Grammar Info

N1 Lesson 5: 6/17


Cannot even...if wants, Would like to...but cannot, Wants to...but cannot


Verb[る](A) + + Verb[できる][ない](A)


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About 〜に〜ない

に~ない is a construction which appears with repeating verbs in Japanese to indicate that one 'cannot (A) even if they want to', or 'due to some circumstances, can't (A)'. the case marking particle に will appear after a verb in its dictionary form, before the potential form of the same verb will be negated with ない. In this way, the more literal meaning is 'for (A), (A) is not possible'.
  • 生徒(せいと)()った冗談(じょうだん)面白(おもしろ)かったが内容(ないよう)下品(げひん)だったので(わら)(わら)なかった
    The joke the student told was funny, but it was inappropriate so I could not laugh even if I wanted to.
  • 本当(ほんとう)時間(じかん)はあんまりなかったが、先輩(せんぱい)(たの)まれたから(ことわ)(ことわ)なかった
    I actually didn't really have too much time, but since my senpai asked me I couldn't refuse even if I wanted to.
  • 息子(むすこ)には明日(あした)までに(すべ)(だい)(つく)ってあげると約束(やくそく)してしまったので、どんな(いそが)しくても()()ない
    I promised my son that I would build him a slide by tomorrow, so I can't back out no matter how busy I am.
It will be important to keep in mind that する does not have a potential form, so できない will be used in the latter half of this expression when paired with する verbs.
  • 最近(さいきん)色々(いろいろ)(なや)(ごと)(おお)くて、集中(しゅうちゅう)するできない
    A lot has been on my mind recently that I haven't been able to concentrate even if I wanted to.
Additionally, ない may sometimes be replaced with other structures that convey negation, such as ず.
  • 息子(むすこ)一晩中(ひとばんじゅう)()いていて()()徹夜(てつや)をしてしまった。
    My son cried all night and because of that I couldn't sleep even if I wanted to and stayed up all night.
Occasionally, the dictionary form of a verb will be replaced with the auxiliary verb う or よう volitional forms, and will then be followed by にも. The potential form of the same verb coming before ない will remain the same.
  • 昨日(きのう)練習(れんしゅう)(あし)怪我(けが)をしてしまったので(ある)こうにも(ある)ない
    I couldn't walk even if I wanted to because I injured my foot in yesterday's practice.
  • (いま)仕事(しごと)()めようと(おも)っているが、(つぎ)のところが()つからないから(いま)仕事(しごと)()めようにも()められない
    I'm thinking of quitting my current job, but I can't find another one, so I couldn't quit my current job even if I wanted to.
Although the meanings are the same between both of these, the dictionary form tends to highlight psychological circumstances for why one 'cannot (A)', while the volitional form highlights more concrete or physical circumstances.




    During my junior high school days, I confessed to a girl I liked and was rejected. There were some people nearby, so I was in a position where I could not cry even if I wanted to.


    The boss that everyone hates had a spectacular fall. The employees' faces looked as though they wanted to laugh but were unable to.


    'Why is he not willing to go back to school?'
    'I'm not sure if something happened or not, but maybe he is in a situation where he cannot talk about it (even though he may want to).'


    'She said, 'If you refuse, I will kill you,' so the situation suddenly turned into one where I couldn't refuse even if I wanted.'


    I have a meeting today, but snow has piled up and the road is closed, so I can't go, even if I want to.

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