Japanese phrase: “yokatta” (よかった)

By | October 21, 2015

Oftentimes, words and phrases break out of the boxes that define their literal meanings and become something more.

“Yokatta” (よかった) is the past test of the word “ii”, which means “good”, and therefore “yokatta” means “was good”. Since subjects are often omitted in Japanese this phrase can mean “it was good” or can refer to some other implied subject including a person. Here is an example where the topic is specified so there is no ambiguity.

  • 今日の天気はよかった。 (kyou no tenki ha yokatta)
  • Today’s weather was good.

As I alluded to in the first paragraph, this phrase is actually used for more than the basic “was good” meaning. In fact, it is used to express being happy or glad about something, particularly after you hear good news. Here is a simple example:

  • Person 1: テスト受かったよ!  (tesuto ukatta yo!)
  • Person 1: I passed the test!
  • Person 2: よかった!  (yokatta!)
  • Person 2: Thats great!

Notice that in English we use the present tense for this type of sentiment, and saying “That was great!” here would be awkward. You could also translate the second line above as “I’m glad to hear that”.

If you want to put extra feeling into this phrase, you can extend the last vowel so it dwindles out slowly, which could be written in Japanese as よかった〜.

You can add “ne” after “yokatta” if you want to add a mild sense of asking for confirmation from the other party, whereas with just “yokatta” it is as if you are simply stating your feelings. But be careful, because “yokattta ne” can also be used in a sarcastic sense, depending on the tone employed.

“yokatta” is also used frequently after a verb in the potential form to express the speaker was glad something was accomplished.

  • 流星がみれてよかった (nagareboshi ga mirete yokatta)
  • I’m glad we were able to see a shooting star.

Another use of yokatta is after the ~eba (conditional) form, where it can be used to express regret about something which did not occur. The particles “no ni” can be optionally added after “yokatta”.

  • 連絡してくれればよかったのに。
  • I wish you would have contacted me. (Or: “It’s too bad you didn’t contact me”)

Here, even though subject and object of the verb “renraku” (“to contact”) is omitted, since the “kureru” form is used it is pretty clear that the implication is the listener doing a favor for the speaker.

There are many other phrases which normally have “ii” in them and can be changed to past tense by converting “ii” to “yokatta”. For example the phrase “dou demo ii” (どうでもいい), which expresses a lack of interest, can be put in the past tense as:

  • 車の色はどうでもよかった
  • I didn’t care anything about the car’s color.

 

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2 thoughts on “Japanese phrase: “yokatta” (よかった)

  1. Nick Hoyt

    Yeah, I’ve noticed that a lot of Japanese words that are kind of like よかった (yokatta) where they have a literal meaning that most students learn and then a more common use meaning that you just have to kind of pick up.

    I was first taught that よかった (yokatta) means “was good” and that’s how I used it most of the time, but then when I’d watch a lot of anime in Japanese, the characters would say it and it usually got translated to something like “thank goodness!”

    When it comes to reading yokatta, do you see it written more often in katakana (よかった) or Kanji (良かった)?

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      I see both writing styles, maybe よかった a bit more, and 良かった can have a slightly literary feel (to me at least).

      While I agree “Thank Goodness” can be similar, depending on who says it (and with that tone) it can be very different. For example, I don’t think young guys use “Thank Goodness” in modern times much. “That’s great!” might be better.

      But that’s more of a question of translation of anything.

      Reply

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