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TYJ Negative forms

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This article is in the series Teach Yourself Japanese

7.7. Negative forms

7.7.1. Negative forms of verbs


First of all, I would like to explain the difference between verbs and adjectives in Japanese. You have learned that Japanese adjectives have inflexion like verbs, but their ways of inflexion are quite different; nonpast-form verbs end with "-u", while nonpast-form adjectives end with "-i". The reason why their inflexions are different is that their purposes are different. Verbs basically represent action, and adjectives represent the condition. When you say "he runs," you mean his action, and when you say "he is ill," you mean his condition.

Doing something is action, so you use verbs for action in Japanese. Not doing something is a condition rather than an action, because it is not what you do. For example, "he doesn't run" means his condition, not his action. As a result, the negative forms of Japanese verbs become adjectives, which are used for condition.

Add the negative suffix ない "nai" to the stem of a verb to create its negative form. For Group I verbs, insert "a" between the stem and the suffix. So you can memorize it as "-(a)nai". The irregular verbs require different padding vowels; use "-inai" for する "suru" and "-onai" for くる "kuru".

The inflexion of the suffix ない "nai" is the same as that of adjectives.

Here is a table of negative forms:

Group 1:

Plain formNegative form
はなす
ha na su
はなさない
ha na sa nai
きく
ki ku
きかない
ki ka nai
およぐ
o yo gu
およがない
o yo ga nai
たつ
ta tu
たたない
ta ta nai
うる
u ru
うらない
u ra nai
あらう
a ra u
あらわない
a ra wa nai
しぬ
si nu
しなない
si na nai
とぶ
to bu
とばない
to ba nai
よむ
yo mu
よまない
yo ma nai

Group 2:

Plain formNegative form
むる
mi ru
むない
mi nai
おちる
o ti ru
おちない
o ti nai
ねる
ne ru
ねない
ne nai
たべる
ta be ru
たべない
ta be nai

Suru:

Plain formNegative form
する
su ru
しない
si nai

Kuru:

Plain formNegative form
くる
ku ru
こない
ko nai

You have two ways to create a polite negative form of a verb. One way is easy to understand; since negative forms are adjectives, just create the polite form the same way as polite adjectives.

I don't think the other way is very easy to understand, because it uses another negative suffix, but it is more formal and you must get used to it. First, create the polite form of a verb using the politeness suffix ます "masu", then add the negative suffix ん "n" with the padding vowel of "e" to its stem. It means "-en" is actually added to "mas", which is the stem of ます "masu". So what you have to do is add ません "masen" to the verb's stem in the same way as ます "masu".

Since the negative suffix ん doesn't have a past form, it uses the polite copula for the past tense. Add でした "deshita" after ん.

The first way (the negation-first way) is simpler, and works well in informal situations. For formal situations, the second way (the politeness-first way) is better. The suffix ん is a rare word that came to Standard Japanese from the Kansai (Western Japan) dialect, while most of the vocabulary came from the Tôkyô (the center of Eastern Japan) dialect. Probably that is why the grammar of ん is not simple.

This table shows a summary of forms of the verb はなす "hanasu" (speak):

StepFormDescription
0はなす
ha na su
Stem + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 1.
Polite form: Go to 2.
Negative form: Go to 4.
1はなした
ha na si ta
Stem + past.
2はなします
ha na si ma su
Stem + politeness + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 3.
Negative form: Go to 6.
3はなしました
ha na si ma si ta
Stem + politeness + past.
4はなさない
ha na sa na i
Stem + negation + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 5.
Polite form: Go to 8.
5はなさなかった
ha na sa na ka t ta
Stem + negation + past.
Polite form: Go to 9.
6はなしません
ha na si ma se n
Stem + politeness + negation + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 7.
7はなしませんでした
ha na si ma se n de si ta
Stem + politeness + negation + past.
8はなさないです
ha na sa na i de su
Stem + negation + nonpast + politeness.
9はなさなかったです
ha na sa na ka t ta de su
Stem + negation + past + politeness.

Steps 6 and 8 have the same meaning, and steps 7 and 9 have the same meaning. Steps 6 and 7 are created by the formal way of the polite negative form (the politeness-first way), and steps 8 and 9 are created by the colloquial way (the negation-first way). The word colloquial doesn't mean it is the only way to be used in colloquial Japanese; in fact, the formal way is used as well even in colloquial Japanese. I recommend the colloquial way simply because I think it is easier. However, the colloquial way is rarely used in written Japanese, which is often formal.

7.7.2. Negative forms of the existential verbs


The existential verb is a verb to mean something exists. In English, the verb be is an existential verb, such as "There is a pen on the desk" and "The pen is on the desk".

