How to Say Good in Japanese Naturally: いい (ii) Vs. 良い (Yoi)

There are many ways to say “good” in Japanese, but the most straightforward words are いい (ii) and 良い (yoi). 

While いい and よい mean the same thing, which word you use will depend on the situation. Also, the meaning can change depending on the context. Let’s see how to use both of these words naturally in Japanese.  

1. いい (ii) / 良い (Yoi): Good, Nice

While いい (ii) and 良い (yoi) have the same meaning, there is a big difference in how they are used:

いい (ii): Used for spoken Japanese. It is more casual and very commonly used in everyday conversations and writing. Adding です (desu) makes it polite.  

良い (yoi): Rarely used in everyday conversations. Almost always used in writing. It is a polite and formal word. Using it in a conversation would feel stiff and unnaturally formal (of course, some people would say this on purpose to make it sound that way).  

Examples Using いい (ii) and 良い (Yoi):

1. 今日は天気がいいね。(Casual version – Spoken Japanese)
(Kyō wa tenki ga ii ne.)  
The weather’s nice today, right?  

今日は天気が良いですね。(Formal version- Written Japanese)
(Kyō wa tenki ga yoi desu ne.)
Today, the weather is nice, isn’t it?

2. 彼は頭がいい。(Casual version – Spoken Japanese)
(Kare wa atama ga ii.)
He’s smart. (Lit. He has a good head on his shoulders)

彼は頭が良いです。(Polite – Written Japanese)
(Kare wa atama ga yoi desu.)
He is intelligent.  (Lit. He has a good head on his shoulders)

 3. それはいい考えだね。 (Casual version – Spoken Japanese)
(Sore wa ii kangae da ne.)
That’s a good idea.

それは良い考えですね。(Polite version – Written Japanese)
(Sore wa yoi kangae desu ne.)
That is a good idea.

いい (ii) and 良い (yoi) are very useful words because they can be paired with many other words to form different expressions.


  • センス (sensu): sense, taste + いい/良い = センスがいい/良い: To have good taste in (music, food, movies, etc.)  
  • 腕 (ude): arm + いい/良い = 腕がいい/ 良い: To be skilled at something
  • 匂い (nioi): smell + いい/良い = いい匂い: A pleasant/good smell

2. 良かった (Yokatta): I’m Glad, I’m Relieved

良かった (yokatta) is the past tense of 良い (yoi) and いい (ii).

The polite form of 良かった is 良かったです (yokatta desu).  

Yokatta can be written in both kanji (良かった) or hiragana (よかった).

There are three major ways 良かった is used in natural conversations:

  1. To express that something was good (example 1 below)
  2. To express a feeling of being glad or to tell someone they did a good job (example 2 below) 
  3. To express a feeling of relief (example 3 below)


1. 先週あのレストランに行ったんだけど、めっちゃよかった
(Senshū ano resutoran ni ittan dakedo, meccha yokatta.
I went to that restaurant last week, and it was super good.  

2. 花子: 日本語の試験に合格したよ! 
Hanako: (Nihongo no shiken ni gōkaku shita yo!)
Hanako: I passed the Japanese exam!

道子: 良かった!
Michiko: (Yokatta!)
Michiko: I’m glad to hear that!

3. Michiko overslept. She ran to the station and just made it in time to catch her train. She might say:

(Maniatte yokatta!)
I’m glad I made it in time! (I’m so relieved)

3. してもいい (Shite Mo Ii) + いい (ii) / 良い (Yoi): Is It Okay? / It’s Okay.

This is a very useful pattern to know in Japanese. When you want to ask for permission to do something, you use the te-form of a verb + the も (mo) particle, which is then followed by either いい or よい.  

〜して(も) + いい/よい + (ですか)= Is it okay to~?

Example: Statement Using してもいい

(Sore wa tabete mo ii yo.)
It’s okay to eat that.

Example: Question Using してもいいですか

(Kore wa tabete mo ii desu ka?)  
Is it okay to eat this?

How to Answer してもいいですか Questions

To answer this type of question, you could either say:

  • (Yes) it’s okay: いいですよ。(Ii desu yo.) to be polite or いいよ。(Ii yo.) to sound more casual
  • (No) it’s not okay:  *すみません、それはちょっと。。。 (Sumimasen, sore wa chotto…): I’m sorry, but you can’t…

*Note:  This is just one way to tell someone they can’t do something. Another natural response would be to provide a reason why they can’t do something. For example:  

(Sumimasen, sore wa rūmumeito no mono nan de (tabenaide kudasai).) 
Sorry, but that’s my roommate’s food (so please don’t eat it).  

