Grammar Info
N4 Lesson 3: 11/18

(not) at all

Slang: totally・completely, exceptionally

ぜんぜん + Phrase
ぜんぜん + (Negative) Phrase
Register Standard
使用域 一般
In Japanese, there are several adverbs that are traditionally used exclusively with negative expressions (containing ない). 全然(ぜんぜん) is one of them. When used at the beginning of a ない (or ません) containing phrase, 全然(ぜんぜん) has the meaning of ‘completely not (A)’, or ‘not (A) at all’.
  • やば、トイレットペーパー全然(ぜんぜん)ない
    Oh shoot, I don't have any toilet paper at all.
  • 彼女(かのじょ)家事(かじ)手伝(てつだ)い全然(ぜんぜん)なかったので別(わか)れました
    I broke up with her because she didn’t help out at all with house chores.
In writing, it is equally as natural to use either 全然(ぜんぜん) as kanji, or hiragana only, so both forms may be used confidently.
ぜんぜん is more flexible (and friendly sounding) in casual conversation than 全(まった)く, a similar expression which has a formal (often negative) nuance.
  • 今月(こんげつ)お金(かね)全然(ぜんぜん)無(な)いからパンだけ食(た)べ
    I don't have any money this month either, so I am only eating bread.
  • 昨日(きのう)後輩(こうはい)からもらっお土産(みやげ)全(まった)く美味(おい)しくありませんでした
    The souvenir we got from our junior member yesterday was not tasty at all, don't you think?
While both of these sentences have the meaning of ‘not (A) at all’, まったく could give the listener the impression that you are not pleased with the situation. This will depend quite a bit on tone of voice, though.
Despite originally being used only with negative expressions, it is becoming more and more common for ぜんぜん to appear with positive expressions as well. In these cases, it just has the meaning of ‘totally (A)’, or ‘completely (A)’.
  • 明日(あした)?全然(ぜんぜん)いい
    Tomorrow? That's completely fine!
Although this is technically not grammatically correct, it is becoming so frequently used that it is considered correct by most people (especially the younger generation).
Slow Male
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I can't speak English at all.
You don't understand at all do you?
I'm in a bad mood right now and there's no way at all I'll become happy.
みんなの日本語 I
Page 62 [CH 9]
Genki I 2nd Edition
Page 93
Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide
Page 78