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Is the なきゃ like referring to there not being something presently or something? Or is it more like [the hypothetical idea of not doing something][was good]...though even if it was that I don't think I understand.

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You haven't given us much to work with, but we can at least dig into what we have. :)

The sample text

  • なきゃよかった

This breaks down to four basic meaning components.

なきゃ

This is a contraction from なければ. The basic progression:

  • nakereba
  • nakerya
  • nakya

よかった

This is the past tense of よい, which is also basically the same thing as いい. (Modern ii is a sound shift from older-and-still-used yoi.)

The past tense of modern -i adjectives is in turn a contraction of the basic adverbial ~く form + あった, the past tense of old copula ("to be" verb) あり that turned into modern ある・あります.

So the core to understanding this なきゃよかった is understanding the implications of the ~ばいい construction.

The meaning of ~ばいい: the general case

The ~ばいい construction literally breaks down more or less like so:

  • ~ば: only if (what ever comes before), then...
  • いい: it's good

Put it together, and this means "it's only good if [VERB / ADJ]". Idiomatically, this is used similarly to English "should".

Examples:

  • あの本を読【よ】めばいい → "it's only good if [I, you, they, etc.] read that book" → "[I, you, they, etc.] should read that book"
  • 気温【きおん】が高【たか】ければいい → "it's only good if the temperature is high" → "it should be warm" (as in, it needs to be warm for some specific purpose, like for plants or for an activity)

The meaning of ~なきゃよかった: the specific case

So なきゃよかった → なければよかった → "it [was / would only have been] good if not [VERB / ADJ]" → "it shouldn't have been [VERB / ADJ]".

Depending on what comes after, this might have different nuances. For instance, adding a ~のに on the end brings in a sense of regret: "oh, if only it hadn't have been X..."

Examples:

  • 値段【ねだん】が高【たか】くなければよかったのに → "if only the price had not been (as / so) high" → implying that they wanted to buy it, but didn't because they considered the price to be too high
  • 眠【ねむ】くなければよかったのに → "if only I hadn't have been (so) sleepy" → implying that they wound up missing out on something

Please comment if the above does not fully address your question.

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  • 値段が安ければよかったのに doesn't have ない in it. Did you mean to say 高くなければ?
    – aguijonazo
    Apr 3, 2023 at 21:31
  • Did you mean やすければ for 安ければ ?
    – dvx2718
    Apr 3, 2023 at 23:19
  • @aguijonazo -- ha! Clearly I was getting tired as the day went along. I'll fix that. :) Apr 4, 2023 at 3:56
  • @dvx2718, yes indeed. But actually as aguijonazo points out, I should have used a different construction anyway. I'll fix it momentarily. :) Apr 4, 2023 at 3:56
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    Thank you so much! I think I understand it more fully now. Knowing that the potential/conditional specifically means/implies "only if ___" helps, I think.
    – leren
    Apr 13, 2023 at 17:26

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