Casual and Polite Versions of ~してもいい (Shite Mo Ii)

If you would like to sound more casual (with friends or co-workers you know well), you can drop the particle も (mo) and the ですか (desu ka) at the end. In the casual version, you would always use いい instead of 良い (yoi). The ending should be said with a rising intonation to indicate that you are asking a question.

The casual form would look like this:



(Tabete ii?)
Can I eat (this)?

Let’s look at some example sentences to see how this pattern is used in natural conversations:

Example Sentences:  

1. 隆史: これから遊びに行ってもいいですか? (Polite Version)
Takashi: (Korekara asobi ni itte mo ii desu ka?)
Takashi:  Is it okay for me to come over to hang out now?

健: 良いですよ。(Polite Answer – Most likely written Japanese)
Ken: (Yoi desu yo.)
Ken: Yes, you may.  

1a. 隆史: これから遊びに行っていい? (Casual Version)
Takashi: (Korekara asobi ni itte ii?)
Takashi:  Can I come over and hang out now?

健: いいよ。(Casual Answer – Natural, Spoken Japanese)
Ken: (Ii yo.)
Ken: Sure.

2. 隆史: ここに座ってもいいですか? (Polite Version)
Takashi: (Koko ni suwatte mo ii desu ka?)
Takashi:  Is it okay for me to sit here?

健: いいですよ。(Polite Answer – Spoken Japanese)
Ken: (Ii desu yo.)
Ken: Yes, you can.

2a. 隆史: こに座っていい? (Casual Version)
Takashi: (Koko ni suwatte ii?)
Takashi:  Can I sit here?

健: いいよ。 (Casual Answer – Natural, Spoken Japanese)
Ken: (Ii yo.)
Ken: Sure.  

3. いい (ii) / 良い (Yoi): Sounds Good

If you want to enthusiastically agree with someone, like the English phrase “Sounds good!” you can say “いいね!(ii ne!)” in Japanese.

When the particle “ね (ne)” is added to the end of a sentence, it gives a nuance of seeking agreement, like the expression “isn’t it?” or “right?” in English.

いいね is a colloquial expression. If you want to be more polite, you can say いいですね (ii desu ne.)


1. 道子: 放課後、遊びに行かない?
Michiko: (Hōkago asobi ni ikanai?)
Michiko: Why don’t we go out after school?

花子: いいね!
Hanako: (Ii ne!)
Hanako: Sounds good!

2. 嘉代子: 週末は海に行かない?
Kayoko: (Shūmatsu wa umi ni ikanai?)
Kayoko: Why don’t we go to the beach on the weekend?

道子: いいね!
Michiko: (Ii ne!)
Michiko: Sounds good!

3. 健史: 仕事の後、一緒に飲みに行きませんか?
Takeshi: (Shigoto no ato issho ni nomi ni ikimasen ka?)
Takeshi: Would you like to go for a drink?

智子: いいですね。(Polite Version)
Tomoko: (Ii desu ne.)
Tomoko: That sounds great.

いいね (ii ne) is also used to compliment someone or something.

4. 道子: このスカートどう?
Michiko: (Kono sukāto dō ?)
Michiko: What do you think of this skirt?

花子: いいね!
Hanako: (Ii ne!)
Hanako: It looks good!

5. その髪型いいね
(Sono kamigata ii ne!)
Your hair is nice

4. Negative Form of いい (ii) and 良い (Yoi): It’s Not Good

Now let’s see how to say “not good” in Japanese.

The negative form of いい and 良い is 良くない (yokunai). 

If you follow the standard conjugation rules for adjectives**, you would think that the negative form of いい would be いくない (ikunai). However, this would be incorrect. いい is an exception to the rule. The negative form for both いい and 良い is よくない (yokunai). This negative form is often written in either hiragana or kanji.  

This also applies to the negative past tense form, 良くなかった (yokunakatta), which means “it wasn’t good.” いくなかった (ikunakatta) = wrong

いい (Ii) / 良い (Yoi): Conjugation

Present Tense Past TenseNegative FormPast Negative Form
いい (ii) /良い (yoi) よかった (yokatta)よくない (yokunai)よくなかった (yokunakatta)


**Note:  To make an i-adjective negative, you replace the ending い (i) with くない (kunai).


1. タバコは体に良くない
(Tabako wa karada ni yokunai.)
Smoking is not good for health.

2. 今学期の成績は良くない。(Present tense)
(Kongakki no seiseki wa yokunai.)
My grades this semester is not good.

