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Could someone explain the grammar/words behind this and similar phrases? I did some research and probably found the explanation, but I am not sure if this is correct.

The phrase may be found in a variety of places (e.g. here) where it is usually translated as "can't stop worrying" or just "so worried"

心配 means "worry", this is clear. The meaning of たまらず is not this clear, though. My dictionary says that あず is the archaic negative form (same as in in the phrase "Vずに"). This means that the verb should be たまる. The closest verb I found is 堪る which means something like "to endure", "to bear", "to resist" (see goo jisho). So the phrase would literally mean "Cannot resist worrying". Does this explanation make any sense? Is there some other, better, explanation?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

what is the verb and its form?

The verb is tamar- (堪る) "bear, endure". The form is irrealis (未然形), hence tamara. To this -zu is attached and expresses negation.

From the commentary, you seem to understand the grammar and meaning, but are unable to interpret it as a whole. Think of it as "I am so worried that I cannot endure it anymore."

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Oh, it did not even occur to me that 心配 is a separate part of the sentence! Now that you've pointed this out, the phrase turns out to be very simple. Thanks! –  vovick Sep 25 '12 at 0:34
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You are right. It is from the verb たまる. It's of the form ~てたらない meaning, "So ~ I can't stand it."

  • あつくてたまらない → It's so hot I can't stand it
  • 心配でたまらない → I'm so worried I can't bear it

Again, as you mentioned, the ~ず form is the archaic negative form, so it fits this pattern.

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It's 〜てたまらない from the verb 堪{たま}る, I think the same as at Contrasting 〜てならない、〜てしょうがない and 〜てたまらない.

Consulting my grammar dictionary (日本語文型辞典), 〜てたまらない has a couple of meanings, the main one being "〜我慢できない", so I think it's more-or-less similar to "心配で我慢できない" ("I'm worried and can't bear it".)

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Thank you for comparing たまらず with たまらない. Turns out it is pretty much the same thing! –  vovick Sep 25 '12 at 0:36
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