Japanese useful phrase highlight: “yokattara” (よかったら)

By | May 28, 2019

While I can appreciate the value of vocabulary lists to get a quick sample of words in a specific area (and have made quite a few myself), there is also something to be said for focused posts on a single word, where spending time giving more explanation and examples can help better remember and understand that word.

This time I wanted to devote an article to the word “yokattara”, along with a few related words and phrases. “Yokattara” is often written in hiragana as よかったら and sometimes in kanji as 良かったら.

“Yokattara” is the conditional “ra” form of the verb “yoi” (which means “good” and has a less-formal counterpart “ii”). If you want to see more examples on the “ra” form (and two other common conditional forms) check out this post. But for now you can think of the “ra” form as simply meaning “if”.

Without context it’s tricky to translate “yokattara”, but the simplest way would be “if it is good”.

First, let’s look at a case where there is an explicit subject for “yokattara”.

  • 天気が良かったら海へ行きましょう (tenki ga yokattara umi e ikimashou)
  • If the weather is good, let’s go to the beach.

There are nearly a countless number of words that can be used as subjects for 良かったら, but here is one more:

  • 頭が良かったらわかるでしょう (atama ga yokattara wakaru deshou)
  • If you were smart you would understand.

Notice that there is no reference to any person explicitly in these two sentences, but from context we can tell “you” is the subject (though I mean “you” more in a general sense, like “somebody”)

Note that in both examples the particle before “yokattara” is “ga”. I like to think of the particle “ga” as binding the word before it tighter to word after ( “yokattara” in this case).

Perhaps a more difficult usage of 良かったら is when there is no subject, which is a set phrase that happens quite frequently in everyday Japanese. Let’s look at an example of this:

  • 良かったら、チェスしませんか? (yokattara, chesu shimasen ka?)
  • ???

For those of you who are seeing this expression for the first time you may be confused, especially if you think in terms of “if it is good…”. The reason is that the subject wouldn’t be referred to using the word “it” because it is a person––namely the listener (or reader) of the sentence.

While the word “anata” is not that commonly used in Japanese, we can think of this phrase as actually meaning:

  • あなたが良かったら、チェスしませんか? (anata ga yokattara, chesu shimasen ka?)

But the meaning of this is still a little cloudy. What does “if you are good…” really mean?

If you look at the context here, the speaker is making a request to do something (play chess). So if we put these things together, it should become clear that the “yokattara” actually means “If it’s OK with you” or “if you don’t mind”. There are many other ways to translate this, but the general idea is that it is asking if the listener feels something is acceptable. For this meaning, in nearly all cases the subject for “yokatta” can be omitted, and sounds most natural that way.

Using the negative polite form (as in the above example) is one way to use 良かったら. Another is “douzo”, a word frequently used to make an offer or suggestion to someone.

  • 良かったら、コーヒーどうぞ (yokattara, koohii douzo)
  • If you like, have some coffee.

Depending on the context (like if you are gesturing at the coffee), you could just say “yokattara, douzo”, or even just “yokattara…”. Remember things like topics, subjects, or even objects are often omitted in Japanese when they can be inferred by context.

While “yokattara” can be used with polite (desu/masu) language, the phrase “yoroshikereba” (宜しければ)is a more polite version of it that is more appropriate for business situations. Here is a page in Japanese that talks more about this latter word. Two other words with essentially the same meaning are “yokereba” and “yoroshikattara”, though I don’t hear those used quite as often.

Another pattern you see is when the particle “de” follows “yokattara” (or one of the other similar words I just mentioned). To understand this, it may help to remember that “te form” plus “ii” is often used to ask for permission, for example:

  • ここに座っていいですか? (koko ni suwatte ii desu ka?)
  • Can I sit here? (or “Do you mind if I set here?”)

Similarly, since “de” is effectively the “te” form of “da”, we can say something like this:

  • 僕でいいの? boku de ii no?
  • Are you OK with me? (used in the context of performing some action)

Now we can look at an example that uses “de yokattara”:

  • 僕で良かったらデートしませんか? (boku de yokattara deeto shimasen ka?)
  • If you are OK with me, shall we go on a date?

Note that the translation here is a bit unnatural, but I tried to make it overly literal to help explain the meaning of the phrase. The nuance here is the speaker is being extra humble, and you can instead use “konna boku” (literally, “this kind of me”) to increase this feeling.

It’s important to note that using “de” before “yokattara” has a very different meaning than using “ga”. When using “ga” the meaning is more like “if X is good” (ex: 天気が良かったら)or “if something is OK with X” (ex: あなたが良かったら, though あなたが is often omitted here), whereas with “de” the meaning is more along the lines of “if you are OK with X” (ex: 僕で良かったら)

A final phrase that is similar to “yokattara” and “yoroshikereba” is “sashitsukaenakereba” (差し支えなければ). This is a mouthful but basically means something like “if you don’t mind”, though I’ve heard it very rarely, and only in a somewhat formal context.

In all of the example sentences the word “moshi” can be used to emphasize the sense of “if”. If the conditional has no subject “moshi” can come immediately before it (ex: “moshi yokattara, douzo”), but if there is a subject “moshi” is generally put before it (ex: “moshi tenki ga yokattara…”).

Another word that is related to “yokattara” is “yokatta”, which is the past tense of “yoi”. This word also has some subtle nuances to it, check out this article for more info.

(Note: picture of a cup of coffee used for feature image was taken from Pexels.com)

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One thought on “Japanese useful phrase highlight: “yokattara” (よかったら)

  1. James Miles

    More dynamite. Love it!

    “I like to think of the particle “ga” as binding the word before it tighter to word after ( “yokattara” in this case)” – this was especially helpful to me <3

    Reply

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