To be clear, I'm talking in this case about double negatives originating in Japanese, not ones that are being translated into it.

When I was in college, one of my professors taught the class to use [疲]{つか}れていなくない in place of 疲れた, explaining it as a face-saving measure by at least putting up appearances of saying you're not tired. Is the resulting 〜なくない ending standard or valid? If so, is this practice at all common, or is was the professor passing on her own idiomatic usage? If it's relevant at all, said professor grew up in Osaka.

  • 2
    Did she really teach you to say 「疲れていなくない」 instead of 「疲れていなくはない」? The latter is much more natural and the 「は」 can be replaced by 「も」 as K.K. explains below. A more refined way to say it would be 「疲れていないわけではない」 and again, a 「も」 can replace the「は」.
    – user4032
    Apr 1, 2014 at 6:03
  • 〜なくはない is definitely a possibility, I guess. She only covered it once in passing; it's just something that's stuck with me in the 10 years since then.
    – Kaji
    Apr 1, 2014 at 6:25
  • @TokyoNagoya I've also occasionally seen/heard double negatives similar to 〜(わけ)ないじゃない indicating emphasis of the negative, though that is probably less of a double-negative quirk and more of an emphatic usage of じゃない as I've also seen/heard it in affirmative/interrogative phrases.
    – JAB
    Apr 1, 2014 at 11:15
  • FWIW, I never heard anyone in Osaka use that. No one I knew was "afraid" to say 疲れた.
    – istrasci
    Apr 1, 2014 at 14:37

1 Answer 1


Somewhat confusingly, double nagatives in Japanese can mean a range of different things.

Sometimes it is used to signify that something exists at all, however little it is, as in the case of 疲れていなくもない or お金がなくもない. Other times it is used to emphasize that everyone did something or everything matches something, as in 声を上げない者はなかった.

The former meaning has a good parallel in English , namely "a few" --- "a few good men" has an emphasis on the existence of good men, however few they are.

Similarly 疲れていなくはない emphasizes the existence of tiresomeness, even if it is just a bit. Expressions like this refers to a small amount of something, and in that sense I'm in agreement with what your professor told you, that it can be used as a face-saving measure; you are only admitting that you are tired just a little.

So yes, it is a veryy common usage of the language, not just local to her area.

  • @KK: By chance I came across double-negative of sorts yesterday: しかし、海外での仕事は半端ではありません。which I took from the context to mean "But our work overseas was not yet finished" although it seems to mean the opposite. Is that correct?
    – Tim
    Apr 1, 2014 at 5:34
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    @Tim dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/jn2/259034/m0u/%E5%8D%8A%E7%AB%AF 半端(では)無い is a fixed colloquial expression and means something like "extreme".
    – dainichi
    Apr 1, 2014 at 7:11
  • @dainichi: Got it. Thanks v much - I had not considered if it might be fixed.
    – Tim
    Apr 1, 2014 at 11:15

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