Useful Japanese Expression: learn how to express surprise with よく [intermediate]

By | January 3, 2014

This time I’d like to introduce an expression whose meaning I picked up after hearing it several times in conversations with native speakers.

As you probably know, いい means good as an adjective, and its adverbial form is よく (not いく). That may seem irregular, but if you remember that よい is another way to say いい it’s easy to remember.

よく is typically used to mean both “well” in addition to “often”/”frequently”. For example,

  • 最近、映画をよく見るようになった。
  • Lately (I’ve) started watching movies frequently.
  • よく噛んで食べなさい
  • Chew well when you eat.  (literally: “Chew well and eat.”)

However よく can also be used to express surprise at something happening, or not happening.

For example, if you receive a call from a friend who correctly guesses you are studying Japanese at this moment, you might respond with:

  • よくわかったね
  • I’m surprised you knew that. (literally: “You understood well”)

And then your friend, who knows you are studying Japanese 10 hours a day, says to you:

  • 日本語の勉強、よく飽きないね。
  • I’m surprised you never get tired of studying Japanese. (literally: “… Japanese study”)

For another example, imagine you find your friend is playing Candy Crush all day at work. You might say to her:

  • それじゃ、よく首にならないね。
  • I’m surprised you don’t get fired (doing that).

Questions to test your understanding:

1) Write “I’m surprised you don’t go to Japan” in Japanese.

2) Translate “試験、よく合格できたね” into English.


1) 頻繁に is another way to say “frequently” which is less ambiguous than よく, though its not as commonly used in speech. Another word that is more common is しょっちゅう.

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