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I don't understand the difference. I mean, i get that one means "can't say that..." and the other "not necessarily..." but when I try to understand practical examples I confuse them a lot.

For example what if I say:

丈夫な時計でも壊れないとは限らないから、大事に使いなさい。

丈夫な時計でも壊れないとは言えないから、大事に使いなさい。

or

上司が男性とは言えない

上司が男性とは限らない

Thank you so much

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2 Answers 2

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限らない means "not limited to".

On the one hand, 壊れないとは限らない expresses the idea that just because the watch is sturdy it's not necessarily the case that it can't be broken.

On the other hand, somewhat similarly, 壊れないとは言えない expresses the idea that "One cannot say [it] is not breakable". In other words, though the watch is sturdy it can still be broken. So, be careful with it.

So these are similar ideas just expressed in different ways.

Of the later two, only 上司が男性とは限らない makes reasonable sense.

The boss isn't limited to being a male.

To say, 上司が男性とは言えない sounds like you're uncertain whether the boss is a man or a woman.

I can't say whether the boss is a male.

Perhaps you've never met the boss, so that might be something plausible to say.

Regardless, the implications of these two last examples are rather different.

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This is my subjective impression, but Aとは限らない implies that A is true in most cases (if not always), whereas Aとは言えない sounds like A is admittedly false.

上司が男性とは限らない implies the boss is typically male (if not necessarily so). Saying 上司が男性とは言えない sounds like you're suggesting the boss is unfortunately female.

However, in your first example about 丈夫な時計, the difference between the two versions is minimal, because there's little difference between "壊れない is not necessarily true" and "壊れない is admittedly false".

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