As I spend more time in Japan, I pick up habits that I'm not sure are good or bad. My question here is about nuance / occasion of usage.

In formal contexts, how does the impression differ between these two locutions:



I get that ~くない is the standard taught to 初級 students of Japanese and that くはない is something that appears later.

I'll throw in my guess: for me, 悪くはない sounds like making a judgment more so than 悪くない, but I'm not at all sure if that's right or if there's anything else it throws in. I also tend to add です for politeness at the end when using 辞書形 constructions in polite contexts so as written above both get the です thrown after.

In other words, I'm asking what sort of impression difference putting the は adds. Obviously you can say 悪くはありません as well. But mainly, I'm trying to understand how the two expressions might differ in nuance.

  • I've had two interviews at universities in the last week... wondering if I've switched from the school book form to something that turns out to be more rude or have different connotations. (One interview: highly unfriendly; one friendly).
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 14:25
  • 2
    This precise question is explained in depth in the late Ohno Susumu's 1999 best seller 日本語練習帳 (ISBN 4-00-430596-9), pages 72-75. Though the full topic is pages 46-88.
    – Dono
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 14:59
  • 4
    @Dono: can you summarize it in an answer? Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 15:50
  • I learned 悪くはない as "not necessarily bad" Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 0:18

2 Answers 2


I would have no choice but to say that there is a difference. Little particles do have that kind of power and influence over much bigger words than themselves.

You would sound like you are a little more satisfied with your job if you said 「[今]{いま}の[仕事]{しごと}は[悪]{わる}くないです。」 than when you said 「今の仕事は悪くないです。」.

This is a prime example of the contrastive は. What and where is the contrast in the sentence 「今の仕事は悪くないです。」, then? It is left unsaid.

When a Japanese-speaker hears or reads a sentence like that using は, he will instinctively "know" that a few words were implied but not said. Those words would be something like 「でも、([特]{とく}に)[良]{よ}くないです。」. Particles 「は」 and 「も」 are often used in a pair like that.

「このピザはまずくないです。」 means the pizza is at least average in taste. It may well be a little better than average.

「このピザはまずくないです。」 means the pizza is average at best.



sounds to me like XX is okay or maybe good.


sounds to me like saying:

XXは悪くない。が、良くもない。(XX is not bad. But it's not good, either.)

  • すこしだけ開いている状態にしようですが、それは私にとて良くない。二つ目は今職場で、現在の仕事について「は」を入れたようにしました。単純の〜くないほうに言ったほうがいいと思います。
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 14:47
  • 詰まりこの場合にも「は」は対比に使われているんですね?
    – Sjiveru
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 19:07
  • 1
    @Sjiveru 非回答者 の 答えを参考してください。この「ハ」が対比するため、〜<はない が くない より 低い評価を持つ意味です。
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 0:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .