What's new

The expression 「減るもんじゃない」

Joined
Nov 17, 2014
Messages
40
Ratings
4
This thread is about the Japanese expression or saying 「減るもんじゃない」.

I started this new thread to split off this topic from the thread
https://jref.com/forum/threads/learning-resources.55758/
where the topic came up but where the topic doesn't really belong. In this first posting I repeat the things that have already been written in that other thread. Namely:

During a successful action of the older forum member Mike Cash to urge a newer forum member to share the Japanese learning resources known to him with the group, the older forum member wrote:

Then you could at least post what you found, as it might be of benefit to others in the same circumstances. 減るもんじゃない, as the saying goes.
Which made me post the following:

Picking up on that Japanese phrase you used. Googling it or looking it up in "Jim Breen's WWWJDIC" finds the translation

"it's no big deal;
it's nothing to fret about;
it's not like it's the end of the world".

But it's not obvious (to me as a beginner) how that meaning is arrived at from the actual words, seeing that the dictionaries translate "減る" as "to decrease (in size or number); to diminish; to abate".

From the position of "もん", one guess is that "もん" is a noun, which would likely make "減る" an adverbial modifier to that noun, leading me to guess at a literal meaning like "there is no such thing as a decreasing もん". Where the "もん" could be a number of homophones, such as 問 ("there's no such thing as a stupid question"??), 物, 門.

There seems also to exist a particle "もん", "used as a conjunction or at sentence-end, often as 〜もの
な, 〜ものね) indicates reason or excuse", but that doesn't seem to fit.

Obviously, sayings in any language are often set phrases that are difficult to translate and often using archaic words or grammar. But is there any way to understand how the meaning "it's no big deal" can be "construed" from (related to) the actual words in the Japanese phrase ?

Then the Forum Moderator Nekojita replied the following:

もん = もの (this is a quite common sound change). Literally "(the thing we're talking about = もの) is not something that will be diminished (by doing whatever it is we're talking about)". In this case, sharing a website doesn't make it any less accessible to you, so there's no reason not to share.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Nov 17, 2014
Messages
40
Ratings
4
もん = もの (this is a quite common sound change). Literally "(the thing we're talking about = もの) is not something that will be diminished (by doing whatever it is we're talking about)". In this case, sharing a website doesn't make it any less accessible to you, so there's no reason not to share.
Hello Nekojita さん,

Thank you for your helpful reply, and many thanks to you for running this forum !

Let me see, step by step, if I understand now how the grammatical construction works, and how the meaning follows from the words. (The way my mind works is I have to do my thinking while spelling everything out for myself... I hope that with my beginner's level I'm not boring too many people here.)

You're saying that もん is indeed a noun, namely もん = もの = 物 = "the thing".

It's gratifying :) to know that in my guesswork I came at least somewhat near to the correct interpretation of the grammatical construction used in the expression. So indeed the verb 「減る」 "heru" ("to diminish") is a modifier to the noun 「もの」. So the meaning of 「減るもの」 is "the thing that is being deminished" with もの being the object of the 減る. (And not: "the thing that is deminishing", as I guessed previously, mistakenly interpreting もの as the subject of the 減る.)

[ Aside: This vagueness in the role of adjective modifier with respect to the modified noun is of course not specific to Japanese, but is seen in many other languages; e.g. English "calculating machine" can be taken to mean "a machine for calculating" (with "machine" as object), or it can be taken to mean "a machine doing calculation" (with "machine" as subject). ]

The meaning of 「じゃない」 is simple negation. Putting 「じゃない」 after 「減るもの」 changes its meaning from "(it is) a thing that is being deminished" to: "it is not a thing that is being deminished".

The latter point is where I made an important mistake, namely I mistakenly guessed at the meaning "THERE IS NO thing (that is being diminished)". I now see that for such a meaning to be expressed in Japanese, the expression would have needed to contain the particle "も" along with the negation -- as it does for example in the frequently used expression 「なんでもない」 "no thing at all exists", "it is nothing".