Japanese has two existential verbs; one for animates (including human beings in this case) and one for inanimates. Animates and inanimates are explained in the counter chapter.

The existential verb for animates is いる "iru", which is a Group II verb. So its negative form is い
ない "inai".

The existential verb for inanimates is ある "aru". It is a Group I verb, so you may expect its negative form to be あらない "aranai", but actually its negative form is never used. Instead, you have to use the nonexistential adjective ない "nai", which has the same origin as the negative suffix.

Look at samples below:

Kana:いぬがいる。
Romanization:I nu ga i ru .
Structure:(noun, dog) (nominative marker) (verb, exist)
Meaning:There is a dog.

Kana:いぬがいない。
Romanization:I nu ga i ru .
Structure:(noun, dog) (nominative marker) (verb = negation, not exist)
Meaning:There is no dog.

Kana:やまがある。
Romanization:Ya ma ga a ru .
Structure:(noun, mountain) (nominative marker) (verb, exist)
Meaning:There is a mountain.

Kana:やまがない。
Romanization:Ya ma ga na i .
Structure:(noun, mountain) (nominative marker) (adjective, not exist)
Meaning:There is no mountain.

Keep in mind that animates, and inanimates use different existential verbs, and the nonexistential adjective ない "nai" is used instead of the negative form of ある "aru".

The polite negative form of ある is ありません "arimasen", and there is no problem in using it, unlike the plain negative form. Being the opposite of the existential verb ある, the nonexistential adjective ない has two polite forms. One is the colloquial ないです "naidesu", and the other is the formal ありません "arimasen".

This table shows a summary of forms of the existential verb ある "aru":

StepFormDescription
0ある
a ru
Stem (existential verb) + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 1.
Polite form: Go to 2.
Negative form: Go to 4.
1あった
a t ta
Stem (existential verb) + past.
2あります
a ri ma su
Stem (existential verb) + politeness + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 3.
Negative form: Go to 6.
3ありました
a ri ma si ta
Stem (existential verb) + politeness + past.
4ない
{b}na[/b] i
Stem (nonexistential adjective) + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 5.
Polite form: Go to 8.
5なかった
na ka t ta
Stem (nonexistential adjective) + past.
Polite form: Go to 9.
6ありません
a ri ma se n
Stem (existential verb) + politeness + negation + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 7.
7ありませんでした
a ri ma se n de si ta
Stem (existential verb) + politeness + negation + past.
8ないです
na i de su
Stem (nonexistential adjective) + nonpast + politeness.
9なかったです
na ka t ta de su
Stem (nonexistential adjective) + past + politeness.

7.7.3. Negative forms of the copula


You have learned the plain copula だ "da" and the polite copula です "desu". Please remember they are contracted words which came from the old-style copula である "de aru". The negative forms of modern copula need the old copula.

Being a combination of the postposition で and the existential verb ある, the old copula has a negative form of a combination of the word で and the nonexistential adjective ない, i.e. でない "de nai". Consequently, it has two polite negative forms, the colloquial でないです "de naidesu" and the formal で
ありません "de arimasen".

Look at the table for the forms of the existential verb ある and add the word で before them. Please remember that there are more popular form for the combinations of で and steps 0 through 3 in the table. There is no contracted form for the negative forms of the copula.

Here is an example:

Kana:よこはまはしゅとでない。
Romanization:Yo ko ha ma wa syu to de na i .
Structure:(noun, Yokohama) (topic marker) (noun, capital) (copula, is) (auxiliary adjective, not)
Meaning:Yokohama is not the capital.

The negative form of the copula consists of two words, while that of a verb is one word which includes its stem and the negative suffix. That makes a slight difference. It is explained later (see 7.7.5 below).

7.7.4. Negative forms of adjectives


Adjectives use the nonexistential adjective for their negative forms, as the copula does. They don't use the negative suffix for verbs. First, addく "ku" to an adjective's stem, which is a suffix to accept auxiliary verbs and adjectives, then add the nonexistential adjective ない after it.

These are examples:

Plain formNegative form
よい
yo i
よくない
yo ku na i
あつい
a tu i
あつくない
a tu ku na i
うれしい
u re si i
うれしくない
u re si ku na i
おいしい
o i si i
おいしくない
o i si ku na i

Since these negative forms contain the nonexistential adjective, there are two polite negative forms. For example, the polite forms of よくない "yoku nai" are よくないです "yoku naidesu" and よくありません "yoku arimasen".

Look at step 4 through 9 in the table for the forms of the existential verb ある and add the stem of an adjective with the suffix く before them. Look at the adjective chapter for the affirmative forms of adjectives.

