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Apparently the phrase でならない means something like "unable to suppress". For example, in this sentence, 残念{ざんねん}でならない means, "can't help but be disappointed":

特{とく}に最近{さいきん}の若{わか}い人{ひと}は教育{きょういく}制度{せいど}の影響{えいきょう}か、早{はや}くからもう自分{じぶん}の将来{しょうらい}はこのくらいのものだと見切{みき}りをつけて、それ以上{いじょう}は望{のぞ}まないと言{い}うような考{かんが}えの人{ひと}が少{すく}なからずいるのは残念{ざんねん}でならない。

But I just can't see how でならない can be parsed that way. It's not a double negative or anything, and it just seems to be the negative form of なる.

Recently, in response to another question I asked, I was reminded how なる is attached to words to mean "to become". So, I would translate 残念{ざんねん}でならない as "not become disappointed", which would completely reverse the meaning of the sentence above.

What is the logic behind 残念{ざんねん}でならない meaning "can't help but be disappointed", and why does it not mean "does not become disappointed"? How can I differentiate this phrase from instances where ならない simply means "does not become"?

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少くなくらずいろ should be 少なからずいる, right? Just a typo? –  ssb Jun 4 at 3:36
    
なす<>なる, する<>できる, しない<>できない, なさない<>ならない. You can think ならない means something like 残念すぎて、もうだめだ. –  Yang Muye Jun 4 at 3:40
    
I think a better translation for 残念 than "disappointed" is "disappointing". You could translate 残念にならない as "does not become disappointing", although I'm struggling to come up with a scenario where that would be idiomatic. –  dainichi Jun 4 at 3:45
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ならない is idiomatic, so in most dictionaries it has its own entry, explaining how it's different from なる. I also found 〜てならない in A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar, pp.605-8. –  snailboat Jun 4 at 12:38
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@snailboat:I'll be impressed if you can provide a good logic. I just accepted this expression, when I first learnt it but the expression I got a bit hung up on was 話に ならないこと which (I think) means something like that is complete rubbish –  Tim Jun 6 at 11:04

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The て part is a conditional particle, similar to ~してはならない, ~してしかたない, ~してすみません, etc. In 残念でならない, 残念 is the cause of ならない.

ならない is the negative form of なる, which is the intransitive verb of なす (to do). The relation between ならない and なす is analogous to できない and する. In modern Japanese, なす/ならない is only used in some fixed expressions, such as なせばなる, どうにも(こうにも)ならない/however (you do it) you will accomplish (nothing), なんとかなる/somehow manage, 我慢ならない and してはならない.

なんとかなる and 我慢ならない are clearly related to なんとかできる and 我慢できない.


残念でならない is better understood as “it is so disappointing that/and I cannot (...)”. This ならない means しかたがない or 我慢できない that is what you said “unable to suppress”.

Nevertheless, ならない is idiomatic. You cannot really replace it with できない. And there is a clear difference among ~してならない, ~してしようがない(idiomatic), ~してたまらない(idiomatic) and ~して我慢できない(unidiomatic).

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ならない is an expression that means that something is unbearably so, exceedingly so, felt strongly in such a way. It should be parsed as something separate from the normal ~になる "become" meaning. If it were to be "become" then it would use に instead of で. In this sense で is the continuative form of the copula, and as such it is describing a situation and the ならない afterward is describing something that follows as a result. 残念でならない can therefore only be parsed in the "can't help but be" meaning. If it were 残念にならない you'd have something like what you want to say, although I don't think that particular wording would be used.

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This expression is typically characterised as "I/you can't help but...." and adds emphasis to the statement which is about feelings, usually negative. You can look this up in grammar books as 〜てならない. It combines with adjectives and verbs. 残念 is a な-adjective so instead of 〜て it is 〜で.

The examples I have are:

親友の結婚式に出席できないのが 残念 でならない
I [can't help but be/am] so disapointed that I won't be able to attend my friend's wedding.

検査の結果が 気になってならない
I [can't help but be/am] concerned about the results of my physical exam.

Because it applies to the feelings it is used with first/second person. To apply to a third party you would finish the sentence with ようだ/らしい.

According to the comment above it is in the Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar but if it is not in your N1 text book then it is probably covered at N2. There are other related expressions such as 〜てたまらない and 〜てしょうがない worth knowing.

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