Japanese Grammar

Partial Negation and Double Negative in Japanese

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Last time, you learned how the explanatory わけだ works, e.g. “ほんはなせるようになった。じょ重要じゅうようだったわけだ (I became able to speak Japanese. The particles were important).” Just like the explanatory のだ, わけだ also has an important role to express detailed nuances. In fact, のだ and わけだ are indispensable for expressing negative sentences in various ways. In this lesson, we will feature advanced negative sentences.

Explanation for How Partial Negation and Double Negative Work

Table of Contents
Proper Particles of Negative Sentences
Partial Negation
Double Negative

This is the last lesson about negative sentences. In order to understand it, you have to have prior knowledge of the normal negative form, the focus particle は, and the explanatory わけだ. Please clarify any doubts you may have before moving forward.

Proper Particles of Negative Sentences

あめ っている。
It’s raining. *Said when you have opened a window.
あめ っていない。
It’s not raining. *Said when you have opened a window.

In negative sentences, we can say that the topic particle は is more often used than the particle が. With the above examples, が is more suitable in the positive sentence because you expressed new information, which is one of the functions of が. However, you don’t essentially find new information in the negative sentence. Therefore, は is more suitable.

However, when you have certainly found something new in a negative sentences, the particle が is more suitable. Proper particles really depend on the context.

あじ ない。
It tastes of nothing. *Said when you have had a food.

When you respond to questions by using negative sentences, the particle は is more natural because we can regard the things that you are asked as topics.

A. ロシアはなせますか?
Can [you] speak Russian?
B. いいえ、ロシアはなせません。
No, as for Russian, [I] can’t speak [it].

Partial Negation

…のではない and …わけではない

[わたしは] ちゅうごく 学校がっこう べんきょうしたんじゃ(ない / ありません)
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Location of Action Partial Negation
[I] didn’t study Chinese at school [but studied it in other places].
全員ぜんいん ほん はなせるわけじゃ(ない / ありません)
Subject Direct Object Partial Negation
Not everyone can speak Japanese.

Both …のではない and わけではない express partial negation. The conjugations are the same as the explanatory のだ and わけだ. The difference between the two sentence patterns is that …のではない indicates that supplementary information is not correct, e.g. with the above example, the fact that you studied Chinese is correct, but the place is wrong. By contrast, …わけではない indicates that predicates are not correct. Note: This is just a grammatical rule. Not every Japanese person follows grammar in practice.

このゆびぶんったんじゃないです)。
As for this ring, [I] didn’t buy [it] by myself [but someone gave me it].
ほんには観光かんこうったんじゃ(ない / ありません)
As for Japan, [I] didn’t go [there] for sightseeing [but something else].
ほんしょくがすべて美味おいしいわけじゃない / ありません)。
Not all Japanese cuisines are delicious.
さけ身体からだわるわけじゃない / ありません)。
Alcohol is not bad for your body [but affect you in some aspects].

The Negative Form + Focus Particle は

ほんなつ あつくはない
Topic / Subject Predicate + Contrast
Summer in Japan is not hot [but something else].

This is what you learned in the combined particle lesson. By adding the focus particle は which indicates contrast, you can express partial negation. If you have doubt about the conjugation, please review the previous lesson.

げんではない / ありません)。
[I’m] not fine [but something else].
ほんはなせはしない / しません)。
As for Japanese, [I] cannot speak [but can do other things like writing].

If you replace は with も which indicates inclusion, you express total negation. With the second example above, 日本語は話せしない means that you cannot speak Japanese, but there is the possibility that you can do other things like writing. By contrast, if you say, 日本語は話せしない, it means you deny the fact that you can speak Japanese and the possibility that you can do other things.

げん(ない / ありません)。
[I’m] not even fine.
ほんはな(しない / しません)。
As for Japanese, [I] cannot even speak.

かならずしも + …ない / …とはかぎらない: Indicating “Not Always or Necessarily”

貧乏びんぼう かならずしも こうじゃ(ない / ありません)
Topic / Subject Adverb Predicate
The poor are not always unhappy.

必ずしも is an adverb and the counterpart to “not always” or “not necessarily.” By using 必ずしも with the negative form, you can express partial negation like “it’s not always” or “it’s not necessarily that…”

とりかならずしもそらを(ばない / びません)。
It is not necessarily that birds fly in the sky.
かならしも先生せんせいただしくない / ありません)。
Teachers are not always right.

