Japanese phrase: “warukatta” (わるかった・悪かった)

By | May 2, 2017

Over a year ago I’d made a post about the expression “yokatta” (よかった), and I thought I would follow that up with a post on the Japanese expression “warukatta” (“わるかった”, sometimes written in Kanji as “悪かった”). If you are relatively new to Japanese you may hear this word as “warukata“, but if you listen closely there is a small pause between the “ka” and the “ta”, which is why it is properly written in romaji as “warukatta“.

While “yokatta” has some nuance that is not obvious from its literal meaning, “warukatta” is a bit more straightforward to understand.

“warukatta” is the past tense of the adjective “warui” (わるい, 悪い) which means “bad”. So “warukatta” ‘s  basic meaning is “was bad”.

Let’s start with a simple sentence that uses this word. Like “yokatta”, there are many nouns that can work together with it, for example “seiseki” (“成績”) which means “grade(s)”, like a grade from a test at school. For example,

  • 僕は成績が悪かった  [boku ha seiseki ga warukatta]
  •  My grade was bad. (more naturally: “I got a bad grade”)

Once you understand this pattern you can apply it to many other words, for example “気持ち悪かった” (kimochi warukatta), which means “(I) wasn’t feeling good”. Note that in this example and the previous, the “ga” particle (which indicates a subject) can be omitted, especially in spoken language.

However, if that is really all there is to “warukatta”, then I am not sure if would have been worth writing a whole post about. I’ll go over some other common uses of this word.

The words “warui” and “warukatta” can be used to express someone was at fault regarding something (a little similar to the “~no sei” pattern):

  • ごめん、僕が悪かった。  [gomen, boku ga warukatta]
  • Sorry, it was my fault.

Not that it is critical to use the subject particle “ga” instad of the topic particle “ha” since the subject is being emphasized.

As an extension from this, these two words (warui/warukatta) can be used as a rough, informal apology, a little similar to the English expression “my bad”. You can use either word by itself if the context is clear enough for the listener to understand what you are apologizing about:

  • 悪かった  [warukatta]
  • Sorry about that.

If you wanted to add a nuance of friendliness you could tag on the particle “ne” (“warukatta ne”), or if you wanted to sound a little more aggressive you could use “yo” (“warukatta yo”). Adding “na” instead sounds a little masculine to me. Keep in mind, in all these cases the tone of voice is as important as the words you say.

If you want to state what you are sorry about, you can use the “te” form of a verb, followed by “warukatta”:

  • 邪魔して悪かった    [jama shite warukatta]
  • Sorry to disturb you.

It’s important to note that just like “my bad”, I don’t recommend using “warukatta” in this way with a superior or someone older than you in Japanese, unless you are on friendly terms. Personally, I stick to “gomen (nasai)” for less formal apologies or “moushiwake arimasen” for more formal situations. Also, don’t forget the useful “sumimasen” which can mean “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me”.

“warii”, sometimes written as “わりぃ” is another rough, slang way to pronounce “warui” when it is being used as an apology. I’ve heard this repeated as “わりぃわりぃ” (“sorry sorry”) before.

Another useful expression (again, somewhat informal) is “warui kedo” which can be used to preface some other statement in the sense of “I’m sorry, but…”

  • わるいけど、僕はもう帰る。 [warui kedo, boku ha mou kaeru]
  • Sorry but I’m going home now.

You can use “sumimasen ga” for a similar expression with a little more formal tone.

  • すみませんが、私はもう帰ります。 [sumimasen ga, watashi ha mou kaerimasu]

Everything about this statement is more formal/polite: “sumimasen”, “ga”, “watashi” and the ~masu verb form. In case you are not familiar with this usage of “ga”, it is not being used as the subject-marking particle, but rather as something like “but”, similar to “kedo” used above.

Anyway, back to the discussion about “warui” and “warukatta”. It’s also good to know that these words usually not used to describe something that is “bad” morally. For that, you would typically want to use “dame”, “ikenai” or “naranai” (or the polite forms of these). In particular, these three words are commonly used together with “~te ha” to describe something as improper. For example,

  • ドアを開けてはだめ  [doa wo akete ha dame]
  • You shouldn’t open the door.  (more literal but less natural: “It isn’t good to open the door”)

Note that in practice, “~te ha” is often abbreviated as “~cha” (ex: “開けちゃだめ”)

While I think your meaning would get across if you said “doa wo akete ha warui”, it wouldn’t be natural Japanese, at least in many situations.

On a final note, those familiar with the “~te yokatta” form that means the speaker is happy with something that happened (“ukatte yokatta” = “I’m glad (I) passed”) may be tempted to use “~te warukatta” to express regret or being unhappy about something. While this may convey your point, it’s somewhat unnatural. Instead, I recommend the “~nakereba yokatta” form:

  • 行かなければよかった  [ikanakereba yokatta]
  • (I) wish (I) wouldn’t have gone.    (There is no subject here so the default is to assume “I”, unless context dictates otherwise)..

In this example, the Japanese phrase literally means something like “If (I) didn’t go, it would have been good”.



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2 thoughts on “Japanese phrase: “warukatta” (わるかった・悪かった)

  1. Pía

    Hi there, thanks for your post! Still, I wanted to ask you a question about this.
    Let’s pretend I would have to say sorry to a friend.
    Since we’re very close, I’d use an informal way of speaking.
    But if I used “warukatta” instead of “gomen”, would “warukatta” sound rougher? As if I would not mean it? And what about gomen? Both are informal ways of saying sorry but would the second one sound softer, maybe childlike?
    Since I’m new to Japanese, I wanted to know your take on this.
    Thank you!

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Hello, thanks for the question!

      Yes, I feel “warukatta” sounds a bit rougher and “gomen” sounds a bit more neutral (“gomen ne” sounds a bit more girly/childish).

      Also, it’s good to keep in mind the literal meaning of these. “Warukatta” is “(I/it) was bad” and “gomen” comes from “gomen nasai” that is actually a command that means “forgive” or “permit”.

      Having said that, I think the most important thing is the tone you use and your facial expression, and the relationship of you to the other person. You can think a little of “warukatta” as “sorry dude”, which can sound rude when said to a teacher, or sound very heartfelt if to said to a friend with a serious voice and face.

      But if you are not sure, I would recommend “gomen nasai” that is good for most everyday situations.

      Hope that helps.


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