2a. 去年の成績は良くなかった。(Past tense)
(Kyonen no seiseki wa yokunakatta.)
Last year, my grades were not good.

3. 顔色が良くない。(Present tense)
(Kaoiro ga yokunai.)
You don’t look well. (You look pale.)

3a. 顔色が良くなかった。(Past tense)
(Kaoiro ga yokunakatta.)
You didn’t look well. (You looked pale.)

5. 上手 (Jōzu): Good At, Skilled

上手 (jōzu) means to be “good at something.” It is also used to complement someone’s skills. In English, it is translated into “You’re good.”  

If you want to be polite, you can say 上手です (jōzu desu).


1. 健は歌が上手です。(Polite Version)
(Ken wa uta ga jōzu desu.)
Ken is good at singing.

1a. 健は歌が上手だ。(Casual Version)
(Ken wa uta ga jōzu da.)
Ken is good at singing.

2. 道子は絵を描くのが上手です。(Polite Version)
(Michiko wa e o kaku no ga jōzu desu.)
Michiko is good at drawing pictures.

2a. 道子は絵を描くのが上手だ。(Casual Version)
(Michiko wa e o kaku no ga jōzu da.)
Michiko is good at drawing.  

When talking about someone having poor skills or abilities, Japanese people usually don’t use 良くない. Instead, we use the word 下手 (heta).


1. 彼は字が下手だ。
(Kare wa ji ga heta da.)
His handwriting is not good.

2. 道子は料理が下手だ。
(Michiko wa ryōri ga heta da.)
Michiko is not good at cooking.

Negative Form of 上手 (Jōzu) 

There are two ways to make 上手 (jōzu) negative to mean “not good” or “not skilled.” 

  • 上手ではない (jōzu dewa nai): Formal/Polite Version
  • 上手じゃない (jōzu janai): Casual Version

You may notice that saying 上手ではない would have the same meaning as 下手 (heta). They both would mean “not good/skilled.” So which one is better?  

If you’re talking about a person, using 下手 would sound too direct and harsh. It would be like telling someone, “you suck.” Saying either 上手ではない (jōzu dewa nai) or 上手じゃない (jōzu janai) makes it sound less direct, so you should use these expressions. However, telling someone that they are bad at something is hard to say 

If you are talking about yourself, using either下手 or上手ではない/上手じゃない would be okay.


1. 彼は字が上手ではない/上手じゃない
(Kare wa ji ga jōzu dewa nai / jōzu janai.)
His handwriting is not good.

2. 道子は料理が上手ではない/上手じゃない
(Michiko wa ryōri ga jōzu dewa nai / jōzu janai.)
Michiko is not good at cooking.

6. 上手い (Umai): Good At, Skilled

上手い (umai) has the same meaning as上手 (jōzu) and can be used interchangeably. 上手い (umai) is used more often in casual conversations because it is more casual than 上手 (jōzu). Since 上手い (umai) is an informal expression, you shouldn’t use it with people who have a higher social status than you. 


1. 健は歌が上手だ/上手い
(Ken wa uta ga jōzu da / umai.)
Ken is good at singing.

2. 道子は絵を描くのが上手だ/上手い
(Michiko wa e o kaku no ga jōzu da / umai.)
Michiko is good at drawing pictures.

7. グッド: Good

The English word “good” has become commonly used in Japanese.  

I’m sure all of you know that “like button” on Facebook and Youtube. In Japanese, we call that button “グッドボタン (guddo botan).

You can hear some Japanese YouTubers say:

(Kono dōga ga ii to omottara guddo botan o oshite ne!)
If you like this video, smash that like button!

You could also say:

(Kono dōga ga ii to omottara ii ne o oshite ne!)
If you like this video, give it a thumbs up.

8. 善い (Yoi): Good, Morally Desirable

There are many ways to write “よい” in kanji. The pronunciation of 良い、善い、好い are all “yoi,” but their meanings are all different.  

  • 良い (yoi) means “good” or can refer to someone who is skilled. It can also describe something superior.
  • 善い (yoi) is used to describe someone morally upright and respectable as a person. 
  • 好い (yoi) means “preferable” or “desirable,” just like 良い. However, most people use 良い instead of 好い because 好い is not a jōyō kanji.***

***Note: 常用漢字 (jōyō kanji) is the list of commonly used kanji characters officially announced by the Japanese Ministry of Education.  


1. 彼は善い人だ。
(Kare wa yoi hito da.)
He is a good person. (He has good morals.)

