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Plain and simple. The Jisho definition "by no means; never!; well, I never!; you don't say!" doesn't seem to coincide with any of the sample sentences I find either on Jisho or Tatoeba. Can someone please shine some light on the meaning and usage of this word?


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Native speaker here and I said to myself 「まさか」 when I read this question japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/15124/… to find out that 「肉」 had a kun reading. – l'électeur Mar 30 '14 at 1:18

I'm not really sure what you mean. Looking at the sample sentences at jisho.org which are Tanaka/Tatoeba, they all fit roughly with that definition.

まさか is an exclamation, so it's going to be hard to provide an exactly translation that explains how it's used, but I take it that it is used for surprising information.

Looking at the first example:


I might translate it depending on the level of formality you want the English to have as any of the following:

(1) Wow, you've got to be kidding! (2) No way, that's a lie right? (3) That's unbelievable. It's a lie right?

I haven't really seen it used this way much which is also in the corpus (but that could just be a limit of who I encounter and when):


In these まさかの時 constructions, I take the meaning to be "unbelievable/unlikely times"

= He insures himself for unlikely times.

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I understand its usage as an interjection, but what about when it's used in larger sentences, as what I guess is an adverb, like this: "まさかもう彼が来たのではないでしょうね。" translated as "He hasn't come already, has he?" How does it work there? – theycallmezeal Mar 30 '14 at 3:57
--> "It's probably unbelievable that he hasn't come right?" – virmaior Mar 30 '14 at 5:05

You can use まさか with negation.

まさか itself means something is unbelievable and not likely to be true. So the sentence following it almost always ends with ない.

E.g. まさかもう彼が来た のではないでしょうね。You can split the sentence into two parts-- It's unbelievable that he has already come here. It's probably not true, right?

まさかもう彼が来た とは思わなかった. It's unbelievable that he has already come here. I didn't expect that.

Etymologically, まさか might be related to まさに まさしく and まことに, which all contains the root 真{ま}. So you can imagine まさか is a “REALLY!?”. This might help you remember it.

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for some reason まさしく is written 正しく. Did it use to be written 真さしく or something like that? – virmaior Mar 30 '14 at 8:43
@virmaior, I think no. I will check it later. – Yang Muye Mar 30 '14 at 8:48
@virmaior I can only find 正, even in the oldest citations in 日本国語大辞典 and the 古語辞典s I have. – snailplane Aug 11 '15 at 19:56

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