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 inflection like verbs, but their ways of inflection are quite different; nonpast-form verbs end with "-u", while nonpast-form adjectives end with "-i". The reason why their inflections are different is that their purposes are different. Verbs basically represent action, and adjectives represent 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 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 (na)(i) "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 (su)(ru) "suru" and "-onai" for (ku)(ru) "kuru".

The inflection of the suffix (na)(i) "nai" is the same as that of adjectives.

Here is a table of negative forms:

GroupPlain formNegative form
Group I
(ha)(na)(su)
hanasu
(ha)(na)(sa)(na)(i)
hanasanai
(ki)(ku)
kiku
(ki)(ka)(na)(i)
kikanai
(o)(yo)(gu)
oyogu
(o)(yo)(ga)(na)(i)
oyoganai
(ta)(tu)
tatu
(ta)(ta)(na)(i)
tatanai
(u)(ru)
uru
(u)(ra)(na)(i)
uranai
(a)(ra)(u)
arau
(a)(ra)(wa)(na)(i)
arawanai
(si)(nu)
sinu
(si)(na)(na)(i)
sinanai
(to)(bu)
tobu
(to)(ba)(na)(i)
tobanai
(yo)(mu)
yomu
(yo)(ma)(na)(i)
yomanai
Group II
(mi)(ru)
miru
(mi)(na)(i)
minai
(o)(ti)(ru)
otiru
(o)(ti)(na)(i)
LH'LL
otinai
(ne)(ru)
neru
(ne)(na)(i)
nenai
(ta)(be)(ru)
taberu
(ta)(be)(na)(i)
tabenai
suru
(su)(ru)
suru
(si)(na)(i)
sinai
kuru
(ku)(ru)
kuru
(ko)(na)(i)
konai

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 (ma)(su) "masu", then add the negative suffix (n) "n" with the padding vowel of "e" to its stem. It means "-en" is actually added to "mas", which is the stem of (ma)(su) "masu". So what you have to do is add (ma)(se)(n) "masen" to the verb's stem in the same way as (ma)(su) "masu".

Since the negative suffix (n) doesn't have a past form, it uses the polite copula for the past tense. Add (de)(si)(ta) "deshita" after (n).

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 (n) 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 (n) is not simple.

This table shows a summary of forms of the verb (ha)(na)(su) "hanasu" (speak):

StepFormDescription
0
(ha)(na)(su)
hanasu
Stem + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 1.
Polite form: Go to 2.
Negative form: Go to 4.
1
(ha)(na)(si)(ta)
hanasita
Stem + past.
2
(ha)(na)(si)(ma)(su)
hanasimasu
Stem + politeness + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 3.
Negative form: Go to 6.
3
(ha)(na)(si)(ma)(si)(ta)
hanasimasita
Stem + politeness + past.
4
(ha)(na)(sa)(na)(i)
hanasanai
Stem + negation + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 5.
Polite form: Go to 8.
5
(ha)(na)(sa)(na)(ka)(small tu)(ta)
hanasanakatta
Stem + negation + past.
Polite form: Go to 9.
6
(ha)(na)(si)(ma)(se)(n)
hanasimasen
Stem + politeness + negation + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 7.
7
(ha)(na)(si)(ma)(se)(n)(de)(si)(ta)
hanasimasendesita
Stem + politeness + negation + past.
8
(ha)(na)(sa)(na)(i)(de)(su)
hanasanaidesu
Stem + negation + nonpast + politeness.
9
(ha)(na)(sa)(na)(ka)(small tu)(ta)(de)(su)
hanasanakattadesu
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 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 (i)(ru) "iru", which is a Group II verb. So its negative form is (i)(na)(i) "inai".

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

Look at samples below:

Kana: (i)(nu)(ga)    (i)(ru) (period)
Romanization: Inuga iru.
Structure: noun
(dog)
nominative
marker
verb
(exist)
Meaning:There is a dog.

Kana: (i)(nu)(ga)    (i)(na)(i) (period)
Romanization: Inuga inai.
Structure: noun
(dog)
nominative
marker
verb + negation
(not exist)
Meaning:There is no dog.

Kana: (ya)(ma)(ga)    (a)(ru) (period)
Romanization: Yamaga aru.
Structure: noun
(mountain)
nominative
marker
verb
(exist)
Meaning:There is a mountain.

Kana: (ya)(ma)(ga)    (na)(i) (period)
Romanization: Yamaga nai.
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 (na)(i) "nai" is used instead of the negative form of (a)(ru) "aru".

The polite negative form of (a)(ru) is (a)(ri)(ma)(se)(n) "arimasen", and there is no problem in using it, unlike the plain negative form. Being the opposite of the existential verb (a)(ru), the nonexistential adjective (na)(i) has two polite forms. One is the colloquial (na)(i)(de)(su) "naidesu", and the other is the formal (a)(ri)(ma)(se)(n) "arimasen".

