【Japanese Vocabulary】difference between 上手(じょうず/ jozu)and 得意(とくい / tokui)



上手(じょうず)and 得意(とくい)both mean ‘good at’. What is the difference?


‘Good at’ in Japanese is 上手(じょうず)or 得意(とくい)whereas ‘Bad at’ in Japanese is 下手(へた)or 苦手(にがて).

You should learn 上手 and 下手 in pairs as well as 得意 and 苦手 in pairs.

Basic rule

The basic rule is that 得意 and 苦手 can be used for most things, but 上手 and 下手 are used only to describe actual and practical skills of somebody who plays (or does) something specific.

Confusing ones are school subjects. You should use 得意 or 苦手 for them. It sounds very weird if you use 上手 or 下手 to describe them.

上手 or 下手 sentence is changeable to 得意 or 苦手 sentence but not vice versa. However, keep in mind the following two points:

  • 上手 or 下手 sometimes sounds a bit more arrogant than 得意 or 苦手 if you talk about yourself.
  • 上手 or 下手 tends to be used if you want to talk about somebody’s skills. 得意 or 苦手 is not used much.



I am good at P.E.

P.E. is the name of a subject, not something specific. You should use 得意.


I am good at politics.

Politics is the name of something general, not specific. You should use 得意.



I am good at tennis.

Tennis is the name of sports but also you need skills to play the specific sport, so you can use both 得意 and 上手.

However the first sentence may sound a bit arrogant as ‘I am talking about myself’.


My mother is good at cooking.

‘My mother’ needs special skills for cooking, so use 上手 which can be changeable to 得意.

Describe food you like or dislike

苦手 can be used to describe food you dislike to eat, but you can’t use 得意 for food you like to eat.

I am not good at fish. ( = I don’t like to eat fish.)

Correct: 私は魚が苦手です。

I like to eat fish.

Incorrect: 私は魚が得意です。

Correct: 私は魚を食べることが好きです。