After a project, my supervisor said that our work was "not bad".

First, I thought that he meant that our work was in the middle (not bad and not good). But then my coworker later said that he meant that our work was actually "good".

Is there a reason to say "not bad" instead of "good"? Do these always mean the same thing?

1 Answer 1


In some parts of the English-speaking world, not bad is synonymous with good.

It can be either due to being the speaker being reserved or reluctant to be seen to be effusive with praise, promotion or self-promotion, often from a cultural or social basis.

In these cases it can be common to witness not bad as a response to a question or offered as a form of praise.

How are you?

Not bad.


How was your day?

Not bad.


What did you think of the movie.

It was not bad.

In some countries you may also witness exchanges such as:

Owsitgarn, orright?

Yeah nah not bad.

  • What country is that?
    – Varun Nair
    Nov 30, 2017 at 7:30
  • 2
    ɐᴉlɐɹʇsn∀ uᴉ s,ʇɐɥʇ
    – Mick
    Nov 30, 2017 at 8:21
  • "Not bad" can also mean, "I was concerned that the result would be bad, but it actually turned out to be good." Nov 30, 2017 at 16:12
  • I’d add that the meaning of “not bad” depends heavily on intonation. Heavy stress on the second word means “(unexpectedly) very good”, and light stress on the first word means “okay.”
    – mamster
    Nov 30, 2017 at 21:20

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