Context: I like to translate song lyrics for fun and casual practice; two I've recently been listening to are 悪い人 by syudou and 悪人 by ive, and the similar titles got me wondering whether I should be translating the two terms differently.

I understand the differences in pronunciation and grammar— 悪{わる}い人{ひと} is an adjective modifying a noun, 悪人{あくにん} is a noun of its own. They both seem to have the same general meanings of "bad person", "villain", etc. What I'm curious about is, are they interchangeable, or is there any substantial difference in usage/nuance/connotation?

In English there's a big difference between calling someone a "bad person" (mundane, generalized, modifier of neutral "person") vs. a "villain" or "evildoer" (more dramatic / usually fictional, defines referent by their badness) ...

Do 悪{わる}い人{ひと} and 悪人{あくにん} have a similar distinction, anything that may make it more appropriate to pick one or the other based on context? Or is it just up to the writer's whim and syllable count?

  • 2
    I don't think the difference between "a bad person" and "a villain" is subtle at all. I may remark on how an acquaintance/coworker is a bad person, but I would never seriously say something like my friend is a villain unless they are Lord Voldemort reincarnate. And I'm curious why you think that wouldn't be the case here in Japanese too.
    – Eddie Kal
    Jun 30, 2022 at 1:22
  • @EddieKal You're absolutely right that "subtle" doesn't apply there. I think I just didn't proofread my post well enough; I'll edit it out. It's not that I don't think the Japanese equivalents of "bad person" and "villain" wouldn't have the same difference in nuance, though— my question is if the specific words 悪い人 and 悪人 have that relationship, or if there's some other word like 悪党 that contrasts against both, etc. Different languages don't always map exactly 1:1 in nuance, after all.
    – kieran
    Jun 30, 2022 at 17:44

1 Answer 1


悪人 tends to refer directly to true gangs, criminals, tyrants and such. It's almost synonymous with 悪党.

悪い人 has a broader sense, and it may also refer to a sly person, a useless person, a person with a significant fault, etc. Depending on the context, it is even used somewhat positively to praise a bold action.

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