---
Right ! so much for the grammar. Glad to understand that much now. Now let's continue with the meaning. Of course I now understand the meaning "is not a thing that will be diminished" and how that meaning applies to the case of sharing information about websites.

What I still find a bit surprising is the meanings given for the expression 「減るもんじゃない」 in Jim Breen's WWWJDIC dictionary, namely

"it's no big deal;
it's nothing to fret about;
it's not like it's the end of the world".

I can see how the WWWJDIC translations could relate to the literal meaning of the expression, but these WWWJDIC translations seem to take quite a large amount of liberty with the actual literal meaning of the expression, taking the literal meaning quite very figuratively indeed. Mike Cash used the expression in a case where the actual literal meaning applied, and where the WWWJDIC meaning "it's no big deal" did not really apply very clearly.

I'm wondering whether in Japanese, the expression 「減るもんじゃない」 is really used for situations as broad as the English WWWJDIC translations imply, i.e, whether all instances of English "it's no big deal" could be translated into Japanese as 「減るもんじゃない」 ? I.e. are the WWWJDIC translations correct, or should they be taken with a grain of salt ?

With best regards,

Menno ( メンノー )
 
Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
1,660
Ratings
393
The problem with phrases like this is that a literal translation is clunky, and a looser translation is only going to make sense in some circumstances. The closest I can think of is "there's no harm in..." and even that won't sound quite right in some contexts. The meanings there were probably taken from a larger translation where it made sense in context.

Incidentally 〜ものじゃない or 〜もんじゃない can also be used to indicate a prohibition/moral judgement
それは言うもんじゃない = that isn't something you should say/that should be said.
 

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Staff member
Moderator
Joined
Feb 22, 2008
Messages
14,828
Ratings
2 1,536
The latter point is where I made an important mistake, namely I mistakenly guessed at the meaning "THERE IS NO thing (that is being diminished)". I now see that for such a meaning to be expressed in Japanese, the expression would have needed to contain the particle "も" along with the negation -- as it does for example in the frequently used expression 「なんでもない」 "no thing at all exists", "it is nothing".
減るものない means "there is no thing~". Try to think of the difference between ~ではない/じゃない and ~はない.;)
 
Joined
Nov 17, 2014
Messages
40
Ratings
4
Hello Nekojita さん,

The problem with phrases like this is that a literal translation is clunky, and a looser translation is only going to make sense in some circumstances. The closest I can think of is "there's no harm in..." and even that won't sound quite right in some contexts. The meanings there were probably taken from a larger translation where it made sense in context.
Thanks for replying. So, I conclude that that WWWJDIC translation is indeed questionable.

I think that basically *anything* at all can be used in a figurative sense, can't it ? And any word taken from a dictionary you always need to "fit" into the actual place where it is used (and for the purpose of doing the "fitting", you use not a dictionary but your "feeling" for the target language, plus help from things like a thesaurus). I think the first business of a dictionary is to give a clear understanding of the meaning, more than giving exact replacements that a user can exactly slot as-is into a text he's translating -- because languages generally just do not translate literally word for word. The translator always has to adapt the "clunky" collection of meanings of the separate words/phrases of the source language sentence to an sentence that fits the target language and the context.

So it seems to me that a dictionary really doesn't need to point out exhaustively *all* the possible figurative uses of an expression, at least not where it concerns uses that do not occur very frequently. If that WWWJDIC translation gives the impression that it was taken from a "random" (but not representative) occurrence in which that particular figurative meaning happened to fit, then my impression is that that particular WWWJDIC translation simply isn't of good quality.

Incidentally 〜ものじゃない or 〜もんじゃない can also be used to indicate a prohibition/moral judgement
それは言うもんじゃない = that isn't something you should say/that should be said.
Heh, in a way that sounds similar to English "that is something that IS NOT DONE".

---
With best regards,

Menno ( メンノー )
 
Last edited:
Joined
Nov 17, 2014
Messages
40
Ratings
4
Hello Toritoribe さん,

Thanks for your reply, and also to you many thanks for running this forum.

