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?

2 Answers 2


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.

  • 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.
    – user458
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 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. Commented Jul 29, 2011 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。
    – user458
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 13:36
  • 1
    @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. Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 13:44
  • You become comparably more happy than before, but happy.
    – user458
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 13:47

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 dictionary on Japanese grammar pg 530}

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

  • 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. Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 15:33

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