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This is my understanding:

"どうしようもない" is a complete sentence. (There is nothing that can be done.)
"noun + もない" is the sentence structure.

therefore: "どうしよう" = "noun"

"どうする" is a sentence ending with a verb (ie. not a noun).
Is "どうしよう" a noun? Is it the same part of speech as "どうする"? <--- question #1

If "どうする" = [part of speech] = "どうしょう", then "どうしようもない" is not grammatically correct. A verb cannot be the subject.

So, there are 3 ways to change a verb to noun:
(#1) "する事"
(#2) "する物"
(#3) "するのparticle"

"noun+もない" needs a noun as the subject.
"どうする" surely is the subject in "どうしようもない", but "どうする" is a verb.
so, using method #3, we use a particle to change "どうする" into a noun. The particle is "も".

Therefore, is the phrase "どうしようもない。" grammatically correct?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted




They are fixed expressions.

Etymologically, どう+する+よう+も+ない→どうしようもない→どうしょうもない

よう forms a noun

 よう やう [1] 【様】
  ( It's attached to the continuatives/infinitives to form compound nouns.)
 ㋑ しかた,方法などの意を表す。 「言い-」 「やり-」
  ( methods, manners. ways to say, ways to do )

も is sometimes used in some idiomatic negative constructions, e.g.


You can't simply say できそうない/できそうがない/できそうにもない/望むべくない/望むべくがない etc.

It can't be analyzed as a normal noun + も.

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@shinmai_psb, I added translations for the definition from the dictionary. Although ~よう is technically a noun, it's mainly used in fixed patterns, such as ~ようがない、~ようでは、~ようによって. – Yang Muye Apr 21 '14 at 13:27
I don't have ref pages to back me up, but I think I've heard "よう" used as 形容動詞 such as: "いい加減にして、死亡するような顔をしているもん。" and "日本人のように、彼は日本語ができる。" I have no concept of 連用形、so I am going to need to study that first! thank you. – shinmai_psb Apr 21 '14 at 15:10
Be careful how you apply Western parts of speech to Japanese, anyway--there is certainly no reason a priori why they should line up. See the Japanese wikipedia page on Japanese for information on how grammar is viewed by domestic theorists (academic debate aside, the "school grammar" is pretty informative) – Trevor Alexander Apr 22 '14 at 10:24

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