What does 微妙 mean?

I hear this word alot when listening to podcasts. Especially Billingual News lol
does this word translate to "not that great " or “so-so” and what’s the difference between 微妙 and まあまあ?(meaning somethings ok)


Looking at these definitions you can see that there’s a great deal of depth on the side of 微妙.

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I think the most important distinction to make between まあまあ and 微妙 is that まあまあ is usually satisfactory while 微妙 usually isn’t.

微妙 is a wonderful, colorful word that I hear quite a lot. While it has many meanings, the most “general” one you can consider is subtle. 微妙 is like ちょっと in that it’s used when someone would prefer the subject simply not be discussed further, or that whatever object is being described as such cease to be used or present.

If someone’s cooking is まあまあ, it’s not great but it fits the bill.
If someone’s cooking is 微妙, the speaker most likely doesn’t want to eat anymore of it and only would to fulfill social obligations if they exist.

Of course, with the meaning of “subtle,” it doesn’t have to be negative necessarily. I suppose “low key” would be term one could relate to it (though I cringe at that phrase due to its modern use as an adverb).

Personally, I see it like this: You take a test in school. If you’re an AB student, getting a straight B could be まあまあ; you got within the range you usually get, but it’s nothing to particularly rejoice over. If you got a B- or even a C+ though, a grade that you’re not happy about but isn’t the end of the world, 微妙 is a suitable choice. Meanwhile, the straight A overachiever in your class may consider a 98 まあまあ and anything below an A+ as 微妙. It’s all about your expectations and how they were met/not met.

Of course, this is just a nuanced meaning of the word, as the literal definition is used just as it would in English. The context determines what the word is trying to convey. Most of the time, I hear 微妙 used for food, interactions with people, and opinions on required obligations (especially work).


thank you for your explanation. that cleared some things up for me :smile:

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