This table shows a summary of forms of the existential verb (a)(ru) "aru":

StepFormDescription
0
(a)(ru)
aru
Stem (existential verb) + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 1.
Polite form: Go to 2.
Negative form: Go to 4.
1
(a)(small tu)(ta)
atta
Stem (existential verb) + past.
2
(a)(ri)(ma)(su)
arimasu
Stem (existential verb) + politeness + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 3.
Negative form: Go to 6.
3
(a)(ri)(ma)(si)(ta)
arimasita
Stem (existential verb) + politeness + past.
4
(na)(i)
nai
Stem (nonexistential adjective) + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 5.
Polite form: Go to 8.
5
(na)(ka)(small tu)(ta)
nakatta
Stem (nonexistential adjective) + past.
Polite form: Go to 9.
6
(a)(ri)(ma)(se)(n)
arimasen
Stem (existential verb) + politeness + negation + nonpast.
Past form: Go to 7.
7
(a)(ri)(ma)(se)(n)(de)(si)(ta)
arimasendesita
Stem (existential verb) + politeness + negation + past.
8
(na)(i)(de)(su)
naidesu
Stem (nonexistential adjective) + nonpast + politeness.
9
(na)(ka)(small tu)(ta)(de)(su)
nakattadesu
Stem (nonexistential adjective) + past + politeness.


7.7.3. Negative forms of the copula


You have learned the plain copula (da) "da" and the polite copula (de)(su) "desu". Please remeber they are contracted words which came from the old style copula (de) (a)(ru) "de aru". The negative forms of the modern copula need the old copula.

Being a combination of the postposition (de) and the existential verb (a)(ru), the old copula has a negative form of a combination of the word (de) and the nonexistential adjective (na)(i), i.e. (de) (na)(i) "de nai". Consequently it has two polite negative forms, the colloquial (de) (na)(i)(de)(su) "de naidesu" and the formal (de) (a)(ri)(ma)(se)(n) "de arimasen".

Look at the table for the forms of the existential verb (a)(ru) and add the word (de) before them. Please remember that there are more popular form for the combinations of (de) 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: (yo)(ko)(ha)(ma)(ha)    (si)(small yu)(to)(de)    (na)(i) (period)
Romanization: Yokohamawa syutode nai.
Structure: noun
(Yokohama)
topic
marker
noun
(capital)
copula
(is)
auxiliary
adjective
(not)
Meaning: Yokohama is not capital.


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


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 (ku) "ku" to an adjective's stem, which is a suffix to accept auxiliary verbs and adjectives, then add the nonexistential adjective (na)(i) after it.

These are examples:

Plain formNegative form
(yo)(i)
yoi
(yo)(ku)   (na)(i)
yokunai
(a)(tu)(i)
atui
(a)(tu)(ku)   (na)(i)
atukunai
(u)(re)(si)(i)
uresii
(u)(re)(si)(ku)   (na)(i)
uresikunai
(o)(i)(si)(i)
oisii
(o)(i)(si)(ku)   (na)(i)
oisikunai

Since these negative forms contain the nonexistential adjective, there are two polite negative forms. For example, the polite forms of (yo)(ku) (na)(i) "yoku nai" are (yo)(ku) (na)(i)(de)(su) "yoku naidesu" and (yo)(ku) (a)(ri)(ma)(se)(n) "yoku arimasen".

Look at step 4 through 9 in the table for the forms of the existential verb (a)(ru) and add the stem of an adjective with the suffix (ku) before them. Look at the adjective chapter for the affirmative forms of adjectives.

This is a sentence example:

Kana: (se)(n)(so)(u)(ha)    (yo)(ku)    (na)(i) (period)
Romanization: Senwa yoku nai.
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 (ha) "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: (wa)(ta)(si)(ha)    (su)(si)(wo)    (ta)(be)(na)(ka)(small tu)(ta)(period)
Romanization: Watasiwa susio tabenakatta.
Structure: noun
(I)
topic
marker
noun
(sushi)
accusative
marker
verb + negation
(didn't eat)

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

Kana: (wa)(ta)(si)(ha)    (su)(si)(ha)    (ta)(be)(na)(ka)(small tu)(ta)(period)
Romanization: Watasiwa susiwa tabenakatta.
Structure: noun
(I)
topic
marker
noun
(sushi)
topic
marker
verb + negation
(didn't eat)

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

On the other hand, the object (su)(si) "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 actually combinations of the word (de) and the nonexistential adjective (na)(i), so you can and should insert a topic marker between them.

Let's look at these examples:

Kana: (ri)(n)(go)(ha)    (ku)(da)(mo)(no)(da)(period)
Romanization: Ringowa kudamonoda.
Structure: noun
(apple)
topic
marker
noun
(fruit)
copula
(is)
Meaning:Apples are fruits.

Kana: (ri)(n)(go)(ha)    (ya)(sa)(i)(de)(ha)    (na)(i)(period)
Romanization: Ringowa yasaidewa nai.
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 (ya)(sa)(i)(de) (na)(i) "yasaide nai", but inserting a topic marker is much more common.

In colloquial Japanese, the combination of (de) "de" and (ha) "wa" is often contracted to (zi)(small ya) "zya". The second sentence shown above would be like this:

Kana: (ri)(n)(go)(ha)    (ya)(sa)(i)(zi)(small_ya)    (na)(i)(period)
Romanization: Ringowa yasaizya nai.
Structure: noun
(apple)
topic
marker
noun
(vegetable)
copula +
topic
marker
(is)
auxiliary
adjective
(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: (mi)(ka)(n)(ha)    (ku)(ro)(ku)    (na)(i)(period)
Romanization: Mikanwa kuroku nai.
Structure: noun
(orange)
topic
marker
adjective
(is black)
auxiliary
adjective
(not)

Kana: (mi)(ka)(n)(ha)    (ku)(ro)(ku)(ha)    (na)(i)(period)
Romanization: Mikanwa kurokuwa nai.
Structure: noun
(orange)
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 simply denies 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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