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I noticed there are many 形容詞{けいようし} (i-adjectives) that end in 〜ない, where the な is not part of the kanji, and doesn't seem to have the meaning 無い.


Examples:

  • 危{あぶ}ない means "dangerous", while 危 means "danger"
  • 少{すく}ない means "few"/"scarce", while 少 means "few"/"little"
  • 切{せつ}ない means "heartrending"/"trying", while 切 means "earnest"/"ardent"

(For contrast, examples where it's clearly 無い: 心ない, 情けない, 力ない.)


I wonder where exactly this ない is coming from. It is not a classical Japanese ending to my knowledge (like 〜しい).

I speculate that it could be an alternative shortening of the classical Japanese copula 〜なり, but this is odd to me because I suspect the usual shortening of 〜な would be used if this were the case (as we see in 形容動詞{けいようどうし} (na-adjectives)).

Does anyone know the etymology of these words and/or the meaning of this 〜ない?

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危ない切ない –  snailboat Jan 24 '13 at 1:09
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The -nai suffix is defined here: dic.yahoo.co.jp/… –  Dono Jan 24 '13 at 1:14
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Thanks to snailplane's and Dono's links, it seems that the answer is fairly established:

大辞泉

形容詞・形容動詞の語幹など性質・状態を表す語に付いて形容詞をつくり、その意味を強調する

大辞林

性質・状態を表す語(形容詞・形容動詞の語幹など)に付いて形容詞をつくり、程度のはなはだしい意を表す

Namely, 〜ない is also a suffix that attaches onto words describing state or quality, turns them into a 形容詞, and emphasizes them.

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Though if someone knows the etymology of 〜ない itself, that'd be pretty interesting to hear :). –  Darius Jahandarie Jan 24 '13 at 4:10
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