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「〜でない。」, which isn't particularly common as a sentence-ender, does occasionally get used.

I get the feeling it is pretty curt; I often see it with 「〜べきでない。」 or 「ただし、〜は、この限りでない。」 or 「〜は明らかでない。」, etc.

However, I don't have a good understanding of when it makes sense to choose it over 「〜ではない。」. Is it when you're trying to be more declarative/emotionless as opposed to emphatic/opinionated?

  • 1
    文法的にはどうしてか説明できないんですけど、「~でない」は、文語的な文章で見る気がします。 – user1016 Nov 26 '14 at 8:18
  • @Choko 文体では、「である」も「だ」もどこまで客観的に聞こえたいかによって使えますね…そこで、「である」⇔「でない」、「だ」⇔「ではない」、みたいな比較はどうでしょうか。 – Darius Jahandarie Nov 26 '14 at 8:37
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    「である。」の否定も、「でない。」のときと「ではない。」のときがあるような気がして・・・ – user1016 Nov 28 '14 at 8:26
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Basically it's a matter of grammar rather than nuance.

As you may know, 「は」 in 「ではない」 is (semantically almost bleached out but still functioning) topic marker in the theme-rheme structure of Japanese. In other words, it delimits theme and rheme parts of a clause. And one clause may only contain up to one theme and rheme respectively.

Then, what happens if you use two は at once in a sentence?

核兵器は使用するべきではない。

You may feel a sense of dissonance because:

  • 核兵器は [ [ 使用するべきで ] はない ]
  • [ [ 核兵器 ] は使用するべきで ] はない

It has two possible breakdowns so you can't decide which is the main theme of the sentence.
(Note that some people don't feel anything wrong because they conceive ではない to be a monolithic chunk.)
Thus carefully written sentences often omit the は in ではない in order to avoid confusing readers by any chance.

  • 核兵器使用するべきでない
  • 核兵器を使用するべきでない

Of course, in the colloquial language, じゃない has taken over them so that the difference between でない and ではない is neutralized.

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    I can't quite convince myself this is the right answer, for two reasons: (1) having two 「は」s in the sentence is a very natural thing to do with a negative predicate: 「彼はイギリスには行けない。」「こういうことは、学生の大多数には理解できない。」「私は自分を許すことはできない。」 -- I think that's why 「ではない。」 is far more common than 「でない。」 in the first place -- so I'm not sure I buy "grammatical sensitivity" as the reason; (2) if your argument were true, I don't see why 「でない。」 would be so commonly used with certain expressions (as you can see by searching a corpus like BCCWJ) and hardly used at all with others. – Darius Jahandarie Nov 28 '14 at 7:21
  • Sorry that my answer is too sketchy. Response to your comment: (1a) Having two 「は」s itself is not a problem, because in every example you provided, the first parts (i.e. before the last は) don't form valid predicate (「彼はイギリスに」,「こういうことは、学生の大多数に」「私は自分を許すこと」) therefore the structure can be parsed unambiguously. In contrary, 「(noun or nominal adj.) + だ」 always creates perfect predicate. That's where the parsing problem arise. (1b) As about "grammatically sensitive", I admit it's a biased word. I'm going to change it. (cont.) – broccoli forest Nov 29 '14 at 7:32
  • (2) Are you sure about it? I have a 中納言 account and I don't see much clear tendencies as far as I've searched, though I'm not sure it has function to aggregate by cooccurred word. – broccoli forest Nov 29 '14 at 7:37
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    Here you can have raw dump of an in-context search result, with condition of <"で"(conjugated copula) followed by "ない" (and its conjugated forms)> in BCCWJ. dropbox.com/s/761bwv1nvvbdvcu/kwic-757450.txt?dl=0 – broccoli forest Nov 29 '14 at 7:56
  • (1) Interesting, I see what you're saying now, thanks. (2) Awesome! I should get a 中納言 account :-). I filtered it down to 「でない。」 and broke it out by co-occurred word here: althack.org/denai-analysis . If you also have results for 「じゃない。」 and 「ではない。」, it would be interesting to compare, but I would really be surprised if the distribution were the same, because all of the popular things with 「でない。」 sound very pointed to me. – Darius Jahandarie Nov 29 '14 at 13:02
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最も有名でない usually means the least famous while 最も有名ではない usually means not the most famous. That said, you don't have to be too serious.

  • Interesting! It definitely makes sense to me that は would force 最も to have the smaller scope like that. Do you think that でない and ではない are the same in terms of nuance/flavor? – Darius Jahandarie Nov 28 '14 at 8:00
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    は feels safer in negation so that you can avoid extra negative nuance like 美しくない possibly means not only "not beautiful" but also "ugly", (though it's not sure if you can really avoid it). – user4092 Nov 29 '14 at 0:15

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