What is the difference between 悪い and だめ?

They're not really the same, but in English they both can be translated to "bad".

あの人が悪い。In my limited experience, this is bad in the sense of evil.

あの人がだめだ。This sounds more like hopeless, untrustworthy or unsuccessful. Like someone who will never succeed in life. Like a deadbeat.

So, the question is can the above nuances be generalized to all uses of 悪い and だめ?

  • 6
    Hello and welcome to JLU. Please take a second to have a look at other questions and consider improving the formatting of your question a little. Among other things, it is generally recommended for the body of your post to contain a reminder of the question (not just the title). You may also mention what makes you think the two are identical and what research if any, you have made toward figuring out the difference.
    – Dave
    Apr 7, 2012 at 5:23
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    OK, is that better?
    – B Seven
    Apr 7, 2012 at 13:36
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    @BSeven. Much better. Thank you for improving the question. Now users will have a clear scope of what you are looking for.
    – Flaw
    Apr 7, 2012 at 13:42
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    あの人が悪い sounds to me like 'He is to blame' or 'It's his fault', rather than 'He is a bad/an evil guy'. I wouldn't say あの人が駄目だ but あの人'は'駄目だ.
    – user1016
    Apr 7, 2012 at 18:20
  • Just for reference, いけない and けしからん can have some overlap with 悪い/駄目 I think: dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/thsrs/15560/m0u. I went into いけない's meaning a bit at japanese.stackexchange.com/a/3817/796.
    – cypher
    Apr 8, 2012 at 7:23

2 Answers 2


I don't think that 駄目 and 悪い are very similar (at least as far as I know), so I've included いけない as I think there is some overlap between the three.

On the end of verbs:

  • 行っては駄目/行ってはいけない = "you must not go" (or sometimes translated as "it will be bad if you go")

  • (行っては悪い isn't used as far as I know.)

By themselves, plain present as an exclamation:

  • 駄目! = "no!"/"you must not do that!" (or sometimes "it will be bad if you do that!")

  • いけない! = "darn it!"

  • 悪い! = "sorry!"/"my bad!"/"it's my fault!" (thanks to Hyperworm in the comments)

By themselves, plain past:

  • 駄目だった = "it was in vain"

  • いけなかった/悪かった = "[I was wrong/it was bad for me] (to have done something)"

In describing a person, plain present:

  • 彼は駄目だ = "he is good-for-nothing/useless/incompetent/hopeless"

  • 彼はいけない = "he is naughty"

  • 彼は悪い人だ = "he is a bad person"

  • 彼が悪い = "it's his fault"

In describing a person, plain past:

  • 彼は駄目だった = "he was good-for-nothing/useless/incompetent/hopeless"

  • あの人は小説家としては駄目だった = "That guy was a failure as a novelist"

  • 彼がいけなかった/彼が悪かった = "[he was wrong/it was bad for him] (to have done something)"

In summary, 悪い can mean:

  • "bad/evil/horrible/unpleasant" as in 悪い人/悪い奴 "a bad/horrible/wicked person"
  • "poor/inferior/bad" as in 質の悪い "poor quality" or 頭が悪い "an inferior intellect"
  • "in bad shape" (health-wise) as in 体調が悪い/"bad" as in 体に悪い "bad for you"
  • "(someone's) fault"/"(someone being) to blame"/"(someone being) mistaken"

and 駄目 can mean:

  • "useless"/"unusable"
  • "it's no use" as in "whatever you do, it's not going to make a difference" 何をやっても駄目だ (similar to 無駄{むだ})
  • "in vain" as in 駄目だった "it was in vain"
  • "hopeless" as in もう駄目 "beyond hope" (similar to もういけない)
  • "something which must not be done" as in 駄目!/やっちゃ駄目だよ! etc

it all depends on the context.

Sources: Space ALC, the Yahoo J-E progressive dictionary, Daijisen.

Note: I hope this will be useful, but it's far from complete and may well contain errors.

  • 悪い! by itself would be "Sorry!" or perhaps "My bad!" (going back to the "fault" meaning again).
    – Hyperworm
    Apr 8, 2012 at 10:08

Certainly not. In the original meaning of だめ, it means the adjacent empty grids for the survival of a stone piece in the game of go.

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