Let’s have a look at the three common ways to say “I’m hungry” in Japanese:
- お腹が空いた。 (Onaka ga suita)
- 腹が減った。 (Hara ga hetta)
- お腹がぺこぺこ。 (Onaka ga peko peko)
We’ll also talk about the sound your stomach makes when you are hungry: お腹がぐーぐー鳴る。(Onaka ga guu guu naru)
1. お腹が空いた。(Onaka Ga Suita): Standard Way to Say “I’m Hungry”
This is the most common expression to say, “I’m hungry.” You could also say お腹が空いている。 (Onaka ga suiteiru). However, お腹が空いた is much more common.
Let’s breakdown this sentence:
お腹 (onaka) means “stomach,” and it is marked by particle ga, which means it’s the subject of our sentence. The subject, “onaka,” is followed by the intransitive verb 空く (suku), which means “to get empty, to become less crowded.” You can find suku also commonly written in hiragana (すく) when used in this expression.
If we want to emphasize the constant state of “is getting empty,” we can use 空いている (suiteiru), which is in the plain present continuous form.
If we want to emphasize that our stomach is already empty and we are ready to eat, we use 空いた (suita) in the plain past tense. You shouldn’t be overly concerned about which form to use in the conversation since the difference in meaning is so slight that even Japanese people will hardly notice.
Therefore we can easily literally translate both previous sentences as “my stomach is empty.” → “I am hungry.”
お腹がすきました。(Onaka Ga Sukimashita): The Polite Way to Say I’m Hungry
If you want to use this sentence in a more formal environment, you need to change the verb suku from the plain form to the masu form.
Here’s a quick review:
We change the く (ku) of すく to き (ki), and we had the suffix -masu (or mashita for the past tense).
- すく —> すき + ます = すきます (Masu Form)
- すく —> すき + ました = すきました (Past Tense Masu Form)
(Onaka ga sukimashita.)
I am hungry. (My stomach is empty, so I am hungry)
For the present continuous form, we take the te form, suite, and then add imasu.
(Onaka ga suiteimasu.)
I am hungry. (My stomach is in the state of being empty, so I’m hungry. For example, I just ate a snack, but I’m still hungry)
As mentioned above, saying “onaka ga suita” or “onaka ga sukimashita” is the most common way to tell someone that you’re hungry.
2. 腹が減った。(Hara Ga Hetta): The Casual Masculine Way to Say I’m Hungry
This is another common way to say “I’m hungry,” but it is a very casual and more masculine expression; it is rarely used by girls or in formal situations.
腹 (hara) means “belly,” and the intransitive verb 減る (heru) means “to decrease, to diminish,” so this set expression literally means “my stomach lost volume,” has become empty, therefore “I am hungry.”
3. お腹がぺこぺこ。(Onaka Ga Peko Peko): I’m Starving!
ぺこぺこ peko peko is an onomatopoeic word associated with the growling sound that the stomach makes when we’re hungry.
Onaka ga peko peko is a casual expression with a nuance closer to “I’m starving.”
4. お腹がぐーぐー鳴る。(Onaka Ga Guu Guu Naru)
This phrase doesn’t actually mean “I’m hungry” but it is the sound of your stomach when you’re hungry. ぐーぐー (guu guu) is the sound of your stomach growling.
(Onaka ga pekopeko de, sakki kara onaka ga guuguu natteru yo.)
I’m so hungry so my stomach has been making growling sound.
Ways To Emphasize How Hungry You Are
To say “I’m really hungry” or “I’m famished” you can also add 本当に (hontou ni) for formal situations and すごく (sugoku) for informal situations to the expressions introduced above:
(Hontou ni onaka ga suiteimasu)
I’m really hungry.
(Sugoku onaka ga suiteiru)
I’m so hungry! / I’m famished
On the contrary, if you want to say “I’m a little hungry” use ちょっと (chotto).
(Chotto onaka ga suiteiru)
I’m a little hungry.
Sounding More Casual
If you omit the particle ga, you’ll make these expressions sound more informal. They are very commonly said this way to express your own hunger.
(Onaka peko peko)
Saying Someone Else is Hungry
As you have probably noticed, when the speaker doesn’t specify other people’s names or doesn’t use personal pronouns, he/she is talking about himself/herself. If you want to say someone else is hungry, the subject of the English sentence will be marked by the topic marker は (wa) in Japanese, followed by one of the phrases we went through before.
(Jefu wa onaka ga suita)
Jeff is hungry.
(Kanojo wa onaka ga suiteiru)
(lit.) Her stomach is empty = She is hungry.