In my JLPT textbook, 日本語総まとめN1読解, on page17, there are these two sentences (which are both part of a larger paragraph, but I hope I have included enough):



A translation for the first sentence is offered in the book, which is, "it is very frustrating to see people giving up on things even before they start." There is no translation given for the second sentence, but it is clear from the lesson it is being offered in that it is saying something like, "it's disappointing that it's no small number of people that think they won't hope for more."

Both sentences seem to be asserting something. That it is frustrating that people give up on things and that the number of people who don't hope is too many.

But when I read the sentences, they seem to me to be negating those premises because they end with ものはない and でならない. My reading of them is "it isn't very frustrating to see people giving up on things even before they start," and, "it's not disappointing that it's no small number of people that think they won't hope for more."

Me and the book disagree on whether these sentences are positive or negatve assertions, but I assume it's me that is mistaken somehow.

How is it that these sentences are not negative, in spite of ものはない and でならない?

1 Answer 1


The key to the first one is in the fact that it all comes down to ~ほどじれったいものはない. It is a negative sentence, but it's not negating the meaning of the sentence. If we put it into English it means "There's nothing as frustrating as seeing people give up on things before they start." And that's if we use the book's translation for the rest of it. The point is that the speaker is presenting this situation and trying to find something worse than that, and saying that such a thing doesn't exist. It's like saying "Murder is bad" vs. "There's nothing as bad as murder." The latter isn't suggesting that murder is good.

As for the second one I am curious to see how you would parse the meaning of this since it seems that you're missing the phrase ~てならない, which just that means something is unbearable, or at least felt very strongly. The fact that the verb ends in ない doesn't mean we're inverting the meaning of the sentence. On the contrary in this case it's making the meaning even stronger. So in this case the speaker is not saying that it's not disappointing but that it's unbearably or extremely disappointing. Compare this to the phrase ~てたまらない.

See here for examples.

  • 残念でならない and similar expressions is covered in 総まとめ文法N2、week 1, day 4. Last year I worked my way through these books methodically, starting with the N1 語彙 and 文法, then going through the same for N2, then doing 読解N2...then doing 文法N3 and 読解N3 before returning to 聴解N1and 読解N1!It worked in the but it was a strange journey.
    – Tim
    Mar 13, 2013 at 12:29
  • So, でならない isn't a negation, but means whatever comes before it in the sentence is "unbearable"? On the same page as the example sentences, でならない is included in a list of 「ない」の決まり文句. I took this to mean it was just another form of ない.
    – Questioner
    Mar 14, 2013 at 1:21
  • 1
    Yes. 「ない」の決まり文句 probably refers to set expressions that end with ない, not necessarily negation. Look here: eow.alc.co.jp/…
    – ssb
    Mar 14, 2013 at 1:38
  • and by here I more accurately meant here eow.alc.co.jp/…
    – ssb
    Mar 14, 2013 at 3:12

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