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Etymology 1Edit

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Kanji in this term

Grade: 5
あい > わい
Grade: 4


Shift in pronunciation from kawayui below.[1]

The kanji spelling 可愛い is an example of ateji (当て字), and uses an irregular reading of . The phonological resemblance to Chinese 可愛 (lovable, Mandarin kě'ài, Min Nan khó-ài) is coincidental. Note that the medial -w- here is not an excrescence added between ka () and ai (), since the word is not formed from these morphemes.

Already realized phonetically as /kawaiː/ by the early 1600s, and possibly found alongside older form kawayui, as seen in the 1603 edition of the Nippo Jisho.[2]


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可愛い (-i inflection, hiragana かわいい, rōmaji kawaii, historical hiragana かはいい)

  1. lovable, adorable, cute
    • 1988 October 20, Adachi, Mitsuru, “だい22 こころ [Chapter 22: Maria’s Heart]”, in スローステップSLOW STEP [SLOW STEP], volume 3 (fiction, in Japanese), Tokyo: Shogakukan, →ISBN, page 149:
      あなた () (わる)くない
      Anata me waruku nai
      You have very bad eyesight, don’t you?
      バカなこというなよ ボクサーだぜ  ()のよさは () (がみ)つきだよ きみのほうがぜったいにかわいいよ!
      Baka na koto iu na yo Bokusā da ze Me no yosa wa origamitsuki da yo Kimi no hō ga zettai ni kawaii yo!
      That’s ridiculous! I’m a boxer! I have certifiably flawless eyesight! You definitely are cuter!
      はい はい
      Hai hai
      Sure, sure
    • 2000 August 10, Andō, Yūma; Asaki, Masashi, “BREAKブレイク.39 つうこんくにみつ [BREAK.39 When Kunimitsu Has Remorse‥]”, in サイコメトラーEIJIエイジ [Psychometrer EIJI], volume 24 (fiction, in Japanese), Tokyo: Kodansha, →ISBN:
      でも—— () (わい)ですね このジンガイのガキ
      Demo—— kawaii desu ne kono jingai no gaki
      However—— this foreign kid’s pretty cute, don’t ya think
      チッ ロリコンが
      Chih rorikon ga
      Yeesh, you pedophile
    • 2012 May 4, “ざんぎゃくさのしょう [Triumph of Cruelty]”, in アヴァシンの帰還 [Avacyn’s Return] (in Japanese), Wizards of the Coast:
      あんたより () (わい) () (たい)はたくさん ()てきたわよ、 (じゅう) () (どう) ()さん。
      Anta yori kawaii shitai wa takusan mitekita wa yo, jūmadōshi-san.
      I’ve seen corpses prettier than you, beastmage.

Usage notesEdit

Often spelled in hiragana.

Derived termsEdit

Etymology 2Edit

Kanji in this term
Grade: 5 Grade: 4


A contraction of classical 顔映し (kawahayushi, embarrassing, shameful). The meaning evolved from shameful to evoking pity, to evoking compassion, and then to lovable.[1]


  • (Irregular reading)


可愛い (-i inflection, hiragana かわゆい, rōmaji kawayui, historical hiragana かはゆい)

  1. embarrassed, having a guilty conscience: see 顔映し (kawahayushi).
  2. (obsolete) pitiable, pitiful
    • 1632, Diego Collado, Dictionarium sive thesauri linguae Iaponicae compendium
      Miſerabilis, e: coſa que cauſa laſtima, cavaij.
      (Latin:) Wretched; (Spanish:) thing that causes pity, kawaii.
  3. lovable, adorable, cute


  1. 1.0 1.1 1988, 国語大辞典(新装版) (Kokugo Dai Jiten, Revised Edition) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Shogakukan
  2. ^ 1603, Nippo Jisho (in Portuguese), relevant text here. Left-hand column, third entry down, listed as Cauaij.
  3. 3.0 3.1 2006, 大辞林 (Daijirin), Third Edition (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Sanseidō, →ISBN