I came across this sentence in みんなの日本語 I.

カラオケは いちばん お金を 使いません。

I now understand this sentence means:

Karaoke is the cheapest activity. (or Karaoke is the activity that spends least money).

However, I originally thought this sentence meant:

Karaoke is not the most expensive activity.

I now know the second meaning is not the right answer, but if I encounter similar sentences in the future, how can I know the ません negates only the お金を使い, but not the entire いちばんお金を使い?


カラオケは いちばん お金を 使いません。


Karaoke is the cheapest activity. (or Karaoke is the activity that spends least money).

(訳: カラオケはいちばん安い遊び(活動)です or カラオケはいちばんお金を使わない遊びです)


Karaoke is not the most expensive activity.

(訳: カラオケはいちばん高い遊びではありません)


  • @brocolliforest 私の足りない翻訳を直してくれたありがとう!
    – virmaior
    Feb 3, 2015 at 13:07
  • And it's kind of weird that in the case of 「よく分かりません」 it turns out to be the opposite: 「ません」 seems to negate the entire 「よく分かり」, not only the 「分かり」.
    – null
    Feb 10, 2015 at 12:35
  • But it wouldn't though. The 「よく」 is a modifier like "very much" so in both 「よく分かります」>「よく分かりません」「You really understand that」>「You really don't understand that」 and 「分かます」>「分かりません」「Understand」>「Not understand」the 分かる is the thing that is modified by the 「ません」postfix not the よく. It would be he same as saying not negates every part of a statement rather than the subject it is affixed to. Feb 12, 2015 at 0:47
  • 1
    @TheWanderingCoder 「よく分かりません」="don't really understand", not "really don't understand", Source
    – null
    Feb 13, 2015 at 17:09
  • You don't seem to have got the nuance I was trying to portray. And quoting a dictionary that provides multiple meanings of a phrase then saying only one is right doesn't seem to support your point. Seeing the English, for example, both are fairly equal depending on context. I was trying to explain the way よく modifies a word like わかりません. "don't really understand" and "really don't understand" can have the same meaning in English depending on context. Likewise よく分かりません can have two meanings as well depending on the context of its use. Feb 16, 2015 at 4:55

3 Answers 3


Karaoke is the cheapest activity.

"Karaoke" > "カラオケ"
"is" > "です"
"the cheapest" > "最も安い"
"activity" > "遊び"


カラオケは いちばん お金を 使いません。
カラオケ(という遊び)は (他の遊びの中でも)いちばん お金を 使いません。

All this is the same meaning.
Because,「いちばんお金を使いません」= 「最も安い」


Karaoke is not the most expensive activity.

"Karaoke" > "カラオケ"
"is not" > "ではありません"
"the most expensive" > "最も高い"
"activity" > "遊び"


A is the meaning that is different from the B.

“いちばんXXXです” + “お金を使いません” = “いちばんお金を使いませんです”
“です” was abbreviated.
therefore “いちばんお金を使いません”


The みんなの日本語 example literally translated reads:
Karaoke uses the least money. [カラオケは一番お金を使いません]
Another way of saying it would be:
カラオケは一番お金のかかるものではありません [Karaoke is not the thing that uses the most money]
To say it in a more straight manner
カラオケは一番高い娯楽ではありません [Karaoke is not the most expensive activity {activity in this case is substituted for the kanji for leisure; 娯楽-ごらく}]
To say the message it as basic and easily as possible
カラオケは一番安い娯楽です [Karaoke is the cheapest activity]
A different way being
カラオケは一番お金がかかりません [Karaoke uses the least amount of money]
It really depends on what situation you are in, how you would like to say it and who you are having to talk to.

EDIT: Sorry, I just re-read the question. I misunderstood the question initially.

To answer how the ません negates only the お金を使い, but not the entire いちばんお金を使い you would look at the sentence structure.

The sentence "カラオケは一番お金を使いません" has the structure [Subject] > [Adjective] > [Topic / Status of subject] > [Quasi-Verb].
The Quasi-Verb interacts only with the secondary subject. Taking the examples of things like ラッシュの電車は一番空いてません [The rush hour train is the least empty (the most not empty)] or 中国に行くために、飛行機は一番時間がかかりません [To get to China, to fly is the quickest (does not use the most time)] you can see this is true in most cases. The ません would reverse the meaning of the verb would it have been a ます - カラオケは一番お金を使います [Karaoke IS the most expensive activity] in much the same way as putting not in front of a verb in general English sentences changes only the meaning of the verb.

  • Hi thanks for your reply. My question is that how I can tell the ません negates お金を使い, not the entire 一番おかねを使い. These give totally different meanings.
    – Kevin
    Jan 29, 2015 at 21:32
  • Japanese uses "positive" and "negative" (think mathematics) meanings when constructing sentences, including the use of double negatives. Your example for instance: お金を使う - To use money (+) ません - To not/Not (-) Thus お金を使いません - To not use money (-) Double Negative examples get a bit more complicated. Also, meaning wise ~ません and ~ない are very similar. For instance one would be おいしくなくない. This can be interpreted in three ways. おいしくなくない? - Question; Isn't this tasty? [Isn't this not, not tasty?] おいしくなくない - Not too bad [Not, not tasty] おいしくないわけじゃない - Tasty [No possibility, not tasty] Jan 30, 2015 at 1:52
  • 2
    Sorry, but this answer seems to miss the point completely. The question is about the quantification scope of the negation, but the answer muddles the two meanings together. Jan 30, 2015 at 5:40
  • I have edited my initial answer. Feb 2, 2015 at 8:19
  • The sentence doesn't have a subject structure, it's a topic structure.
    – nomithekid
    Feb 12, 2015 at 0:02

The least expensive : いちばん 金を使わない

Not the most expensive : いちばんは 金を使わない

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