something, skillful
     (きみ) () (ほん) ()うまいな。
    Kimi no nihongo ga umai na.
    Your Japanese is good.
    Kare wa tenisu ga umai.
    He's good at tennis.
    Synonym: 上手 (jōzu)
  2. 美味い, 旨い, 甘い: delicious, tasty
    Meshi ga umai.
    The meal is delicious.
    Synonym: 美味しい (oishii)
  3. 旨い: favorable, preferable, good
    うまいタイミングで (ほう) (もん)する
    umai taimingu de hōmon suru
    to visit at a good time
    Synonyms: 好ましい (konomashii), 良い (ii)
  4. 旨い: profitable
     (かぶ) (しき) (なか) (がい) (にん)とはうまい () (ごと)ですよ。
    Kabushikinakagainin to wa umai shigoto desu yo.
    Being a stockbroker is profitable work.
  5. (uncommon) 旨い: thoughtless, foolish, lackadaisical, slipshod, short-sighted
    Synonyms: 甘い (amai) (more common), 愚か (oroka), 浅はか (asahaka)


Usage notesEdit

This term is more common in masculine speech, and may have more casual connotations. The common gender-neutral and polite term for the skillful sense is 上手 (jōzu), and for the delicious sense, 美味しい (oishii).[2][7]

Derived termsEdit


  1. ^ c. 759, Man'yōshū (book 16, poem 3857), text here
  2. 2.0 2.1 1988, 国語大辞典(新装版) (Kokugo Dai Jiten, Revised Edition) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Shogakukan
  3. ^ Gogen Allguide, entry here (in Japanese)
  4. 4.0 4.1 2006, 大辞林 (Daijirin), Third Edition (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Sanseidō, →ISBN
  5. ^ 1998, NHK日本語発音アクセント辞典 (NHK Japanese Pronunciation Accent Dictionary) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: NHK, →ISBN
  6. ^ 1997, 新明解国語辞典 (Shin Meikai Kokugo Jiten), Fifth Edition (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Sanseidō, →ISBN
  7. ^ 1995, 大辞泉 (Daijisen) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Shogakukan, →ISBN