It's hard to see ugly.
  • みにくい.
    This is just wrong on so many levels.
    How can I make sure that the listener knows I am trying to say [it is] hard to see and not [it is] ugly?
    Any suggestions or insight into the Japanese way to structure thought and expression on this tricky adjective/verb issue?
  • Try みづらい instead.
  • In writing you'll want to use the kanji 見難い mi nikui for "hard to see" to distinguish it from it's counterpart 醜い "ugly". Another possibility is to use the verb 見える mieru instead, giving 見え難い mie nikui. You can also avoid nikui entirely by using a different adjective such as 辛い zurai, 見辛い mi zurai "difficult to see", or by simply using the verb 見える mieru with an adverb such as はっきり hakkiri, はっきり見えない hakkiri mienai.

    In speech there's not much you can do to distinguish the two meanings of みにくい, context alone should be sufficient, but if you're worried and especially if you're referring to someone or their belongings, then you should just opt for using a different construction entirely.
  • I would say ~がよく見えない or ~があまり見えない for "hard to see."

    Based on my experience, I believe 見る is the action of you looking at / watching / viewing something, and 見える describes the "visibility" of something.
    Given that, I would make the assumption that みにくい means it's physically or mentally difficult for YOU to focus your eyeballs onto someone or something. Thus, it's ugly or revolting.
    If something is simply difficult to keep looking at (like a flickering broken computer screen or something) みづらい as the above people pointed out, is probably better.
    In a classroom setting, I have heard Japanese schoolteachers use a form of 見える when referring to the visibility of the chalkboard (i.e. if the glare from the window is too bright and it's hard to see).
  • I totally agree with Paulusmaximus' comments.

    にくい, がたい, づらい usually have an emotional component that means something unbearable or unachievable.

    あんなに元気だった人が死んだとは, 信じがたい.
    この本は字が小さくて, 読みづらい. 困っています.

    If you just want to say something easy or difficult, using the potential form of verb, such as ~える, ~(ら)れる, or ~ことができる is better. For example, よく見えない.

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