Is “kawaii” a common word for Americans in general?

Q: Is “kawaii” a common word for Americans in general?

A: No, this is not a word that most people know, and I have never seen it in an English dictionary. Only people who know about Japanese culture, or who watch anime, are aware of this word.

“Cute” is the best translation. Cute can be used to describe both the appearance of a thing and the actions of a thing. For example, we might say “The way the dog jumps up and down when his master comes home is so cute!”  

It should not be translated as “pretty” at all. Pretty means attractive, like a bouquet of flowers, a colorful sunset or an elegant woman. “Kirei” is the best translation of pretty.  Also, unlike “cute”, “pretty” cannot be used to describe actions, only appearance.

As an aside, we cannot combine these words. I have sometimes seen language learners say something like “This is so cute and pretty!” or “That is cute and lovely!”, and this is incorrect.


Q: 「かわいい」は、一般的なアメリカ人が知っている言葉なの?


「かわいい」に一番近い言葉はcuteね。cuteは物の見た目にも動きの描写に使うの。例えば、「犬がご主人をみると飛んだり跳ねたりするのは cuteだ」と言ったりするわよ。


あと、この2つの単語を組み合わせて使うことはできないのね。よく学習者が「これは cuteでprettyだ」とか、「あれはcuteでlovelyだ」と言ったりするけど、これは正しくないわ。