The meaning of eto (ええと) in Japanese and how to use it

This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the Japanese word eto, including its Japanese definition and translation, example sentences, related expressions and more!

What does eto mean?

Eto (ええと) is a filler word in Japanese that means something like “erm” or “hmm“. It gives the speaker some time to think about what they will say next. Along with its equivalents sono and ano, eto is a word (if it really counts as one) that you will hear all the time in Japan.

Japanese people also use eto to soften what they are about to say or to simply let the other person know they are going to say something.

Eto: Erm, let me see…

As a classic filler word, eto buys the speaker some time while they think or try to remember something. Below, let’s take a look at some example sentences.

To make it easier for you, I have written each sentence in full Japanese kanji on the first line, followed by roman letters (romaji), and hiragana, with the English meaning coming last.

Kanojo no namae wa, eto, yuriko dakke?
Her name is, erm, Yuriko was it?

Eeto. Jyaa, mazu wa kafue ni ikou ka?
Erm. Shall we go to cafe first then?

In more polite situations, you simply add desu ne on the end of eto.

Eto desu ne. Kono bukken wa ikaga deshou ka?
Let me see. How about this property?

Eto: Also serves as a softener

Eto is a filler word in Japanese that means  "erm" or "hmm".

Eto can also be used as a softener (but not for your laundry).

For example, if you are at a train station and want to ask the staff something you can use eto after a quick sumimasen (excuse me). This helps to get their attention and lets them know you are about to say something.

Using eto in this way is by no means a must, but it can facilitate smoother conversations. I also suspect that Japanese staff (usually bracing themselves for English) will also feel some relief when they hear a familiar eto from a foreign face!

Sumimasen. Eto, shinjuku yuki wa nani bansen desu ka?
Excuse me. Erm, which platform is it for Shinjuku?