とは限らない has almost the same meaning as 必ずしも…ない, but can be more flexibly used with several adverbs. The conjugation is to just attach the plain form of verbs. When you use nouns and na-adjective, both adding and not adding だ are natural. There is a typical combination, which is to utilize “(だ)からといって: just because.”

ゆめかならずしもかなとはかぎらない / かぎりません)。
It is not necessarily that dreams always come true.
山登やまのぼりがいつも安全あんぜんだとはかぎらない / かぎりません)。
Mountain climbing is not always safe.
ほんじんだからといってかんとくとはかぎらないです)。
Just because [I’m] Japanese, it’s not necessarily that [I’m] good at kanji.

Double Negative

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Double negative means that the negative form is used twice in a single sentence. However, that’s not the same nuance as positive sentences. As the above chart shows, double negatives are closer to normal negative sentences. Be careful, in this context, English translations don’t work well.

…なくはない and …ないことはない

[わたしは] ちゅうごく わからなくは(ない / ありません)
[Topic / Subject] Object of Potential Double Negative
[I] somewhat understand Chinese.
[わたしは] スペイン べんきょうしないことは(ない / ありません)
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Double Negative
[I] will perhaps study Spanish.

Both …なくはない and ないことはない indicate states that are close to normal negative sentences. However, the connectivity is different. You can only use i-adjectives and non-volitional verbs, which include the potential form, with なくはない. The conjugation is to replace the last い of the negative form with く and then connect with はない. By contrast, you can use any part of speech with ないことはない. The conjugation is to combine the negative form with the nominalizer こと and then connect with はない.

うれしくなくはない / ありません)よ。
[I’m] somewhat glad. *Close to “I’m not glad.”
ほんゆきらなくはない / ありません)。
In Japan, it seldom snows. *Close to “It doesn’t snow.”
バレーはにんじゃないことはない / ありません)。
Volleyball is somewhat popular. *Close to “Volleyball is not popular.”
つだわないことはない / ありません)よ。
[I will] perhaps help [you]. *Close to “I won’t help.”

In this context, even if you replace は with も, the nuance won’t change.

うれしくなく(ない / ありません)よ。
ほんゆきらなく(ない / ありません)。
バレーはにんじゃないこと(ない / ありません)。
つだわないこと(ない / ありません)よ。

Double Partial Negation

ちゅうごく学校がっこうべんきょうしなかったんじゃない / ありません)。
*Negation of “[I] didn’t study Chinese at school [but studied it in other places].”
全員ぜんいんほんはなせないわけじゃない / ありません)。
*Negation of “Not everyone can speak Japanese.”

This may look complicated, but is just negation of partial negation. Let’s call them “Double Partial Negation.“ For the sake of simplicity, we can say that 勉強しなかったんじゃない means 勉強した, but has some implications. For instance, the following is a practical example in conversation.

ほんじんはどうしてえい下手へたなの?学校がっこうべんきょうしないの?
Why are Japanese people poor at English? Don’t they study [it] at school?
学校がっこうべんきょうしないんじゃないべんきょうしても下手へたなんだよ。
[We] study [it]. Even if [we] studied, [we] are still poor.
でも、全員ぜんいんえいはなせないわけじゃないよ。
But, a certain number of people can speak English.

Frankly speaking, double partial negation is not a good sentence construction. It’s just confusing. Thus, we don’t recommend you use it, but remember the concept in order to recognize it when native speakers use it with you.

Summary

  1. …のではない and …わけではない express partial negation.
  2. The negative form + focus particle は also express partial negation.
  3. 必ずしも + …ない or …とは限らない indicate “not always or necessarily.”
  4.  …なくはない and …ないことはない indicate states that are close to normal negative sentences.

Both partial negation and double negative are often used in everyday life. When it comes to partial negation, please pay attention to which part in a sentence is denied. Meanings will totally differ depending on it. On the other hand, you should avoid using double negatives in situations where you are required to make a clear report like a business conference. It’s important to understand not only the grammatical rule but also the suitable situations as well. Next, you will learn how to express difficulty and possibility.

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