Translation is an art, rather than a science, and in some cases there isn’t an exact duplicate of a word or phrase in other languages.
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This is especially true for Japanese and English, two languages with very different origins and two very different approaches to grammar and meaning.
As an example, let’s consider the English phrase “good job” and the Japanese phrase 「よく出来ました。」 (yoku dekimashita).
How do you say “good job” in Japanese?
The way to say “good job” in Japanese is 「よく出来ました。」(yoku dekimashita). Broken down, this phrase is made up of よく (yoku), the continuative form of the adjective よい (yoi, “good”) and 出来ました(dekimashita), the past tense conjugation of the verb 出来ます (dekimasu, “to be able to do”).
It’s unnecessary to add the word “you” or “are” explicitly, as they will be understood in context. If you want to be more casual, you can say 「よく出来た。」 (yoku dekita) or 「よくやった。」 (yoku yatta) instead.
「よく出来ました。」 (yoku dekimashita): Japanese for “Good job”
Absent any other context, the Japanese sentence 「よく出来ました。」 (yoku dekimashita) is typically used to mean “good job.”
Can do: how to use 出来ます (dekimasu)
The word 出来ます (dekimasu) is a verb that means “to be able to do.”
The kanji here are 出, meaning to exit or to come out, and 来, meaning to come or the cause.
Knowing the kanji can be useful to remembering the word, but remember that the word does not literally mean that something is arriving after exiting.
Instead, 出来ます just means that someone is able to do something.
The phrase よく出来ました is talking about something that already happened, so we need to use the past tense of the verb by dropping ます to get the root form でき and then adding ました.
This leaves us with 出来ました (dekimashita) or “was able to do.”
Saying “good job” casually with よく出来た (yoku dekita) and よくやった (yoku yatta)
In most, if not all, cases,「よく出来ました。」is the best way to say “good job” in Japanese. It’s in a polite, but not overly formal, register, appropriate for use with just about anyone.
But what if you’re with friends and don’t want to seem stuffy?
In that case, try reaching for the more casual「よく出来た。」(yoku dekita). This phrase should look familiar, as it is identical except for using the informal past tense of 出来ます.
「よくやった。」 (yoku yatta) is another casual option.
Unlike the other two phrases we’ve reviewed, this one uses the informal past tense of やります, a verb meaning “to do.”
If 「よく出来た。」is “good job,” then, you might think of 「よくやった。」as “well done.” In practice, though, these phrases are used interchangeably.
You can also say the more polite 「よくやりました。」 (yoku yarimashita) and be understood, but typically this version of “good job” is only seen using the informal past tense.
“Papa! I ate all my lunch!” “
As with our previous parent-child example, this is a dialogue between a parent and a young child.
Here, the father uses よくやった instead of よく出来ました, but the meaning is not really any less encouraging. It might just suggest that the father is more casual when speaking with his children than the mother.
“Yes! I got a part time job!”
This is a pretty casual conversation, probably between friends. The じゃん (jan) in the response is a shortened version of じゃない (ja nai), so this is literally closer to “Oh, you did a good job after all, didn’t you?”
But that’s a mouthful, and translating it that literally would lose the casual nature of the Japanese.
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The lack of a question mark also suggests this isn’t an actual question so much as a rhetorical one.