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I'm not even certain that ないでいます is used, but if it is, what is it's difference from ていません? They are both negation, but one is saying they are negating, and the other one is saying they aren't doing. Any help?

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

(@yadokari)

Suppose that "I have been not eating" were correct English. Then it would suggest that I were in the prolonged state of "not eating", e.g. trying not to eat.

"I haven't been eating" suggests that I happened not to be in the state of "eating" for some period of time. This may be coincidental.

Although it takes some work to see the difference in English, the above example translates readily into Japanese as

食べないでいます
I have been not eating

食べていません
I haven't been eating

For example

断食をしてる間は、寒いと食べないでいるのが特にきつい。
During fasting, when it's cold, then it is particularly difficult to not be eating.

Coming to think of it, I think that the difference in English can be related to the "no split infinitives" rule (which, if I remember correctly, was introduced in the 19th century as an act of arbitrariness to define "proper speech" through grammars, which would distinguish the well-read upper class from simple folk).

The "no split infinitives" rule corrects the above to

... it's particularly difficult not to be eating.

Another rule says that negation should be done on the auxiliary verb (any inflection, in fact). So "to be not eating" negates "eating" directly, but that should be done on the auxiliary verb "to be", whence "to not be eating". But then, the "no split infinitives" pulls the negation out to the front: "not to be eating".

Out of the following, I think only the first is formally correct

○ not to be eating
× to not be eating
× to be not eating

Japanese has no analogous rules; you can negate either part of the ~ている construction.

The nuances that can be conveyed with this construction are described in Kohsuke Kawaguchi's answer.

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you are suggesting ""I have been not eating" expresses volition, but I don't accept this as a certainty. Does the Japanese 食べないでいる necessarily express volition? –  yadokari Jun 29 '13 at 2:50
    
@yadokari I didn't mean to imply that it expresses volition. I said that, for example, such a prolonged state of "not eating" could occur when somebody is actually trying not to eat. I didn't rule out that such a state cannot be brought about in a different way. (Compare the other answer, where someone procrastinates visiting his home town.) In any case, I don't think I can say much more about this. I have tried to be as clear as possible. –  Earthliŋ Jun 29 '13 at 3:57
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ないでいます conveys that not only one is not doing something, but also one has been in that state for a while (as in, one hasn't been doing it.) In comparison, ていません just says one is not doing something right now.

Therefore ないでいます carries a bit of feeling that one is procrastinating, as in 近いうちに田舎に帰ろうと決めたのですが、できないでいます。(I decided to visit my home town but I haven't managed.)

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There is definitely a conceptual difference between the two, but I think English fails to pick up on it: "I haven't been doing X" vs. "I have been not doing X". The second just sounds like bad English. –  Earthliŋ Jun 28 '13 at 17:08
    
@Earthling, perhaps this is not easily translatable into english, but I do not understand your examples. Could you elaborate? –  yadokari Jun 28 '13 at 19:06
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