減るものない means "there is no thing~". Try to think of the difference between ~ではない/じゃない and ~はない.;)
Thank you for your correction. This needs just slightly more study on my part (that is how much at a beginner's level I still am). I'm currently more or less exactly on this topic in Tae Kim's grammar book, so I hope to come back and reply more fully on this in a few days.

With best regards,

Menno ( メンノー )
 
Joined
Nov 17, 2014
Messages
40
Ratings
4
Hello Toritoribe さん, and all,

減るものない means "there is no thing~". Try to think of the difference between ~ではない/じゃない and ~はない.;)
That had me puzzling for a while. It is absolutely interesting, and brings out an aspect of the Japanese language that I hadn't yet perceived in this EXPLICIT way (and that unfortunately is dealt with only very implicitly in the two grammar books I own so far). The interesting thing with languages, grammatically speaking, is that the most "basic" things of a language are generally precisely also the most complex and the most interesting.

Allow me to explain the thing in my own words to make sure I get it. I fear the amount of text I need is too big to fit conveniently in a single post, so I'm splitting it up over multiple posts. This is part one. Anyone please correct my mistakes.

To begin, I need to dig into basics.

The verb 「ある」 means "to be" or "to exist". Since the thing is complex enough by itself, let's limit things to plain (nonpolite) verb forms. The nonpolite sentence-ending form for 「ある」 is 「だ」. For example, 「お金 が だ」 means "money exists". Similarly, 「お金 は だ」 means "as for money, it exists". The particle 「が」 or 「は」 forces お金 to be the subject of the sentence.

We can also say 「お金 だ」, leaving out the particle. In this case, お金 is not the subject. Instead, I like to think that お金 is here effectively "part of the verb" (as is made visually clear by the absence of a particle). By that flowery description I mean that お金 is here part of the PREDICATE. It is no longer the subject. In other words, in the sentence 「お金 だ」, the subject is left out, i.e. is not expressed explicitly. The meaning of this sentence is: "IT is money", where IT is the subject that is not expressed explicitly by an actual word in the sentence. Whenever the sentence 「お金 だ」 "IT is money" is uttered, the "IT" refers to something that was mentioned before. The meaning and grammatical construction of the sentence 「お金 だ」 is similar to the sentence 「あれ は お金 だ」, "that thing over there is money".

In Japanese you can generally leave things out from a sentence at will. If you leave the subject out, then (from the point of view of English) you thereby create an unexpressed subject "IT" that refers to something mentioned previously. (Which makes it seem that in Japanese, you can create an element in the sentence that has a definite grammatical role by means of completely leaving it out.) But I think probably a better way to look at it is that 「ある」 on its own really means "IT is", or "IT exists". I.e. the unexpressed subject "IT" is already contained in every verb. If you put an explicit subject into the sentence (by means of something plus 「が」 or something plus 「は」), then you thereby "override" the implicit subject "IT". (In an alternative way of looking at it, 「お金 が だ」 could be regarded to read "the money, it exists".)

[ Aside: I think the picture is similar for objects of transitive verbs, since direct objects can also be left unexpressed. For example, I think that 読 (yomu) on its own should grammatically speaking really be regarded as meaning "HE reads" (when intransitive) or "HE reads IT" (when transitive). ]

The next posts will be about negatives (ない) and about 「で」 which is the て form of the verb 「だ」.

---
With best regards,
Menno ( メンノー )
 

Mike Cash

骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう
Joined
Mar 15, 2002
Messages
16,454
Ratings
1,568
Something like お金がだ could only conceivably ever be said as the answer to a question. The copula doesn't quite equate to "exist".
 

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Staff member
Moderator
Joined
Feb 22, 2008
Messages
14,828
Ratings
2 1,536
Before you move to ない, I have to inform you that what you wrote here about だ is totally wrong, as Mike-san pointed out, I'm afraid.
 
Joined
Nov 17, 2014
Messages
40
Ratings
4
Something like お金がだ could only conceivably ever be said as the answer to a question. The copula doesn't quite equate to "exist".
Before you move to ない, I have to inform you that what you wrote here about だ is totally wrong, as Mike-san pointed out, I'm afraid.
Thanks for the alerts.