2. 彼女の運が良いのは毎日善い行いをしているからだと思う。
(Kanojo no un ga yoi no wa mainichi yoi okonai o shiteiru kara da to omou.)
She has good luck because she practices good habits every day.4

3. 彼女は気立てが好い
(Kanojo wa kidate ga yoi.)
She’s good-natured.

Another Meaning of いいです (ii Desu)

We just learned that いい (ii) and 良い (yoi) mean things like good and nice. However, the expression いいです (ii desu) can have another meaning besides “good.”

This usage is very natural and is very frequently used in everyday Japanese. いいです can also be used to refuse things, similar to the phrases “no thank you” or “that’s okay” in English.  

Let’s jump straight into some example conversations.


1. 店員: いつもは1万円の商品が、今日だけは特別価格で1つ5千円になっているんですよ。いかがですか?
Ten-in: (Itsumo wa ichi-man en no shōhin ga kyō dake wa tokubetsu kakaku de hitotsu go-sen en ni natteirun desu yo. Ikaga desu ka?)
Employee: Usually, we sell this product for 10,000 yen, but today only, there’s a special price of 5,000 yen each. Would you like to buy one?

京子: いいえ、いいです
Kyōko : (Iie, ii desu.)
Kyoko: No, thank you.

In this case, いいです doesn’t mean “It’s good.” It means “No, thank you.”

2. 健: 新しく開店したお店がどんなのかみんなで見に行かない? 
Ken: (Atarashiku kaiten shita omise ga donna no ka minna de mi ni ikanai?)
Ken: Why don’t we all check out the shop that just opened together? 

道子: 私はいいや。
Michiko: (Watashi wa ii ya).  
Michiko:  I’m good. (That’s okay, I’m not going).

In this case, the word いい is used to decline an offer or request.

Using いい in this way (without the です) is very casual, so you should only use it with people who you know well and are close to (family, friends, etc.).  

Adding “desu” to form “いいです” makes this expression more polite. いいです is commonly used to refuse things in everyday life in Japan. For example, when you go to the cashier to pay for something at a convenience store, the cashier may ask if you need a receipt. You can tell them いいです to say that you don’t need one. Or sometimes, people may approach you to try their product or ask you to come to their store or restaurant. You can tell them いいです to say that you are not interested.  

This double meaning of いい can be confusing. Sometimes even Japanese people are not sure if いい means “that’s good” or “No, thanks.” In this case, they will probably ask another question to confirm its meaning.  

Another Useful Expression Using いい (ii) And 良い (Yoi)

  • Polite Version: どちらでもいい / 良いです。(Dochira demo ii / yoi desu.)
  • Casual Version: どっちでもいいです。(Docchi demo ii desu.)  

These casual phrases mean “Either one is fine” or “Anyone is okay” in Japanese. It is used when you have to choose between two things and don’t have a preference. This situation actually happens quite often in Japanese (or in any language, as I would imagine).  

In casual conversations, Japanese speakers often use どっちでもいいです(docchi demo ii desu) or どっちでもいい (docchi demo ii).

どっち is short for どちら (dochira), which means “which one (out of two choices)” どちら can also mean “where.” Using どちら instead of どっち makes the expression more polite and elegant (どちらでもいい/良いです).  

If you have more than two choices, you use the word どれ (dore). どれ also means “which,” but is for times when you have more than two options.  

Both of these expressions are still relatively informal, so it is better to use them with people you know well. 


1. 花子:お茶とコーヒーどっちがいい?
Hanako: (Ocha to kōhī docchi ga ii?)
Hanako: Which do you prefer? Tea or coffee?

道子: どっちでもいいよ。
Michiko: (Docchi demo ii yo.)
Michiko: Either one is fine. 

2. 嘉代子: 黒いセーターと赤いセーター、どちらがいいと思いますか?
Kayoko: (Kuroi sētā to akai sētā dochira ga ii to omoimasu ka?)
Kayoko: Which do you think is better? Black sweater or a red sweater?

健史: どちらでもいいですよ。
Takeshi: (Dochira demo ii desu yo.)
Takeshi: Either one is good.

3. 道子: ペン貸してもらえる?
Michiko: (Pen kashite moraeru?)
Michiko: Can I borrow your pen?

貴子: どのペンがいい?
Takako: (Dono pen ga ii?)
Takako: Which pen do you want? 

道子: どれでもいいよ。(Michiko has more than 2 choices.)
Michiko: (Dore demo ii yo.)
Michiko: Any pen would be fine.  

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Yumi Nakata

Yumi is a native speaker of Japanese. She is living in Kanagawa, Japan, raising her three kids. She studied English as an exchange student in Washington state for a year. The days she spent with her American friends are some of the greatest memories of her life.

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