The words “hot” and “cold” are very easy to master in English, but they can be a little tricky in Japanese.
In Japanese, there are different words for hot and cold depending on what you are talking about. For example, talking about the weather uses a different word than if you were talking about an object that feels hot or cold.
There are two words to express cold in Japanese:
- 寒い (samui): Cold weather, air
- 冷たい (tsumetai): Cold to the touch
There are also two words in Japanese to describe hot things:
- 暑い (atsui): Hot weather, air temperature
- 熱い (atsui): Hot objects, hot to the touch, hot/passionate people
This article will show you how to master these words so you can use them naturally in conversations.
How to Say “Cold” in Japanese: 2 Ways
Let’s first go over the 2 different words for “cold” in Japanese, and how to use them.
1. 寒い (Samui): Cold Weather / Air Temperature
When talking about the weather or air temperature, we use the word 寒い (samui). 寒い is not used to say objects are cold. When you hear 寒い, think of it as referring to the environment, the weather, or feeling cold (due to the environment).
(Kyō wa samui.)
It’s cold today.
(Kono heya wa samui.)
It’s cold in this room.
2. 冷たい (Tsumetai): Cold To the Touch
When something feels cold, such as a cold drink, we use the word 冷たい (tsumetai). While cold weather is described using 寒い (samui), things like cold wind and cold rain are described using 冷たい (tsumetai).
(Nanika tsumetai nomimono ga nomitai.)
I want to drink something cold.
(Kōri wa tsumetai.)
Ice is cold.
(Tsumetai kaze ga fuiteiru.)
A cold wind is blowing.
(Tsumetai ame ga futteiru.)
It’s raining cold rain.
3. 冷たい (Tsumetai): Cold Personality/People
冷たい (tsumetai) can also describe a person or their personality/attitude.
(Ano hito wa watashi ni taishite tsumetai.)
That person treats me coldly.
(Ano sensei wa seito ni taishite tsumetai taido o toru.)
That teacher has a cold attitude toward the students.
How to Say “Hot” in Japanese?
Depending on what you describe, there are also different words for “hot” in Japanese.
The pronunciation of these two words is exactly the same, but their kanji is different.
Let’s take a closer look below.
1. 暑い (Atsui): Hot Weather / Air Temperature
For weather and air temperature, the word for hot is い (atsui). If you look at this kanji character, you can see that it has the sun radical “日,” which refers to weather and heat.
(Kyō wa atsui.)
It’s hot today.
(Kono heya wa atsui.)
It’s hot in this room.
(Nihon no natsu wa mushiatsui.)
Summer in Japan is hot and humid.
2. 熱い (Atsui): Feels Hot To the Touch
熱い (atsui) is used to describe how something feels. This kanji character has the water radical, “氵” in it. When we talk about the weather in general, we use the kanji 暑い (atsui), but for the elements like the wind (see example #4 below), we use the kanji 熱い (atsui).
(Kono ocha wa atsui.)
This tea is hot.
(Ofuro no oyu wa atsui.)
The water in the bathtub is hot.
(Sono nabe atsui kara ki o tsukete ne.)
Be careful because the pot is hot.
(Kyō wa kaze ga fuiteiru ga neppū nano de mattaku suzushiku kanjinai.)
Hot wind is blowing today, so I don’t feel cool at all.
*Note: The word 熱風 (neppū) is made up of two kanji characters: 熱, meaning “hot,” and 風, which means “wind.” However, you may have noticed that this word is not read as “atsui kaze.” This is because most kanji have two or more different readings known as kunyomi (native Japanese reading) and onyomi (Chinese-derived reading). Usually, when you combine two or more kanji characters (with no hiragana in between them), these characters will be read using the onyomi.
熱: Two Different Readings
- On-yomi: netsu
- Kun-yomi: atsu
3. 熱い (Atsui): Passionate, Intense, Hot Tempered
熱い (atsui) is also often used to describe someone’s personality.
You can see the same kanji in the word 熱心 (nesshin), which means “enthusiastic” or “energetic.”
(Wārudo kappu de oranda to amerika no atsui tatakai ga kurihirogerareta.)
The World Cup match between the Netherlands and the United States was intense.
(Ken to Takeshi ni wa atsui yūjyō ga aru.)
Ken and Takeshi have strong ties of friendship.
(Kare wa atsui ne!)
He is a very passionate person!
**Note: In English, if you say, “He is hot!” it means he is physically attractive, but in Japanese, there is no such meaning. In Japanese, 彼は熱い means “He is a passionate person.”
How to Say “Warm” in Japanese?
“Warm” follows the same pattern as “cold and hot” in Japanese.
- 暖かい (atatakai): weather/air temperature
- 温かい (atatakai): feels warm to the touch
While the kanji characters are different, the pronunciation is the same.
1. 暖かい (Atatakai): Warm Weather, Temperature
暖かい (atatakai) means nice and warm (weather or temperature).
