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時代の流れを感じずにはいられない。 I can't help but feel time passing by.

彼のことを同情せずにはいられない。 I can't help but to feel sorry for him.

私は、彼の才能を賞賛せずにはいられない。 I can't help but admire his talent.

Would someone please explain in detail how "~ずにはいられない。" means "can't help but"?

Is the いられない a form of いる? If so, which one?

Or is it related to this: 「~し(せ)ざるをえない」?

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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

~ざるを得{え}ない literally means "cannot not". ~ずにはいられない literally means "cannot be without (do)ing" as has been noted.

Both can be translated as "cannot help but..." in many cases. Both 時代の流れを感じずにはいられない and 時代の流れを感じざるを得ない could work as "I cannot help but feel the flow of time".

However, I found that 断念{だんねん}せざるを得ない was used frequently, but 断念{だんねん}せずにはいられない was barely used. Asking someone about why this was, apparently ~ずにはいられない has connotations of doing something compulsively/cravingly, and as a result that sentence sounds unnatural:

× 希望を断念せずにはいられない "I cannot hold back the urge to abandon my hopes"

△ 希望を断念せざるを得ない "I cannot help but abandon my hopes"

According to Daijisen, ~ずにはいられない expresses the feeling of being unable to hold back emotions or hold back from performing actions even if one tries. Here are some examples from Space ALC which seem to show this:

盗{ぬす}みを働{はたら}かずにはいられない "Steal compulsively"

どうしても~を食べずにはいられない "Have a compulsive urge for"

賭{か}け事{ごと}をせずにはいられないこと "Compulsive gambling"

浮気{うわき}をせずにはいられない "Can't help cheating" (compulsively cheat)

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いられない
i-rare-nai
'be'-'can'-'not'
'cannot be'

...ずにはいられない
'cannot be without doing ...'

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Thank you. is it from 居る or should i not think of it in kanji terms? –  yadokari Dec 7 '11 at 23:44
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@yadokari: Correct, although it is uk. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Dec 8 '11 at 0:00
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sawa has the answer for "ずにはいられない".

Compared with "~せざるをえない", they are both formed by two negative phrases to get a strong positive meaning, and the latter means "have to".

And there is no しざるをえない , it's only せざるをえない. "せ" is there to stand for a "未然形" for a verb.

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