137 - That sucks!

Hearing a friend’s good news can be amazing. If they just had a baby, got that promotion they have always wanted, or just bought a new car. In Japanese, it’s easy to congratulate someone with good news with expressions like すごい!(terrific!) or おめでとう!(congrats!).

But what about when your friends have not-so-good news?

In English, I am absolutely terrible at this, I never know what to say, and usually something inappropriate comes out.
Once, a coworker texted me that her grandfather died and my response was “Oh bummer.”
I had to ask myself, “Really? What possessed me to say something so stupid!?”

So let’s try to avoid making these mistakes in Japanese. Especially when speaking to close friends.

There are a few great expressions in Japanese to respond to bad news, let’s go over a couple and examine which situations you would use them in.

気の毒(きのどく)literally means “feelings of poison,” and is the most formal response you can have in Japanese. It has a weight to it, so it’s usually used for serious situations such as illnesses or deaths. For example, if your friend’s mother is sick you would think:

お母さんが病気だとは気の毒だ。
おかあさん が びょうき だ とは きのどく だ。
It’s really too bad her mother's sick.
Literally: “mother + が + sick + だ + とは + a pity + だ”

You can also use this expression towards a sick person, but only if it is clear the person will be getting better soon. You would never use this expression towards someone who is suffering from a terminal illness.

まことにお気の毒です。
まことに おきのどく です。
I am very sorry.
Literally: “very + too bad + です”

Note: Adding the お to 気の毒 is common as it is usually used in formal situations, the お makes the word more formal.

If you are a jokester, 気の毒 can also be used sarcastically if someone is freaking about something small, like losing their keys.

まあお気の毒な。
まあ おきのどく な。
Such a pity isn’t it.
Literally: “oh + too bad + な”


If something isn’t so serious, it is common to use かわいそう, which means “a pity, unfortunate.” A lot of beginners use this expression in error because it sounds like something is cute. かわいい + そう. But since it only has a negative meaning, please be careful!

Because it is a light expression, it is often translated as “poor thing.”
You can use it for when someone tells you about how their puppy broke its leg.

まあかわいそうにあの子は。
まあ かわいそう に あのこ は。
Oh, the poor thing.
Literally: “oh + pitiable + に + that + の + child + は”

Note: Using 子, which means child, is not uncommon when it comes to small dogs. When I walk my dog in the neighborhood, old ladies are always asking which gender he is by saying 男の子?女の子?(おとこのこ?おんなのこ?)which means “a boy (child), a girl (child)?”

You can also use it if you hear about a friend's little brother who failed the spelling bee:

私は少年をかわいそうに思う。
わたし は しょうねん を かわいそう に おもう。
I feel sorry for that little guy.
Literally: “I + は + elementary school student+ を + pitiable + think”

When a situation comes up that is unfortunate, we use 残念(ざんねん) which has a connotation of “regrettable.” This expression is very useful and can be used to respond to pretty much anything that doesn’t go the way the speaker wanted it to. It is used for situations, not people.

So when your friend couldn’t come to the party you can say:

君が来られなかったのは残念だ。 
きみ が こられなかった のは ざんねん だ。
It’s too bad you couldn’t come.
Literally: “you + が + couldn’t come + のは + regrettable + だ”

Or if your sister had an art show and you were never able to make it:

明日で終わってしまうのがとても残念だ。
あした で おわってしまう のが とても ざんねん だ。
It’s really too bad that it will be ending tomorrow.
Literally: “tomorrow + で + will end + のが + very + regrettable + だ”


Lastly, if something that the speaker went through is difficult, you would use 大変(たいへん).
So if your spouse is having a hard time deciding if they should quit their terrible job you can say:

それは大変だねえ・・・
それ は たいへん だ ね...
That is difficult isn’t it.
Literally: “that + は + difficult + だ + isn’t it”

And when a friend tells you that he fixed his own car for the first time by watching YouTube videos:

複雑で大変だったでしょう?
ふくざつ で たいへんだった でしょう?
That must have been difficult, right?
Literally: “complicated + で + difficult + だった + isn’t it?

***Be careful about 大変(たいへん) as it can also be an adverb meaning “very” or “extremely.” When it is used in this way, it can also be used with sentences that have a positive connotation:

大変美味しかった。
たいへん おいしかった。
That was really tasty.
Literally: “very + delicious”

大変なお金がかかる。
たいへん な おかね が かかる。
It costs a lot of money.
Literally: “very + money + が + costs”

Now when a friend gives you some bad news, you will know how to respond. Hopefully you can use some of these phrases to empathize or console the next person you meet who isn’t having the best day.


This lesson was written by Cassy L., a guest contributor:


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