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I don't understand the meaning of に in this sentence:

切り出すに切り出せず、今日まできてしまいました

Is 切り出すに切り出せず fashioned after some particular grammar? I can't really think of an interpretation that sounds natural.

3 Answers 3

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「Verb + に(or にも) + Same Verb in potential form + ず」

is a very common phrase pattern that expresses one's inability or hesitation to perform the action described by the verb.

See 一-2 in: https://kotobank.jp/word/%E3%81%AB%E3%82%82-592921#E3.83.87.E3.82.B8.E3.82.BF.E3.83.AB.E5.A4.A7.E8.BE.9E.E6.B3.89

「[切]{き}り[出]{だ}すに切り出せず、[今日]{きょう}まできてしまいました。」

means:

"I have not been quite able to bring up (this) topic until today."

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This is more of a grammatical construction where you have a verb in base form plus に followed by a negative potential form of the same verb. It basically means that for some prohibiting reason, you couldn't do ~~~ even if you wanted to.

終電を逃したから、帰るには帰れない。(Paraphrasing, "I missed the last train and I have no way to get home.")

It looks like in the sentence you shared, it would mean something like, "(No matter how much I wanted to) I had no way to bring it up..."

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    ×「帰るには帰れない」--> ○「帰るに帰れない」「帰るにも帰れない」「帰ろうにも帰れない」 or 「帰りたくても帰れない」
    – chocolate
    May 5, 2015 at 8:27
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Semantically, it means 切り出したかったのに切り出せず. (切り出す = to broach (a topic))

[dictionary form of a verb] + に + [nai-form] + ない is an uncommon, emphatic, and literary set phrase which means "want to ~ but can't", "too bad/extraordinary to ~", etc.

  • 泣くに泣けない状況 a situation too bad to cry
  • 笑うに笑えない話 a story too extraordinary to laugh at
  • この料理は食うに食えない this dish is too bad to eat (tastes awful)
  • 食うに食えない生活を送る have difficulty to live on (because of poverty)

I think this に corresponds to either of the two definitions of this page:

[格助]名詞、名詞に準じる語、動詞の連用形・連体形などに付く。
13 (動詞・形容詞を重ねて)強意を表す。「騒ぎ―騒ぐ」
「風いたう吹き、海の面(おもて)ただあし―あしうなるに」〈枕・三〇六〉

[接助]活用語の連体形に付く。
3 逆接の確定条件を表す。…けれども。…のに。…だが。
「日中の照りに乾いて、きょうは道が好かった―、小庭の苔はまだ濡れている」〈鴎外・蛇〉

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