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I'd like to apologize for not being able to do xyz.

Rather than just saying 「すみません、何々ができません。」, could I say something like:

何々ができなくてしまいます。

Or is しまう always used with a positive te-form verb?

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What sort of nuance are you trying to convey? –  ssb Apr 18 at 17:12
    
I think this question is limited entirely to whether it is grammatical to use できなくてしまいます in this way. Is this a correct Japanese sentence, or is it nonsense? A discussion of the connotation might be an interesting aside, but is not being asked. –  AHelps Apr 18 at 22:05
    
I don't know the answer to your question but I think ~なくてしまう is ungrammatical while ~ないでしまう is grammatical. However, I think this is used for active verbs and doesn't make sense for できない –  無色受想行識 Apr 18 at 22:16
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You could say xyzができなくてすみません(でした). As you suggest I think しまう would be used to apologise for something you did rather than did not do (~してしまってすみませんでした) –  Tim Apr 19 at 2:16

3 Answers 3

Firstly, I'm not very knowledgeable about grammar so I might be talking about a different usage of the same しまう.

しまう is used when you have done something unintentionally or unwillingly. For example, from the sentence:

花瓶を壊してしまう。

you can tell that the person didn't break the vase on purpose, whereas in

花瓶を壊した。

you can't really tell the person's intention.

Now for your example, できなくてしまいます is できない + しまう. できる/できない is about your capability of doing something. When you're capable of something, you intentionally do whatever you're capable of. Therefore, it doesn't make much sense to talk about something you can't do, but can do at the same time.

That being said, できてしまう is used, I think mostly in novels, when you want to say that you are capable of doing something that you are not willing to do. For example,

諦めることができてしまう。

means that you are able to give up, even though you are unwilling to do so.

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しまう while widely used for negative occurrences that wind up happening is not exclusively used in that way. なんとなく卒業してしまった = I somehow wound up graduating. –  virmaior Apr 25 at 0:02

It seems to me that you were trying to force the English word order into Japanese, the got into trouble with attaching しまう to negative verb forms. In English you say "I'm sorry that I was unable to help". You apologize first and follow up with the explanation. In Japanese, the word order is the opposite. You say "助けてあげられなくて、すみませんでした". In some sense you can take this literally as "I failed to help, and as a result something was left unfulfilled". It preserves the temporal order of the two events, and there is no need to fuss with しまう.

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Or is しまう always used with a positive te-form verb?

しないでしまう is not common (marginally grammatical).

しなくてしまう is extremely rare.

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