- What is “zenzen nai” in Japanese?
- Example of the phrase, “zenzen nai”
- Use zenzen alone
- Examples with positive nuance
- How to use zenzen with positive nuance
What is “zenzen nai” in Japanese?As I mentioned in the last paragraph, “zenzen nai” corresponds well to the English expression, “not at all”. Japanese native speakers often use the phrase, “zenzen nai”, in daily conversation for denying or rejecting something. Depending on the situation, other words can also be added between these two words. Let’s take a close look at them first and then check an example for better understanding.
- zenzen – 全然 (ぜんぜん) : an adverb to be used together with the auxiliary verb, “nai”, to express strong denial. Its translation would be ‘wholly’, ‘entirely’ or ‘completely’.
- nai – ない : an auxiliary verb to be added after a verb to make a negative expression. This combination of a verb and auxiliary verb corresponds well to a combination of “not” and a verb in English. Probably this would be very famous for a part of a nai form among Japanese leaners.
Example of the phrase, “zenzen nai”Below is the example of “zenzen nai”.
Two words, “zenzen” and “nai”, were already explained in the last paragraph. So, here, I will explain other three words.
- ki – 気 (き) : a noun to mean ‘mind’, ‘sprit’ or ‘mood’.
- ni – に : a case particle to express a result of action described by a following verb. In the example, “ki 気 (き)” is a result of the following verb, “naru なる”.
- nara – なら : an imperfective form (nai form) of the verb, “naru なる”, meaning ‘to become’, ‘to get’ or ‘to turn’.
This is the very basics of “zenzen nai”.
Use zenzen aloneI’ve explained the combination of “zenzen” and “nai”. Grammatically, “zenzen” is expected to be together with “nai”. Yet, this does not mean that Japanese native speakers always use these two words together. Actually, they often use the word, “zenzen”, alone and omit following words and phrases including the auxiliary verb, “nai”.
What happens if “zenzen” is used alone? When Japanese native speakers hear it in conversation, they usually expect a negative verb, phrase or expression to come next. Even if neither one comes and “zenzen” is used alone, they still expect a negative nuance. Therefore, Japanese leaners can easily add a negative nuance with the help of “zenzen”.
However, unfortunately, languages have been changing slowly but gradually. The use of “zenzen” alone is not an exception. In Japan, today, especially young people use “zenzen” without any negative nuance. This is very confusing even for native speakers.
Examples with positive nuanceBelow is an example of the word, “zenzen”, with a positive nuance.
A word never explained in previous paragraphs is below.
- suki – 好き (すき) : a verb to mean ‘to like’, ‘to love’ or ‘to prefer’.
Here is a new word.
- okkē – オッケー (おっけー) : a katakana expression of the English word, “okay”.
This is how to use “zenzen” with a positive nuance. This usage is getting more and more popular.
How to use zenzen with positive nuanceSorry, but it’s very hard to explain how to use “zenzen” with a positive nuance grammatically. There is no rule. All what I can say is that if Japanese leaners use it in a positive sentence, native speakers would accept it since even they cannot judge what is correct and what is not. However, I strongly recommend that Japanese leaners should use “zenzen” together with “nai” and focus on use with a negative nuance. This would be very helpful to avoid any confusion. As I already explained, Japanese people usually expect negative expressions after “zenzen”. Please get the basics right first.
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.