‘Chottoちょっと’ is one of the strangest Japanese words. You must remember it because Japanese people use it every day and is, therefore, a super useful word. However, this word is one of the most complicated words for Japanese learners.
What does ‘Chottoちょっと’ mean?
‘Chottoちょっと’ means ‘a little’, but it means more than that in a practical conversation. It could even mean ‘very’ or ‘quite’ sometimes!
The primary usage: ‘a little’
“ワインのおかわりはいかが？(Do you want some more wine?)”
“ちょっと Chotto (just a little)”
Or, when someone asks you if you can speak Japanese, you can say:
“日本語は話せますか？(Can you speak Japanese?)”
“ちょっと Chotto (just a little)”
You can put “ちょっと Chotto” before an adjective to add the meaning ‘a little…’. For example, if you want to say “It is a little cute”,
“ちょっとかわいい Chotto kawaii”
However, “ちょっとChotto” in “ちょっとかわいい Chotto kawaii”, could mean ‘very’ or ‘pretty’ in some contexts and not mean just ‘a little’. This is confusing for non-native Japanese speakers.
To get the attention of someone
When you want to talk to someone or to get the attention of someone, you can also say, “ちょっと Chotto”. If the person who you are going to speak is a stranger, you may say;
ちょっと、すみません Chotto, sumimasen!
People often say “ちょっと Chotto” or “ちょっと、ちょっと Chotto chotto!” to get one’s attention. This “ちょっと Chotto” doesn’t mean ‘a little’. If I translate it into English, it will be “Hey! Hello?”
ちょっと、ちょっと Chotto chotto!
To ask someone to do something
When Japanese people ask someone to do something, they like adding this word “ちょっと Chotto” as well. If the person wants you to wait, they will probably say to you;
Chotto matte (kudasai)
Wait a moment, (please).
In this sentence, “ちょっと Chotto” may mean ‘for a short time’, but it might not always be ‘a short time’ to wait.
Meaning ‘shortly’ or ‘briefly’
“ちょっと Chotto” has a meaning ‘shortly’ or ‘briefly’, but one can also use this word in order to soften a request or order. For example:
Can you sit down?
Have a look!
(Shio-wo) chotto totte
Can you pass me (the salt)?
Meaning “No” (Negative Answer)
The next example is a completely different way to use this word.
If you asked a stranger to lend you10,000 yen on the street, what would they say? A Japanese person could say;
Sore wa chotto…
Do you think that you can borrow them ‘just a little’ of money? The answer is “No”.
In this case, “ちょっと Chotto” means “No, I can’t” or “It’s difficult.” Japanese people don’t like saying “No” straightly. They prefer to give their refusal indirectly.
“Chotto” with ‘I don’t…’, ‘I can’t…’
In a similar vein, when you cannot understand someone’s Japanese you can say:
I don’t (really) understand.
It is not important whether you understood a little or none of the conversation. No matter how much you could not understand you can say the above phrase.
If you say, “わかりません(wakari-masen)” without “ちょっと Chotto”, it may sound too direct to Japanese people. In the worst case, they could feel as if there were denied by you. Adding “ちょっと Chotto” makes your comment mild and gentle, which helps you to build up a relationship.