As you can see, the kanji “暖” contains the sun radical, 日, which indicates something related to climate, air, temperature, or something you feel with your whole body.
(Fuyu no aida atatakai nangoku de sugosu.)
During the winter, I stay in the South where it’s warm.
(Kono heya wa atatakai.)
It’s warm in this room.
(Haru ga kite atatakaku natta.)
Spring has come, and it’s warmer.
(Kyō wa samui kara atatakai fukusō de dekake yō.)
It’s cold today, so let’s go out wearing warm clothes.
(Atatakai sētā o kiru.)
I put on a warm sweater.
***Note: A sweater is something to wear, so you might think it should be 温かい instead of 暖かい. However, a sweater is not warm to the touch and doesn’t get warm by itself. After you put on a sweater, you get warm, so we use the kanji 暖かい.
2. 温かい (Atatakai): Warm To the Touch
温かい (atatakai) describes how warm something feels (to the touch).
(Atatakai nomimono o nomu.)
I will drink something warm.
(Samui hi wa atatakai mono o tabetai.)
When it’s cold, I want to eat something warm.
3. 温かい (Atatakai): Warm Personality, Warm-hearted, Warm Words
You can use 温かい (atatakai) to describe someone’s personality. In this case, it can mean “kind” or “warm-hearted.”
(Kare wa atatakai hito da. = Kare wa shinsetsu da.)
He is warm-hearted. = He is kind.
(Atatakai goshien arigatō gozaimasu.)
Thank you for your warm (kind) support.
(Itsumo atatakai kotoba o kaketeitadaki arigatō gozaimasu.)
Thank you always for your kind words.
(Kono resutoran wa atatakai funiki da.)
This restaurant has a warm atmosphere.
Useful Points To Remember: Point 1
The difference between 暖かい and 温かい can be a little confusing.
There are exceptions, but this table can help you understand the difference:
|Adjective||Antonym (Opposite Meaning)|
|寒い (samui)||暖かい (atatakai)|
|冷たい (tsumetai)||温かい (atatakai)|
Point 2: Casual/Slang Ways to Say 暖かい/温かい
A casual way to say 暖かい/温かい (atatakai) is あったかい (attakai).
(Kyō wa attakai ne.)
It’s warm today.
What’s the Difference between 熱い (Atsui) and 温かい (Atatakai)?
Even though 熱い (atsui) means “hot” and 温かい (atatakai) means “warm,” you may see both words being translated to “hot” in some cases, which makes things confusing.
However, don’t overthink it. Just like in English, 熱い (atsui) is something with a hot temperature, and 温かい (atatakai) is a warm, “just-right” temperature that is comfortable.
An Interesting Expression Using 寒い (Samui) and 暖かい (Atatakai)
暖かい (atatakai) can be used when you have a lot of money. On the other hand, we can use 寒い (samui) to express a situation where you are short on cash. It is often used with the word 懐 (futokoro), which can mean your inside breast pocket or your current financial situation.
(Okyūryō o tsukaikicchatte konshū wa ichinichi isshoku shika taberarenakatta kedo kyō wa kyūryōbi dakara futokoro ga atatakai. Konban wa sutēki o tabeyou.)
I could eat only one meal a day this week because I used up my salary. But today is payday, so I have plenty of money. I’m going to eat steak tonight.
2. 花子: 明日映画を観に行かない？
Hanako: (Ashita Eiga o mi ni ikanai?)
Hanako: Wanna watch a movie tomorrow?
Tomoko: (Gomen. Ima futokoro ga samukute….)
Tomoko: I’m sorry. I’m short of money now.
Hanako: (Jā kondo no okyūryōbi ni ikō ka?)
Hanako: OK. How about we go on your next payday?
Tomoko: (So shiyō.)
Tomoko: Yes, let’s do that.
温かい (Atatakai) VS ぬるい (Nurui)
ぬるい (nurui) also means warm, so how does it differ from 温かい (atatakai)?
The nuance of ぬるい (nurui) can have a negative meaning.
温かい describes something that is not too hot and not too cold. It’s just the right temperature. However, ぬるい (nurui) is used to describe things that are not hot enough and also not cold enough. It’s not the ideal temperature you want.
What makes this especially confusing is that the kanji for ぬるい (nurui) is 温い (nurui). It shares the same kanji as 温かい (atatakai), just without the “か.” However, ぬるい is often written in hiragana.
Let’s see the difference in nuance in the examples below.
(Kono ocha wa atatakai desu ne.)
This tea is warm. (It’s the right temperature, so it’s tasty).
(Kono ocha wa nurui desu ne.)
This tea is not hot enough (or not cold enough, so it doesn’t taste good.)
Important: Saying ぬるい to describe something someone prepared for you is very direct and can be rude.
(Ofuro no oyu ga atatakai.)
The water in the bathtub is warm (it’s just right, so it is comfortable.)
(Ofuro no oyu ga nurui.)
The water in the bathtub is not hot enough (so it’s not pleasant.)