Magnifying Glass

What Exactly Does “Yori” Mean?

It’s kind of sad to admit, actually. All these years studying, and I still find myself asking, What exactly does” yori” mean in Japanese? Just about every time it’s in a long sentence or paragraph, I find myself re-reading the context in which it appears, always insecure if I actually know it’s purpose for being there.

Jisho.org seems to think it means:

1: from; out of; since; at;
2: than;
3: other than; except; but;
4: more

Maybe those four definitions should be a hint as to why this word is so hard for me to master.

[As with all posts, if you can't read some of the characters, check out rikaichan.]

How to remember the meaning of より

#1: yori is both a particle and and adverb

より as a Particle

This is typically the first usage of より that people learn. The general translation tends to be “than.”

Example sentences:

ピザはパスタよりおいしい。
Pizza tastes better than pasta.

電車で行くより仕方がない。
There is no other way than to go by bus.

And, finally, the example structure that infected my beginner-level brain way back when I first heard about yori:

ビールの方が水より高い。
Beer is more expensive than water.

I didn’t realize it until recently, but the way I learned it in school, I was led to believe that, in this type of sentence, より was pointing out that water is less than, while の方が was pointing out that beer is more than. How foolish I was…

#2: yori never means “less than”

I’m sure some language genius can think of an example that makes me look like a fool for saying this, but I always tell myself that より never ever ever means “less than.”

彼の日本語は僕の日本語より上手だ。
His Japanese is better than mine. (lit. His Japanese is more skilled than mine.”

For the longest time, I would see a sentence like this, and in my head I would think:

彼の日本語の方が僕の日本語より上手だ。

But I didn’t realize that I was turning より into “less than” in my head by doing so. But really, in a sentence like this, より is just emphasizing の方が. It’s not really even necessary to have より in a sentence that used の方が, as it only adds emphasis.

The easiest thing for me is to always suspect that より is an adverb before I wonder if it’s being used as a particle, because…

#3: yori, as an adverb, always means “more [adj./adv. that comes after yori]“

Wow, that doesn’t make much sense.

より as an Adverb

より = “more ~ (than now; than something at present; than otherwise):

勉強すると、より面白い。
Studying makes it more interesting.

When used as an adverb, より always has an adjective or adverb following it, and it is signifying that something (in the beginning of the sentence) is more [adjective] or more [adverb].

~より高い = “more expensive”

~より簡単に = “more simply”

Why I sometimes pretend that より (particle) is より (adverb)

You might read a grammar book or article that has a sentence like:

カリフォルニアはテキサスより西にあります。
California is located west of Texas.

And that grammar book will probably tell you that, in this case, より is a particle meaning “in ~ of; inside; outside; before; after.”

…and I’m confused.

Instead, I just pretend that it’s an adverb, in which case the sentence would literally mean something like “California is located more west of Texas.” And I put two and two together to realize that the sentence means “California is located west of Texas.”

十二時より前に寝た方がいい。
You should go to bed before 12.
(lit. You should go to bed more prior to 12.)

Now, if I haven’t confused you enough with my backwards Japanese learning tactics, I have one last thing:

#4 ni yori is not the same as yori

If you see a より with a に in front of it ever, go ahead and assume it means none of the things talked about above.

Most likely, what you’re seeing is a written form of によって (ni yotte), which is a particle that could fill a whole other lesson (and probably will soon enough).

Outside Sources

If you’re still feeling pretty lost about all of this stuff, there are a lot of good places to brush up on your より skills:

As always, comments, questions, or just pointing out my mistakes are always appreciated!

Nikolai
Yo! I'm Niko, the founder of NihongoShark. I almost never update this site. Sorry! I'm am shamed. Uh, what else? Well... I live in Tokyo Bangkok, Thailand. So if anyone wants to meet up for a refreshing nama beer, I'm probably down for that. Learning Japanese is a betch. But we're in this together. ファイト!
  • http://www.facebook.com/harold.bradford Harold Bradford

    I cant write in Japanese on this computer!!!!

    Yori acutally has even more meanings

    Such as, yorimo. “sore yorimo are ga ii desu.”

    Or the “ultimate” meaning. “Kono shigoto ha watasi ni yori fusawashii to kangaeteorimasu.”

    The last one is my favorite, makes you sound like a badass :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/harold.bradford Harold Bradford

    P.S. I vote you do an expose on “katsu” which is aparently a way to say “and” that I was recently introduced to. Different from “~te” the words dont actually have to play into each other.
    Example, “shakaijin no jinsoku katsu ku-ru na kanagekata ha totemo miryokuteki da to omoimasu”
    Sorry no kanji! Strangely enough it actually makes things much harder to understand…. Almost an unfathomable change from when we were in tokyo desperately trying to sputter out pronounciations for even the simplest of kanji.