Etymology 1Edit

From Old Japanese. The adjectivizing suffix appears to derive ultimately from ancient copula or stative verb (nu).

Alternative formsEdit


ない (-nai

  1. (non-productive) used to form derivative -i adjectives from other terms: having that quality, having that state; very much that quality or state
    setsunai, itokenai, gikochinai
    very moving, really young of manner, having clumsiness
Derived termsEdit

Etymology 2Edit

From the 連体形 (rentaikei, attributive form) of Early Middle Japanese adjective 無し (nashi), with the medial /-k-/ falling out.


ない (nai-i (adverbial なく (naku))

  1. 無い: no, not any
    Supūn ga nai.
    There is no spoon.
  2. not reaching a certain quantity; less than
    Kaigan made hyaku mētoru to nai
    The coast is less than 100 meters away from here.
  3. (by extension) 亡い: passed away, dead
    Watashi wa nai mono to kangaete kudasai
    Suppose I were a dead person.
Usage notesEdit
  • This term is often spelled in hiragana.
  • In public speech and written language, the irregular expressions ありません (arimasen) and ありませんでした (arimasen deshita) (past) are recommended instead of ないです (nai desu) and なかったです (nakatta desu).
  • When used as an auxiliary adjective, it follows:
    1. the 連用形 (ren'yōkei, continuative or stem form) of -i adjectives, which ends in (-ku); and,
    2. the 連用形 (ren'yōkei, continuative or stem form) of -na adjectives and nominals, which ends in (de).
    • In either case a binding particle (係助詞) can be inserted between the ren'yōkei and the nai, but (wa) is usually used for the latter.
    • では (de wa) can be contracted to じゃ (ja).
      Kono pasokon wa yasuku nai.
      This computer is not cheap.
      Watashi wa kankokugo wa jōzu de wa arimasen.
      I am not good at Korean.
  • When with the そう (-sō) suffix, it is なさそう (nasasō) instead of なそう (nasō).

Etymology 3Edit

First appears in texts from the late Muromachi period as an eastern-dialect term.

Various etymologies are supposed as:

  • From ancient eastern-dialect negative ending なふ (nafu), but there is a sizable gap of time between the apparent disappearance of nafu and the emergence of nai.[1] Moreover, nafu conjugated as a verb, whereas nai conjugates as an adjective.
That said, both nafu and nai probably derive ultimately from ancient copula or stative verb (nu), with the negative sense possibly originating from the 未然形 (mizenkei, irrealis or incomplete form) of the verb stem, to which these endings attach.
  • From the adjective ない (etymology 2). The nai auxiliary conjugates as a regular -i adjective just like the adjective nai in modern Japanese, but the patterns for the auxiliary were originally different from the adjective. In the Edo period, the auxiliary conjugated irregularly, including nanda instead of modern nakatta (past), and naikereba instead of modern nakereba (conditional).[1]
  • Derived from the negative suffix (nu).


  • In Tokyo accent, the accent of the verb construction depends on the suffixed verb:[2]
    • If the suffixed verb is accented, the accent falls on the final mora in the mizenkei stem. E.g.  [tsùkúꜜrù] (Nakadaka) → くらない [tsùkúráꜜnàì] (Nakadaka).
    • If the suffixed verb is non-accented, the result:
      • is non-accented if the suffix takes the following forms: ない (nai), ない (nai to), ないつもり (nai tsumori da), ないはず (nai hazu da), ない()(あい) (nai bāi)
      • has an accent falling on the first mora of the suffix, viz. [na], if the suffix takes the following forms: ないから (nai kara), ない (nai ka), ないでしょう (nai deshō), ない (nai de), ない (nai no…), ない (nai shi), ないなら (nai nara), なくて (nakute), なかった (nakatta), なければ (nakereba)
      • has an accent falling later in patterns like ないこと… [náí kótóꜜ …], ないよう… [náí yóꜜò …], ないそう… [náí sóꜜò …], ないほう… [náí hóꜜò …], ないらしい [náí ráshíꜜì]
    • There are a few exceptions like 恐れ入る: れいる [òsóꜜrèìrù] (Nakadaka) → れいらない [òsóꜜrèìrànàì] (Nakadaka)


ない (-nai-i (adverbial なく (-naku))

  1. Used to form the negative of verbs: not, don't
    Gakkō ni ikanai.
    I don't go to school.
    Kashite kurenai ka.
    Won't you lend me [some money]?
Usage notesEdit
  • Attaches to the 未然形 (mizenkei, incomplete form) of the verb. For 五段活用 (godan katsuyō, quintigrade conjugation, also known in English as “type 1”) verbs, this is the stem form ending in -a.
  • This word is morphologically an inflectional suffix. It is classified as 助動詞 (jodōshi, auxiliary verb) in traditional Japanese grammar.
  • Generally, ません (masen) and ませんでした (masen deshita) (past) are the recommended formal negative endings, instead of the somewhat less formal ないです (nai desu) and なかったです (nakatta desu), which are considered incorrect by conservative speakers. The original incompatibility of ない and です may be explained by the origin of ない as a verb, cf. the Etymology section.
  • The auxiliary nai and the adjective 無い (nai) have mostly converged in modern usage. One distinction that is still maintained by some speakers appears when attaching そう (, appears like, seems like) or すぎる (sugiru, too, too much, in excess):
    • Adjective nai + or sugirunasa, nasasugiru
    • Auxiliary nai + or sugirunasō, nasugiru
    • The process of convergence is ongoing, and the -infix might be used by some speakers even with the auxiliary. This could be considered as proscribed in formal contexts, as slang or a grammatical error.
  • (rare, archaic) (nu)
  • (very casual or archaic and dialectal) (n)
  • (Kansai) へん (hen)

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1988, 国語大辞典(新装版) (Kokugo Dai Jiten, Revised Edition) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Shogakukan
  2. ^ Online Japanese Accent Dictionary (OJAD)