What does “shikata ga nai” mean?
Native speakers say “shikata ga nai” to mean ‘it can’t be helped’ in Japanese. This phrase is quite often used in Japanese movies, songs, anime, and the like. So, it is well known among Japanese learners, I think. In this blog post, however, I will explain this phrase in detail based on its components. And also, I will explain when Japanese people use it. My explanations would help Japanese learners to understand the phrase more clearly. Then, let’s get started!
- Definition and meaning of “shikata ga nai”
- What the components mean
- When to use the phrase
- Summary of “shikata ga nai”
Definition and meaning of “shikata ga nai”
Let me start with the definition and meaning as follows:
- shikata ga nai – 仕方がない (しかたがない) : a Japanese phrase meaning ‘it can’t be helped’.
The definition and meaning are very simple and clear, I think. To understand this phrase more clearly, however, let me explain its components in detail, one by one.
What the components mean
Grammatically, the phrase consists of the following three parts:
- shikata – 仕方 (しかた) : a noun meaning a means or way of doing something.
- ga – が : a case particle used to make the subject word or the object word in a sentence. In the phrase, this is used after “shikata” to make the subject word.
- nai – ない : an i-adjective used to deny the existence of things. In the phrase, this denies the existence of a way of doing something.
From these three components, we can understand that “shikata ga nai” literally means ‘there is no way to do something’ in Japanese. So, what the components mean is basically in line with what the phrase means.
When we meet new Japanese phrases, we should check their components in detail to understand their meanings clearly and deeply. In many cases, components tell us a lot about meanings of phrases they form. Actually, here, we could get the better understanding of “shikata ga nai” through the detailed check above.
Next, then, let me explain when to use it.
When to use the phrase
Honestly speaking, I’m very biased. I’m a native speaker and quite often say “shikata ga nai” subconsciously. So, it’s a bit hard to convey when to use it. I think, however, that Japanese people use this phrase in situations where something happens, but they don’t have any control of it. So, literally, it can’t be helped. For example, they use the phrase after natural disasters. Obviously, in those situations, there is no way to do something. So, the phrase is very suitable.
This phrase is also very suitable for more familiar situations. Actually, Japanese people often use it in their offices. They use it when something happens outside of their control: a boss says something wrong; customers say something stupid; and the like. Perhaps, this phrase represents well the mentality of Japanese people. They tend to accept what it is. In other words, they don’t disobey those who are higher positioned.
Next, then, let me explain how the phrase works through the example sentence below.
Example: how the phrase works in a sentence
Below are the new words used in the example sentence.
- kore – これ : a demonstrative pronoun referring to a thing close to the speaker. In the example, this is used to mean ‘this’ in Japanese.
- wa – は : a binding particle working as a case marker or topic marker. In the example, this is used after “kore” to make the subject word in the sentence.
- desu – です : an auxiliary verb used after a noun or adjective to make it polite. Probably, this is well known as a part of Japanese desu form. In the example, this is used after the phrase to make it sound polite.
This is a typical usage of “shikata ga nai”. In this example, it works like an adjective in the sentence. Of course, the phrase can work alone to mean ‘it can’t be helped’ in Japanese. It’s worth mentioning, however, that it can work like an adjective to describe situations where there is no way to do something.
Summary of “shikata ga nai”
In this blog post, I’ve explained “shikata ga nai” in detail based on its components. And also, I’ve explained when to use it and how it works. Let me summarize them as follows.
- shikata ga nai – 仕方がない (しかたがない) : a Japanese phrase meaning ‘it can’t be helped’. This phrase literally means ‘there is no way to do something’ in Japanese. So, native speakers use it to describe situations where there is no way to do something. This phrase can work alone, but can also work like an adjective in a sentence.
Hope my explanations are understandable and helpful for Japanese learners.
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