So then let me see up to what point I still have it right.

Imagine scenario 1: A friend visits my home and sees some stuff that he doesn't recognize lying on a table, and he asks: "What is that stuff over there?". I then reply, 「あれ は お金 だ」 "That stuff over there is money". Or in a shorter form I might reply 「お金 だ」 "IT is money". Correct so far?

Now imagine scenario 2: I'm on a vacation trip with a friend. We've taken two wallets with us, one containing our money (お金) and the other containing our passports. I happen to remember which thing is in which wallet, but my friend forgot, and he asks me: "What (what thing, the money or the passports) is the contents of THIS wallet?" And I answer 「お金 が だ」, "The money is".

Finally imagine scenario 3: Me and a friend are walking through town on the way to having dinner in a restaurant. My friend is wondering whether we have, or do not have, money with us. I happen to have plenty money with me, so I say to my friend 「お金 は だ」, "As for money, there is." (I.e. as for money, it is there.)

Are there serious errors already in the above ? If so, at which point did I go wrong ?

Thanks & with best regards,
Menno ( メンノー )
 

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Staff member
Moderator
Joined
Feb 22, 2008
Messages
14,828
Ratings
2 1,536
1)
Yes. That's correct.

2)
Not really. It should be お金だ / お金が入っている.

3)
Not really. It should be お金はある / お金は持っている.
The copula doesn't work well in #3.
 

Mike Cash

骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう
Joined
Mar 15, 2002
Messages
16,454
Ratings
1,568
It may help to think of the copula as indicating "state" rather than "existence". I found it best to try to understand it as-is, in situ so to speak, rather than attempt to universally correlate it to any particular English equivalent.
 
Joined
Nov 17, 2014
Messages
40
Ratings
4
Hello Toritoribe さん, thank you again for your corrections. In this discussion we seem to be locked in, I'm not sure whether it is me who is exploiting you as a private language teacher, or whether it is you who is exploiting me as a mechanism to generate content on this forum.:) (Just kidding)

1)
Yes. That's correct.

2)
Not really. It should be お金だ / お金が入っている.

3)
Not really. It should be お金はある / お金は持っている.
The copula doesn't work well in #3.
O my God !! I see that I actually fell into the trap of confusing the copula with the verb 「ある」. Ghastly. Y'all will have gathered by now that I'm the type of person who on his way from A to B will inevitably fall into every trap imaginable.:) Regardless how stupid and obvious the trap is, I'll always fall right for it at least once. (In this case, the concrete thing that tricked me is one particular sentence in Tae Kim. So I'm in fact now beginning to think that even Kim may have his imperfections, and am considering looking for still more additional grammar books. On the other hand, it helped bring this point into the open.)

So the moral of this is that the copula (which has forms like 「だ」 and 「で」 and 「だった」) is a totally different verb than the verb「ある」 or than the verb 「いる」. Each of the three verbs has its own completely different "paradigm" of inflected forms for the past, negative, て form, ます form, etc. The only thing is that -- in English eyes -- their meaning at first sight looks similar. But in fact their meaning is clearly distinct, and confusing them results in erroneous Japanese.

「ある」 and 「いる」 mean "to be located in a place" (inanimate and animate, respectively).

The verb 「だ」 means simply "to be". Not "to be" in the sense of "to be located somewhere", but in the sense of equation, similar to the equals sign in mathematics, as in the English sentences "the box is red" and "Alice is a teacher". What I know is that this "equals sign" functionality is called "the copula" in the grammar of indo-european languages. (Is the term "copula" or a translation thereof actually also used by Japanese grammarians?)

All three verbs (ある and いる on the one side, and だ on the other side) have special uses in Japanese grammar, i.e. there are special grammatical constructions that can only be made with ある or いる, and there are special grammatical constructions that can only be made with 「だ」.

Okay, I may now take a break and then take a few days to rework my interpretation of the 「xではない」 versus 「xはない」 thing...

With best regards,
Menno ( メンノー )
 
Top