Slightly mundane question here. Do negative verbs translate as x "does not" do this action or simply "not" e.g 食べない "not eat" as opposed to "does not eat". The reason I ask is because On Tae kim's site all the verb examples are translated as "does not", When suddenly 買わない becomes "not buy" - which is it? I know it's a silly a question, but I'm pretty curious, so I'd really appreciate any answers.

  • What would this mean, what is the difference? Negative constructions with ない are themselves conjugatable again, which is a feature shared by the English expression "does not do <verb>, eg. 食べなかった -> did not do <verb>.
    – blutorange
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 6:13
  • 3
    If you expect to be able to translate between English and Japanese in a word-by-word way, I'm afraid you're in for a nasty surprise.
    – dainichi
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 8:32

2 Answers 2


In English, the auxiliary verb do is a meaningless verb that is inserted for various reasons. For example, direct questions require an auxiliary verb in modern English:

 1a. *Like you the movie?
 1b. Do you like the movie?

When you form an English question like this, the subject and auxiliary swap places. But the lexical verb like isn't an auxiliary, so example 1a is ungrammatical. You insert do so that you have an auxiliary to switch with the subject.

And in modern English, you need an auxiliary to add the negative not or negative affix -n't:

 2a. *She takes not the money. / *She takesn't the money.
 2b. She does not take the money. / She doesn't take the money.

The examples in 2a don't work because take is a lexical verb. In this kind of English sentence, you can only negate an auxiliary verb, so you insert the meaningless verb do.

Japanese is completely different. It has a negator -(a)nai which attaches directly to verb stems. There's no need to insert anything like do, so whether or not you translate it with do depends on what's required in English. It has nothing to do with Japanese.

To form the negative in Japanese, attach -(a)nai to the stem of a verb:

 食べる  tabe-ru     
 食べない tabe-nai

The stem tabe- ends in a vowel, so you add -nai without the (a).

 話す   hanas-u
 話さない hanas-anai

The stem hanas- ends in a consonant, so you add -anai with the (a). Adding this extra vowel prevents you from saying the consonants /s/ and /n/ with nothing in-between, which Japanese doesn't allow.

Your example 買う is a consonant stem verb, too, even though it doesn't look like one. The stem is kaw-, so you insert the (a):

 買う   kaw-u
 買わない kaw-anai

The reason this seems weird is that /w/ disappears before every vowel except /a/. So the /w/ disappears from kaw-u, and you're left with kau (買う).

The main exception to this pattern is ある, which becomes ない instead of *あらない. And there are other negators (such as ん in ません, used to form a polite negative). But I'm limiting this discussion to ない, since that's the negator you asked about.

As you can see, there's nothing corresponding to do in these Japanese examples. Whether you translate these with do or not depends entirely on the requirements of English, and has nothing to do with the Japanese.

  • I see nothing wrong with She takes not the money, other than it makes you sound like you're from Victorian-era England.
    – istrasci
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 14:59
  • 1
    @istrasci That's exactly what's wrong with it. It's not modern English. (It's fine, of course, if you want to use an archaism!)
    – user1478
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 14:59
  • Well that doesn't make it "wrong", just "out of use". Splitting hairs I guess... Although I now see that you said, "In modern English", which I guess I missed before.
    – istrasci
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 15:35

Tae Kim sometimes uses over-literal translations. I'm guessing the one that confused you was "As for me, not buy" (私は買わない).

Without context, this could mean:

1) A specific statement about the future: I'm not going to buy/I won't buy (thing we were talking about)

2) A more general statement about your habits: I don't buy (thing we were talking about)

  • 1
    Ugh. “(1) アリスは食べない。- As for Alice, does not eat. […] (5) 私は買わない。- As for me, not buy.” Why did the author write does in (1)? It is not the correct English anyway, and comparing these two sentences, the OP’s confusion is pretty much expected. Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 3:34
  • 2
    Don't know why, but I have seen other people confused by some of by some of the Tae Kim translations, so it's not just our OP.
    – nkjt
    Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 9:27

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