Grammar Info

N3 Lesson 7: 21/21


Is not impossible, It doesn't mean that it isn't


Verb[ない]+ ことはない(1)
[い]Adjective[ない]+ ことはない(1)
[な]Adjective + ではない(2) + ことはない(1)

(1) こともない
(2) じゃない


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About ないことはない

ないことはない is an expression that utilizes either the auxiliary verb ない, or the い-Adjective ない, depending on what type of word it is used with. This structure may literally be translated as something similar to 'not (A) is not all there is'. However, the common translations are '(A) is not impossible', or 'it doesn't mean that it isn't (A)'.
This expression may be used with the ない form of any verb, い-Adjective, or な-Adjective. Let's have a look at a few examples before exploring the meaning further.
  • 映画(えいが)()ないことはない(くわ)しくもない。
    It's not that I don't watch movies, but I am just not knowledgeable about them at all.
  • ここ(あぶ)ないことはないけど()つけ(ほう)がいい
    It's not that this place isn't safe, but you should be careful.
  • 元気(げんき)ではないことはないけど、すごく元気(げんき)なわけでもない
    It doesn't mean that I am not healthy, but it is not the case that I am very fit.
By itself, ことはない highlights something that is unneeded, or never happens. This is partly due to the adverbial particle は expressing something as being 'complete'. In this way, 'there is no situation in which (A)', is quite an accurate translation of ことはない. By adding ない to the (A) verb, all ないことはない is doing is simply changing this nuance to 'there is -not- no situation in which (A)', a double negative expressing that (A) is actually possible.
Fun Fact
ないことはない often appears with verbs in the potential form. This usually implies a lack of effort, or feelings of half heartedness toward the completion of (A). It is similar to 'it's not like I can't (A)' in English.
  • 納豆(なっとう)()べられないことはないけど自分(じぶん)から()って()べよう(おも)わない
    It's not that I don't like natto, it's just that I don't think I will buy it myself to eat.
  • (ある)いていけないことはないけど(ある)たら6時間(じかん)ぐらいかかるよ。
    It's not that you can't walk there, but if you did, it would take about six hours.


  • スクルージ:「オレはオジサンになったから(あたら)しいことを全然(ぜんぜん)(まな)べない。」

    Scrooge: 'I got old, so I can't learn new things at all.'
    Huey: 'No matter how old you get, it is not impossible to learn new things!'

  • A:「(かね)がないから(きみ)一緒(いっしょ)旅行(りょこう)にいけないんだ。」

    A: 'I don't have money so I can't go on a trip with you.'
    B: 'It is not impossible to take a trip without any money.'

  • A:「(あさ)いからここ(およ)ごう!」

    A: 'It's shallow so let's swim here!'
    B: 'It is shallow, but that doesn't mean that it isn't dangerous.'

  • 吉田(よしだ):「 あなた誕生日(たんじょうび)ケーキをカットしてみたい?」
    山田(やまだ):「 (ぼく)にもできないことはないけど、(きみ)がやった(ほう)いいと思う。」

    Yoshida: 'Do you want to cut the birthday cake?'
    Yamada: 'It's not that I can't do it, but I think it would be better if you did it.'

  • 清水(しみず):「昨年(さくねん)()ったドレスを()たら、どう?」

    Shimizu: 'What about wearing the dress you bought last year?'
    Kimura: 'It's not that I can't wear it, but it's a bit too small…'

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ないことはない – Grammar Discussion

Most Recent Replies (3 in total)

  • motiyuki


    In a sentence like this:

    吉田: 「あなたは誕生日ケーキをカットしてみたい?」
    山田:「 僕にもできないことはないけど、君がやった方がいいと思う。」[できる]

    Could I replace it with できない訳じゃない?

    I feel like I’m always confused about when I can only use one or the other.

  • wrt7MameLZE33wlmpCAV


    I feel like I’m always confused about when I can only use one or the other.

    You’re not alone. I frequently mixed these up (and several others) when I was first learning them.

    For this example, I don’t think わけじゃない fits as well as ないことはない. It’s hard to be sure without knowing the context, but 山田さん sounds like they might be expressing deference with regards to cutting the birthday cake. I’m not sure whose birthday it is in this case, nor what the customs are in Japan, but this could be polite deference, or it could be 山田さん genuinely just doesn’t care about cutting the cake and is suggesting 吉田さん do it instead.

    わけ literally means something like “a conclusion based on reason.” ~わけじゃない could be rendered as , “… (the preceding phrase) is not a (valid) conclusion/inference,” or, “it’s not the case that … (the preceding phrase) is a (valid) conclusion/inference.” I sometimes use these stiff, “wooden” translations in my head to help better unde...

  • Elliotjoyner3


    In regards to the sentence ここは危ないことはないけど、気を付けたほうがいい

    This probably has more to do with how I think about/ categorize い-adjectives like 危ない and 少ない, but to me this reads as “It`s not that this place is dangerous, but you should be careful.” rather than the rest of the double negative sentences given.

    Would using い-ajectives as they are still carry the same nuance of this grammar point? e.g.: 映画は世界で一番面白いことはないけど、笑った。 (“It`s not that the movie is the funniest in the world, but I laughed.”)

    Or are adjectives like 危ない special?

    I hope the question makes sense!

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