- Negative expressions in Japanese
- Breakdown of nai form
- Verbs in nai form
- Breakdown strikes back
- Adjectives in nai form
- Wrap-up of nai form
Negative expressions in JapaneseHow do Japanese native speakers make negative expressions or sentences? In English, we can use the word, “not”, to make them. Is there any similar word in Japanese? Yes. “Nai ない” is it. Let’s check its definition and meaning.
- nai – ない : an auxiliary verb or adjective to deny a meaning of a prior word.
Breakdown of nai formSo far, I’ve use the word, “nai form”, because this word would be much familiar to Japanese learners. Plus this word expresses exactly what that form looks like. Nai formed words always end with “nai”.
However, Japanese native speakers are not familiar with this name. Actually, they learn this form in a bit different way. In order to explain this, let me show you a breakdown of the form first.
From the grammatical point of view, a nai form consists of two parts. One is a verb/adjective and the other is “nai”. So an equation of a nai form would be like the following.
I need to add more explanations about a verb/adjective shown on the right side in the equation. Unfortunately, a verb or an adjective cannot be connected with “nai” unless we take a proper procedure. We need to consider a proper conjugation of them. First, let me focus on verbs. For verbs, the proper conjugation is mizenkei 未然形 (みぜんけい). This is what Japanese people usually learn in school instead of a nai form. Let’s take a closer look at it in the next paragraphs.
MizenkeiIn the last paragraph, I explained that we need to change verbs to their proper conjugation, mizenkei, to make better connection with “nai”. Naturally, questions arise. What is mizenkei? What does mizenkei mean?
When you feel difficulty to understand a Japanese kanji expression which is completely new to you, its breakdown could help you a lot. Please see the breakdown of the word, “mizenkei”, below.
- mizen – 未然 (みぜん) : a noun corresponding well to an English adverb. It means ‘previously’ or ‘before something happens’.
- kei – 形 (けい) : a noun to mean a ‘form’, ‘type’, ‘shape’ and so on.
Verbs in nai formIn the last paragraphs, I’ve explained a meaning and concept of a nai form through its breakdown. It was a good start. Then we need to learn something more practical.
The next point would be how to make a nai form. Let me continue explanations only with verbs. So the point is how to make nai formed verbs. Now let’s assume that “nai” does not change at all. This means we can focus on how to change verbs to their mizenkei.
Just for your information, but to tell the truth the auxiliary verb/adjective, “nai”, itself can also change its form depending on words used together. However, here, I focus on verbs put before “nai” only for the sake of simplicity. Starting with a small step is always important.
In the following paragraphs, I will explain how to change a verb to its proper conjugation in order to have better connection with “nai”.
Example 1: verbBelow is an example.
- watashi – 私 (わたし) : a pronoun to mean ‘I’.
- wa – は : a binding particle working as a case maker or topic maker. Here, it is used as a case maker and helps “watashi” to become a subject in the example sentence.
- kyoto – 京都 (きょうと) : a noun which is a name of one of the most popular cities in Japan.
- ika – 行か (いか) : a mizenkei formed verb to mean ‘to go’. Its plain form is “iku 行く (いく)“.
So the point here is how to make the mizenkei formed verb, “ika”, from its plain form, “iku”. What is the difference between them? Only one difference we can see here is vowels, namely, “a” and “u”. Interestingly, English alphabets are very helpful and useful to understand Japanese conjugations. Actually, mizenkei of “iku” can be made by replacing its last vowel with “a”. This is only one example. Yet this method can be applied to at least more than a half of Japanese verbs. Depending on a verb, sometimes we need to use “e” instead of “a”. And of course, as always, there are some special exceptions though.
In the following paragraphs, let’s check if this simple method can also be applied to Japanese adjectives.
Breakdown strikes backOops! Before checking if the method can be applied to adjectives, I need to recheck a breakdown of a nai form. Components of a nai form for Japanese adjectives are different from those for verbs. Now it’s obvious that adjectives need to be used instead of verbs for further explanations. So components must be different, but this is not what I want to say. Here, what I want to say is that a different conjugation needs to be considered for adjectives. Renyōkei 連用形 (れんようけい) is the one. Actually, mizenkei formed adjectives do not fit with “nai”.
Ren’yōkeiIn the same way as I did for mizenkei, let me show you a breakdown of “ren’yōkei” for a better understanding.
- ren’yō – 連用 (れんよう) : a noun to mean ‘connection to a declinable word’.
- kei– 形 (けい) : a noun to mean ‘form’, ‘type’, ‘shape’ and so forth.
By the way, Japanese verbs also can be changed to their ren’yōkei. However, unfortunately, ren’yōkei formed verbs do not fit with “nai”. There seems to be a contradiction. Although “ren’yōkei” could mean ‘a form for connection with nai’, ren’yōkei formed verbs cannot be connected with it smoothly. This kind of contradiction could happen to languages. Sometimes we face gaps or mismatchings which cannot be explained grammatically or even theoretically.
Then, get back to the previous topic. How can we make a nai form of adjectives? In other words, more precisely, how can we make ren’yōkei formed adjectives?
Adjectives in nai formThrough following two examples, I will explain adjectives in nai form. One example is for an i-adjective, and the other is for a na-adjective.
Example 2: i-adjectiveBelow is an example.
- utsukushiku – 美しく (うつくしく) : a ren’yōkei formed i-adjective to mean ‘beautiful’. Its plain form is “utsukushii 美しい (うつくしい)“.
Example 3: na-adjectiveThen let’s take a look at an example using a na-adjective.
- kireide – 綺麗で (きれいで) : a ren’yōkei formed na-adjective to mean ‘beautiful’, ‘clean’ or such. Its plain form is “kireina 綺麗な (きれいな)“.
Wrap-up of nai formIn this blog post, I’ve explained what a nai form is and how to make it with Japanese verbs, i-adjectives and na-adjectives. Let me summarize them as follows.
- A nai form consists of a verb/adjective and the auxiliary verb/adjective, “nai”, which corresponds well to “not” in English. This form is widely used to make negative sentences in Japanese.
- Verbs need to be changed to their mizenkei to fit with “nai”.
- I-adjectives and na-adjectives need to be changed to their ren’yōkei to fit with “nai”.
- In order to change verbs to their mizenkei, the last vowel of their plain form, “u”, needs to be replaced with “a” or perhaps “e”.
- To change i-adjectives to their ren’yōkei, the last vowel of their plain form, “i”, needs to be replaced with “ku”.
- To change na-adjectives to their ren’yokei, the last two characters of their plain form, “na”, need to be changed with, “de”.
Japanese Particles Master
Masaki Mori is a Japanese particles master. Through teaching Japanese language, he is trying to spread the culture of Japan. His goal is to preserve it as much as possible.