When using a "te wa ikenai" construction, do you have to write "ikenai" without kanji, or can you use 行?

For example:




My understanding was that the idiom was that such and such "cannot go" (almost like if you tell somebody in English that something "won't fly"), but are you resigned to not using kanji?

  • A couple google searches have shown that while 「てはいけない」(556m hits) is the great majority, we can not deny the fact that「ては行けない」(33.4m hits) is also in use.
    – null
    May 17, 2014 at 17:56
  • 3
    @Noir Click yourself through to the last page, which is page 25, ask Google to show you all similar results, click yourself to the last page of this (page 58) and convince yourself that even Google can only find 577 instances (including repetitions!) of ては行けない. Then make a vow never to bring up Google counts again ;)
    – Earthliŋ
    May 17, 2014 at 18:09
  • 5
    @Noir Please see Google counts may not be as reliable as you imagine.
    – user1478
    May 17, 2014 at 18:18
  • @Earthliŋ Many thanks for pointing that out! Sorry for my ignorance >< Now making the vow...
    – null
    May 17, 2014 at 18:27
  • 5
    Since no one has mentioned this, I will. Your two sentences mean completely different things. First one means "One must work." and the second, "One could not go (somewhere) if one did not work." In this sense, both sentences are correct.
    – user4032
    May 18, 2014 at 1:12

1 Answer 1


The general rule is to write words with auxiliary function in kana, so it's usually written


Searching the Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese (BCCWJ, 少納言, http://www.kotonoha.gr.jp/shonagon), なくてはいけない has 902 results from books, newspapers, blogs, etc., whereas なくては行けない has only 4 results from internet sources (3 from Yahoo! ブログ, 1 from Yahoo! 知恵袋).

Other examples of words with auxiliary function would be とき (as in 小さいとき) or みる (as in やってみる).

なくては行けない only accounts for 0.4% of results, but 小さい時 for 41.9% and やって見る for 5.2%. I think that this reflects how literal the expression is still felt to be.

In any case, in your case it's quite clear that なくてはいけません should be written without kanji.

  • 1
    Very useful corpus! Thanks :) A couple seeming exceptions to the general rule according to the corpus: こうした中 (237 hits) vs こうしたなか (108 hits) た上で (2210 hits) vs たうえで (1196 hits)
    – null
    May 17, 2014 at 18:10

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