Wednesday, January 30, 2019

方がいい, Hou ga ii - Meaning in Japanese

In Japanese, hou ga ii 方がいい means "it's better if" most of the time. It can be used in three ways: to advise to do something, to warn them to not do something, or to simply state you think it would be better if something happened or not.

A variant is hou ga yoi 方がよい. Also be spelled hou ga ii/yoi 方が良い, ほうがいい, ほうがよい.

事故は無い方がいいから。 quote from manga Mob Psycho 100 モブサイコ100 (chapter 53)
Manga: Mob Psycho 100, Mobu Saiko Hyaku モブサイコ100 (chapter 53)

Examples

It's better if... something didn't happen


事故は無い方がいいから。 quote from manga Mob Psycho 100 モブサイコ100 (chapter 53)
Manga: Mob Psycho 100, Mobu Saiko Hyaku モブサイコ100 (chapter 53)
  • Context: Mob takes precautions.
  • jiko wa nai hou ga ii kara.
    事故は無い方がいいから。
    Because it's better if there are no accidents.

It's better if... you don't do something

あまり街の不良(ヤツら)をナメない方がいい quote from manga Holy Land (chapter 15)
Manga: Holy Land (chapter 15)
  • Context: a delinquent warns someone.
  • amari
    machi no yatsura wo
    namenai hou ga ii

    あまり
    街の不良(ヤツら)を
    ナメない方がいい
    It would be better if [you] don't underestimate the guys of the town.
    • yatsura ヤツら
      The guys.
    • Is a gikun reading in this panel for:
    • furyou 不良
      Delinquents.
    • i.e. don't underestimate the guys (the delinquents) of the town: they aren't as weak as you think.

It's better if... you do something

あのネ~~っ クラスの娘の名前位覚えといた方がいいヨ 特にカワイイ娘は! quote from manga Holy Land (chapter 2)
Manga: Holy Land (chapter 2)
  • Context: someone doesn't know the girl's name.
  • ano ne~~'
    あのネ~~
    [Hey, look~~]
  • kurasu no musume no namae kurai
    oboetoita hou ga
    ii
    yo

    クラスの娘の名前位
    覚えといた方が
    いい

    It's better if [you] learned the names of the girls of [your] class at least.
  • toku ni kawaii musume wa!
    特にカワイイ娘は!
    Specially the cute girls!

Explanation

To understand how hou ga ii 方がいい works, we need to go step by step.

First off, the phrase hou ga ii means literally "[a] way is good." This is very literally, because hou 方 means "way." As in: the way you do something.

The word hou can also mean the direction toward which something is, but that's kind of irrelevant here.

ゴゴゴゴ うわ なんか会長の方から凄いオーラが・・・・・・ quote from manga Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai ~Tensai-Tachi no Ren'ai Zunousen~ かぐや様は告らせたい~天才たちの恋愛頭脳戦~ (chapter 4)
Manga: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai ~Tensai-Tachi no Ren'ai Zunousen~ かぐや様は告らせたい~天才たちの恋愛頭脳戦~ (chapter 4)
  • Background:
  • uwa うわ
    Wow
  • nanka
    kaichou no hou kara
    sugoi oora ga......

    なんか会長のから凄いオーラが・・・・・・
    [It seems there's] an incredible aura [coming] from [the student] council president direction.
    • kaichou 会長
      "Association leader." Council president. Chairman.
      In school manga, pretty much always the student council president.
    • [coming]
      The phrase ends in the subject marker ga が, cut short before the verb. We can assume she means "aura is [coming] from," even though there's no "coming" verb in the Japanese phrase.

Anyway, the word ii いい, "good," can also imply something is "better" in Japanese. Because good is better than not good. So say something is good implies it's better than the hypothetical not-good alternative.

In this case, a way that's good is better than the implied not-good way.

But it's still sounds weird, because we just have "way," a noun, without any qualifiers to describe what way is it, and why would you think it's good or better or whatever.

The picture only becomes complete once we qualify the noun with a relative clause or other adjective. For example:
  • jiko ga nai 事故が無い
    There are no accidents.
  • jiko ga nai hou 事故が無い
    The way [in which] there are no accidents. (as opposed to the way in which there are accidents.)
    • "There are no accidents" is a relative clause introduced by "in which" in English that describes the "way." In Japanese, relative clauses just go right before the noun. (see the article on Relative Clauses for details.)
  • jiko ga nai hou ga ii 事故が無い方がいい
    The way [in which] there are no accidents is good. (and therefore better than the hypothetical way in which there are accidents.)

Since that way is good, it's better that way, it's better if it's that way. So that's how hou ga ii works.

方が良かった

The phrase hou ga yokatta 方がよかった is the past form of hou ga ii 方がいい, since yokatta よかった is the past of ii いい. When hou ga yokatta is used, it often means there was a better way, which the speaker didn't choose, so he regrets not choosing that better way.

Note that yokatta よかった alone can have that nuance. For example:

バンソウコウ・・・つけてない方がよかったな・・・髪も切ってくればよかった quote from manga Holy Land (chapter 55)
Manga: Holy Land (chapter 55)
  • Context: character regrets his appearance.
  • bansoukou...
    tsuketenai hou ga yokatta na

    バンソウコウ・・・
    つけてない方がよかった
    It would have been better if if I hadn't put a band-aid.
    • Fun fact: band-aid is a brand name, the generic name is "adhesive bandage."
  • ...kami mo kitte-kureba yokatta
    ・・・髪も切ってくればよかった
    ...the hair, too, would have been better if I had gone cut it.
    • kitte-kureba 切ってくれば
      (ba-form of)
    • kitte-kuru 切ってくる
      To cut and come. To go cut and come back.
      (this is kuru 来る in its auxiliary verb usage.)

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