This is a sentence example:

Kana:せんそうはよくない。
Romanization:Se n sô wa yo ku na i .
Structure:(noun, war) (topic marker) (adjective, is good) (auxiliary adjective, not)
Meaning:War is not good.

7.7.5. Negated topics


Let's compare these three conversations:

1. A: What did you say you'd forgotten to try in Kanazawa?
B: I didn't try sushi. That's a big mistake.
2. A: I've heard you tried sushi yesterday. Was it nice?
B: I didn't try sushi. It's John who went to a sushi bar yesterday.
3. A: You went to a Japanese restaurant, didn't you? Did you try sushi?
B: No, I didn't try sushi. I had sukiyaki.

The underlined letters mean topics that are negated. The sentence 1-B is just new information, and there is not a particular word to be negated. In the 2-B, the speaker talks about himself, and he says he didn't try sushi. In the 3-B, the speaker talks about sushi, and he says he didn't try sushi.

In Japanese, the sentence for 1-B and 2-B is different from that for 3-B, because Japanese has a topic marker. Put the topic marker は "wa" after the phrase that is negated. Since the subject of a sentence is likely to have a topic marker, negating the subject often has the same structure as a sentence with no negated topic.

This is a sentence for "I didn't eat sushi" for 1-B and "Me? No, I didn't eat sushi" for 2-B:

Kana:わたしはすしをたべなかった。
Romanization:Wa ta si wa su si o ta be na ka t ta .
Structure:(noun, I) (topic marker) (noun, sushi) (accusative marker) (verb + negation, did not eat)

And this is a sentence for "Sushi? No, I didn't eat sushi" for 3-B:

Kana:わたしはすしはたべなかった。
Romanization:Wa ta si wa su si wa ta be na ka t ta .
Structure:(noun, I) (topic marker) (noun, sushi) (topic marker) (verb + negation, did not eat)

In the first sentence, the subject may or may not be negated. You cannot tell which is right without knowing the context, because a subject often has a topic marker even if it is not negated.

On the other hand, the object すし "susi" is clearly negated in the second sentence, because it is the second phrase in the sentence while an ordinary topic almost always comes first in a sentence. As you see, both the subject and the object have the same postposition, so it might be confusing if you don't know the meaning of the words. If two words have the same postposition, a subject is likely to appear before an object.

When you use a copula, the word that combines with the copula is a negated word. As I explained, the negative forms of the copula are combinations of the word で and the nonexistential adjective ない, so you can and should insert a topic marker between them.

Let's look at these examples:

Kana:りんごはくだものだ。
Romanization:Ri n go wa ku da mo no da .
Structure:(noun, apple) (topic marker) (noun, fruit) (copula, is)
Meaning:Apples are fruits.

Kana:りんごはやさいではない。
Romanization:Ri n go wa ya sa i de wa na i .
Structure:(noun, apple) (topic marker) (noun, vegetable) (copula, is) (topic marker) (auxiliary adjective, not)
Meaning:Apples are not vegetables.

You can say the second sentence without using the topic marker for negation, such as やさいでない "yasaide nai", but inserting a topic marker is much more common.

In colloquial Japanese, the combination of で "de" and は "wa" is often contracted to じゃ "zya". The second sentence shown above would be like this:

Kana:りんごはやさいじゃない。
Romanization:Ri n go wa ya sa i zya na i .
Structure:(noun, apple) (topic marker) (noun, vegetables) (auxiliary adjective, is not)

The insertion of the topic marker can also occur for the negative forms of adjectives, but it is not so often as for the copula. The following sentences have the same meaning, but the second one has an inserted topic marker for negation:

Kana:みかんはくろくない。
Romanization:Mi ka n wa ku ro ku na i .
Structure:(noun, mandarine) (topic marker) (adjective, is black) (auxiliary adjective, not)

Kana:みかんはくろくはない。
Romanization:Mi ka n wa ku ro ku wa na i .
Structure:(noun, mandarine) (topic marker) (adjective, is black) (topic marker) (auxiliary adjective, not)

Both of the sentences mean "oranges are not black," but the second one is used to negate the word black, such as "Black? No, oranges are not black." The first one denies merely the idea that oranges are black.

Since the negative form of a verb is not a combination of two words but a combination of the stem and the negative suffix, you cannot insert a topic marker between them. Japanese has a way to insert it between them, but you have to learn infinitives to do it.

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Takasugi
My name is TAKASUGI Shinji. TAKASUGI is my family name, and Shinji is my given name; a family name is placed before a given name in Japan, as in other Asian nations. My family name is capitalized to avoid misunderstanding.

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