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What is the differences in nuances between とうとう and やっと?

is it true that やっと has a more "happy" feeling attached to it?

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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

やっと means that something realizes after spending/waiting a long time for it or making a lot of effort for it. Therefore it is understandable that やっと has a happy feeling attached to it. If I understand English correctly, “at last” has a similar meaning.

とうとう means that something happens as a final outcome, and what happens can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

For example, suppose that some company has been financially in a trouble for a while. Today you heard that the company went bankrupt.

あの会社、とうとう倒産したそうだよ。 (あのかいしゃ、とうとうとうさんしたそうだよ。) I heard the company finally went bankrupt.

is a usual sentence. If you say

あの会社、やっと倒産したそうだよ。 (あのかいしゃ、やっととうさんしたそうだよ。) I heard the company went bankrupt at last.

that means that you were waiting for the bankruptcy of the company.

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You are accurate in mentioning that the effort is not a necessity. But it does not necessarily have to end up with happyness. It is just that there was expectation. –  sawa Jul 29 '11 at 13:25
    
@sawa: I first thought so, too, but I find it difficult to imagine a situation where a speaker uses やっと and does not feel happy about what happened. I think that using やっと implies that the speaker considers the event as some kind of accomplishment, and that is why it is difficult to imagine using やっと without feeling happy. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 29 '11 at 13:28
    
やっと校長の話が終わった。でも、まだこれから教頭の挨拶があるんだ。 –  sawa Jul 29 '11 at 13:36
    
@sawa: In that case, the speaker feels happy about the fact that 校長の話が終わった, although he/she is not entirely happy because of another factor. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 29 '11 at 13:44
    
You become comparably more happy than before, but happy. –  sawa Jul 29 '11 at 13:47
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Toto is crucially different from yatto in that the former often indicates a negative situation that came about spontaneously, but the latter indicates a positive situation that has been realized with the greatest efforts. {From intermediate dictonary on japanese grammer pg 530}

so it seems you are right that yatto is for happier occasions.

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I do not think that とうとう indicates a negative situation. On the other hand, やっと is used for an anticipated event, and therefore I think that it is correct to say that やっと indicates a positive situation. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 29 '11 at 15:33
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