The following sentence, along with its translation, is from the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar (intermediate).

吉田さんは日本人だ。しかも、小説家だ。だからと言って、日本語が教えられるとは限らない。 (Ms. Yoshida is Japanese. And she is a novelist. But she may not necessarily be able to teach Japanese.)

My problem is at the end of the sentence. The way I parse it goes like this (just a rough translation to help the discussion):

日本語が教えられる = Japanese that is "teachable"

日本語が教えられるとは = About Japanese that is "teachable"..

日本語が教えられるとは限らない = About Japanese that is "teachable", it is not limited.

However, this disagrees with the translation. Why does 限らない here still mean "limited" or "restricted", even though it is negative? And how would the sentence change if it were to end with just "限る"?

  • 1
    Does this answer your question? japanese.stackexchange.com/q/8253/43676
    – aguijonazo
    Jan 3 at 14:58
  • @aguijonazo It absolutely does. It didn't occur to me that the entire "とは限らない" construction could be a single grammar point, as explained in one of the answers to the linked question, so I missed it. Thank you!
    – Lee
    Jan 3 at 15:30
  • I suspect another possible point of confusion is your parsing of 教えられる. 「日本語が教えられる」 can be parsed as "Japanese that is teachable / able to be taught", but in the context of your sample text, this use of the passive is instead meant to convey potential -- that Yoshida-san can teach Japanese. Jan 3 at 18:37

1 Answer 1

  • 日本語が教えられる means "(one) can teach Japanese" rather than "Japanese that is teachable". It's interchangeable with 日本語教えられる (see this). 日本語 is obviously not modified by any relative clause here. If you really needed to say "Japanese that is teachable", that would be 教えられる日本語.
  • This とは is a quotative-と followed by a contrastive-は used with negation. とは has several usages, but it does not mean "about" here.
  • If you really want a literal meaning of 限る here, that would be "to necessarily mean" or "to be conclusive" rather than "to limit". However, this sense is always applied in a negative sentence. It's best to memorize とは限らない as a common set phrase meaning "it does not necessarily mean". (In English, "necessarily mean" is almost always used with some sort of negation, right?) Even monolingual dictionaries forgo providing a non-negative sense of this 限る and explain it like "(used with words of negation) something cannot be definitively stated".

So the combined meaning is:


That she can teach Japanese is not conclusive.
→ It does not necessarily mean she can teach Japanese.

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