For a long time, I have trouble telling apart whether sentences ending with じゃない are affirmative or negative, especially when it is combined with particles の and か.

From the top of my head, here are possible variants of 猫じゃない. I attached my own translation to each of them.

  • 猫じゃない: "[It] is not a cat."
  • 猫じゃないか: "[It] is a cat, right?"
  • 猫じゃないのだ: "[It] is not a cat" (stronger version of 猫じゃない)
  • 猫じゃないのか: Assuming 猫じゃない is true "[It] is not a cat, no?"
  • 猫なのじゃない: Explaining "[It] is not a cat." (basically a negation of 猫なのだ)
  • 猫なのじゃないか: "It is a cat?" (weaker version of 猫じゃないか)
  • 猫なのじゃないのか: Similar to 猫なのじゃないか?

Are my translations fine? I wonder if some of them are context-dependent.

I have doubts on how「猫?」is different from「猫じゃないのか」. I believe that when the speaker uses the latter, they are certain that "[It] is not a cat." Is that right?

Based on my limited experience, I feel like じゃないか and じゃないのか can be used interchangeably. Is it true?

It would be great if anyone can explain the usage of each version じゃない I listed above.

  • 2
    They are more intonation-dependent than context-dependent and it's not easy to cover all possible intonations.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Feb 19 at 20:40
  • か/のだ/のか are simply a matter of style. With or without them, the meaning can be the same. 猫なの... would usually assume a different context (I think there are too many possibilities - e.g. discussing some animal which does not look like a cat).
    – sundowner
    Commented Feb 19 at 23:08
  • 1
    These aren't really variations on how じゃない is used. The distinction between 猫 and 猫なの stands independent of the rest. Similarly for whether explanatory-の is used (it works the same way here as it would in other contexts) and whether a question is explicitly marked with か or implied by intonation (it works the same way as for other questions). Commented Feb 20 at 7:58

1 Answer 1


This is a matter of intonation. か without a rising intonation expresses a sense of surprise or exclamation. Also in English, "~, isn't it" at the end of a sentence can sound totally different depending on its intonation.

  • 猫[じゃない]{LLHL}。⤵ It's not a cat.
    猫[じゃない]{LLLL}。⤵ Oh it's a cat!
    猫じゃない?⤴ Isn't it a cat?
  • 猫なんじゃない。⤵ It's not that it's a cat.
    猫なんじゃない?⤴ So it's a cat, no?
  • 猫じゃないか!⤵ Wow, this is a cat, isn't it!?
    猫じゃないか?⤴ Isn't it a cat?
  • 猫じゃないのか!⤵ Oh, so this is not a cat!
    猫じゃないのか?⤴ (Wait,) it's not a cat?

Similar distinction exists also with non-negative sentences:

  • 猫。⤵ A cat.
    猫?⤴ A cat?
  • 猫ですか。⤵ Okay, so it's a cat. / Oh, so you're talking about a cat.
    猫ですか?⤴ Is it a cat? / Oh, so you're talking about a cat?
  • なぜですか!⤵ Hey, why!? / That's absurd!
    なぜですか?⤴ Why is it?

じゃないか and じゃないのか are sometimes interchangeable, but only the latter contains explanatory-の. For example, when you suddenly encounter someone on the roadside, you must say "田中じゃないか!" but not "田中じゃないのか!".

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