Japanese native speakers often use the word, “nai”, to make negative expressions. This word is famous for a part of a nai form which is one of the most useful Japanese conjugations. So most probably it is very familiar to Japanese learners. The word itself looks very simple and easy, but this does not mean its definitions, meanings and usages are also simple and easy. In this blog post, I will explain them.
- Definition and usage of nai
- Nai meaning in hiragana
- Nai meaning in kanji
- And the rest: nai meaning in katakana and summary
Definition and usage of naiFirst of all, let’s explore the world of the word, “nai”. Don’t worry! It’s relatively small so we can easily reach the end. In principle, its definitions and usages can be classified into the following three.
- nai – ない : an auxiliary verb to deny a meaning of a prior word. It corresponds well to the English word, “not”. Nai used as a part of nai formed verbs is an auxiliary verb.
- nai – ない : an i-adjective to deny a meaning of a prior word. It corresponds well to the English word, “not”. Nai used as a part of nai formed adjectives is an i-adjective.
- nai – ない/無い (ない) : an i-adjective to mean ‘not to exist’. So, in a way, it denies existence of a thing described prior words. In this case, it is basically an independent adjective.
Japanese people learn these three types of “nai” in school, but to be honest they usually don’t remember such minor things. So, you are already much more knowledgeable than they are. Through the following examples, let’s solidify your knowledge more.
By the way, most probably you’ve already understood nai meanings and the difference in hiragana and kanji from the list above. Nevertheless, I will continue explanations. Explanations through examples would be very helpful to have a better understanding.
Nai meaning in hiraganaLet’s start with an example with “nai” in hiragana.
Example 1: a part of an i-adjective
Before detailed explanations, let me check new words here.
- kyoto – 京都 (きょうと) : a noun which is a name of one of the most famous Japanese cities.
- wa – は : a biding particle working as a case maker or topic maker. In the example sentence, it works as a case maker and helps the noun, “kyoto”, to become the subject.
- utsukushiku – 美しく (うつくしく) : one of the conjugations of an i-adjective, “utsukushii“, which means ‘beautiful’.
- nai – ない : an adjective to deny a meaning of a prior word. In this example case, it denies the meaning of “utsukushiku”.
Example 2: an independent adjective
Below are new words.
- ni – に : a case particle to indicate a place where someone or something is.
- kūkō – 空港 (くうこう) : a noun which means ‘airport’.
- nai – ない : an adjective to mean ‘not to exist’. In the example, it denies the existence of airports in Kyoto.
So far, I’ve showed two examples to explain “nai” in hiragana. Next, I will check its meaning in kanji. Let’s take a look at the following example.
Nai meaning in kanji
Example 3: in kanji
Below are two new words.
- okane – お金 (おかね) : a noun to mean ‘money’. The first hiragana character “o お” is an honorific prefix.
- ga – が : a case particle. Here it works as a case maker and helps the noun, “okane”, to become the subject.
- nai – ない/無い (ない) : an i-adjective to mean ‘not to exist’. It denies the existence of money here.
- If “nai” is in kanji, it’s used to deny existence of things expressed by prior words.
- If “nai” is in hiragana and a part of nai formed words, it’s used to deny a meaning of a prior word.
- In other cases, namely, if “nai” is in hiragana and not a part of nai formed words, it’s used to deny existence of things expresses by prior words.
Also, independence of “nai” is helpful to distinguish its usages. Yet, that way would be a bit more difficult because it presupposes much knowledge of Japanese particles.
And the rest: nai meaning in katakana and summarySo far, I’ve explained nai meanings, usages and the difference in hiragana and kanji. What still remains? Yeah, I need to add some explanations for its katakana expression. What happens if “nai” is written in katakana?
On texting apps or message apps, young people sometimes write “nai” in katakana. And they use it as an independent word to mean ‘not to exist’. So, its katakana expression would be acceptable in certain situations. However, basically, this usage gives very casual impressions to Japanese native speakers. Therefore I strongly recommend that Japanese learners should use its hiragana and kanji expressions only. Actually, it’s rarely written in katakana except for texting apps or chatting apps.
I’ve covered all I want to explain about the word, “nai”. Normally it is written in hiragana or kanji. If it’s written in kanji, only one possibility needs to be considered. Contrary to this, if it’s written in hiragana, we need to consider all possibilities and distinguish them properly. Hope this blog post helps you to improve your Japanese skill.
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.