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Do the following expressions:

  1. (もうすこし)上手にでき ないものか

    I wish I could get a bit better.

  2. (どうにか)直せ ないものか

    I wish I could somehow fix it.

  3. (なんとか)でき ないものか

    I wish we could somehow do something.
    (or: "hmm, I wonder if we can't somehow do something?..")


A. "I can't ~",

B. "I wish I could ~ (but I can't)", or

C. "I can't ~ but wonder if I could~ (if I tried harder/thought a bit more a bit more about it)"?

How does the addition/removal of (i) the expressions in brackets (もうすこし/どうにか/なんとか), (ii) だろう(ie ~ものだろうか) and (iii) context in which the expression is used change the meaning?

I ask because normally a sentence ending in ~ものか is a strong denial (or does this only apply when attached to a verb in plain affirmative form (eg 似合うもんか, "It doesn't suit you"?). 

The translations are my own/taken from my notes for reference but I am not confident about conveying the correct impression when I used these terms.

Supplementary question: How is this used in polite speech? Can ~ものですか be used?

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Is it intentional that you wrote もすこし (two occurrences)? It is not incorrect, but I am asking this because it is very rare to see もすこし in a written text. – Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 9 '12 at 15:00
I meant もうすこし, now corrected. Tx. Also added a suggestion that ~ものか is only strong denial with a verb in the affirmative plain form. – Tim Aug 9 '12 at 15:56
Do 1, 2, and 3 correspond to A, B, and C? – Ataraxia Aug 9 '12 at 20:10
@phoenixheart6: No, my question is does ~ないものか as used in 1,2&3 correspond to A, B or C, or possibly all of them, or something completely different, depending on the circumstances? – Tim Aug 9 '12 at 21:12
You forgot to fix the part in the larger font. :) – Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 9 '12 at 22:21
up vote 2 down vote accepted

ものか is used in 1,2 & 3 with a potential negative verb (-> 〜ないものか) to indicate the speaker wants to do something or is wondering what choice he/she should make. This is distinct from the use of ものか to express strong disagreement or negative intention, which is typically with the non-past plain form of a verb (but can also be used with adjectives and nouns).

With respect to A, B & C: The expressions 1,2 & 3 all mean "I wish.....", the speaker might use the expression to imply whether he/she "can/can't" do something but it depends on them and the situation. The addition of だろう, as in ないものだろうか softens the expression of desire from "I wish" to "I wonder if I can....".

「ないもの(だろう)か」 is commonly used with expressions such as もうすこし/どうにか/なんとか when they simply add the meaning "a bit" or "somehow" in the same way they do in English sentences 1,2 & 3 above.

The phrase can also be used with other "non-potential negative" verbs to indicate something beyond human control eg:

人の性格は変わらないものだろうか (I wonder if a person's character ever changes?)

Supplementary question: Both ないものか and ないものだろうか are used in spoken Jse (m&f) along with ないものでしょうか and ものかしら(f). (I can't find any reference explaining the use of ないものですか but the alternative use of ものか for disagreement can take the form もんですか in female speech.)

References: "this page" link from cypher (above) and Dict. of Adv Jse Gmr (Makino)

Note: This answer is based on text-books. There is more technical detail in the references but further comment from practical experience is welcome.

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Is "infinitive" right? 大辞林 says it attaches to the 連体形. Which form are you referring to as "infinitive"? – snailboat Jan 24 '13 at 0:47
By infinitive I meant the plain form (eg 行く)which I have always thought of as equivalent to what we call the infinitive in English (eg "to go"). Reading this again, "non-negative infinitive" is a bit odd (perhaps the original was non-negative plain form?) but otherwise is that wrong? I thought the text books used the word "infinitive" too but sometimes such misunderstandings only come out in this kind of discussion. (eg The expression masu-stem is commonly used in text books but I have seen experienced users on this forum ask what it is.) – Tim Jan 24 '13 at 1:07
I think it might be misleading. If I search Google to try to find out what "infinitive" means in Japanese, none of the top results agree with "infinitive = plain form". Two of them claim it is a name for the 連用形 (e.g. 行き). I think perhaps "plain form" is more likely to be understood. – snailboat Jan 24 '13 at 1:20
ok, I changed it to plain form. – Tim Jan 27 '13 at 23:26

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