These three phrases can be used to express emotions and feelings that cannot be controlled.

For example in the following sentences:

a) 1点差で負けたので、悔しくてならない
b) 1点差で負けたので、悔しくてしょうがない
c) 1点差で負けたので、悔しくてたまらない

With this,

1) How do the above sentences differ? Are they all interchangeable? Are any "stronger" than the others? (To me てたまらない seems particularly strong due to たまらない meaning "unbearable".)

2) If we were to literally translate the above sentences would they be something along the lines of:

a) I lost by one point, it's so frustrating it just can't be.
b) I lost by one point, it's so frustrating there is nothing I can do.
c) I lost by one point, it's so frustrating it's unbearable.

Note: I understand the てならない and てしょうがない have an additional function when used with verbs which can mean "can't help but", as in この写真を見ると、子供の頃のことが思い出されてならない/しょうがいない。However, for the scope of this question, I think we should keep it to the meaning of "unbearably" or "so ~".

  • Personally I do not recognize any difference in strength. (But this is too little information to post as an answer.) Aug 21, 2011 at 13:26

2 Answers 2


Tentative transmission of nuances

If you permit it, I'll use other sentences rather than yours, that allow me to express better my understanding of those grammatical constructions.

The meanings are very close as you know, so, it still might be ambiguous…


I want to see you again, it's stronger than me.
Keywords: inability-to-refrain, state-reached


I want to see you again at any cost. It's a pity, I know, but there's nothing we can do about it.
Keywords: hopelessness, fatalism


I so much want to see you again, I'm deeply in love you know!
Keywords: self-control, feelings

Corpus bonus

Interesting data coming from a nice blog article (original link no longer active and not available in WayBack Machine):

①気がして ②思えて  ③思われて ④不思議で ⑤気になって
①思われて ②気がして ③不安で ④気になって ⑤かわいそうで

①~したくて ②うれしくて ③おかしくて ④好きで ⑤嫌で
①~したくて ②うれしくて ③気の毒で  ④嫌で  ⑤さびしくて

①②気がして 涙が出て ③~したくて ④見えて ⑤気になって
①気になって ②思われて ③~したくて ④気がして ⑤涙が出て

You may also like this Chie-like entry.


This isn't really a complete answer, but I'm trying to work out what you're getting at. Firstly, I don't think these sentences are interchangeable, and since each means different things, I would hesitate to rate their relative forcefulness.

I don't think your translations work for me. The meaning I get from: a) 1点差で負けたので、悔しくてならない。 is "Since I lost by (only) one point, I shouldn't be upset". And from: b) 1点差で負けたので、悔しくてしょうがない。 "Since I lost by a single point, I can't help being upset."

Partly, I just don't understand the English. a) I lost by one point, it's so frustrating it just can't be.

What can't be? The frustration or the losing? In the Japanese, the frustration and the "just won't do" are pretty clearly connected, but I get the feeling that you're trying to say something different in the English.

b) I lost by one point, it's so frustrating there is nothing I can do.

Do you mean it's frustrating that there's nothing you can do, or do you mean that you are frustrated to the point where you are physically unable to do anything? Again,in the Japanese, "frustration" and "nothing can be done" are connected grammatically, so it's difficult for me to see how it mean anything other than that the frustration can't be helped.

Can you clarify? As it stands, I'm having trouble understanding exactly what you are asking.

  • 1
    悔しくてならない does not mean “I shouldn't be upset.” The three examples in the question mean almost the same thing. Aug 21, 2011 at 2:38
  • I stand corrected. 取り消します。
    – rdb
    Aug 21, 2011 at 3:00
  • My main question was how do these 3 phrases differ, as they all seem to be used when expressing emotions and feelings that can't be controlled. Are any stronger than the others? Etc. We usually translate these 3 phrases to "can't help feeling X" which I understand perfectly, however they are different in Japanese, so there has to be a difference in either usage or strength. Even @Tsuyoshi Ito states "mean ALMOST the same thing". This leads to my second question:
    – phirru
    Aug 21, 2011 at 5:06
  • I'm trying to get a feel of WHY these phrases are used when expressing uncontrollable emotions. I understand if the translation were more on the literal side, it's going to sound awkward and hard to understand. But it may assist in my comprehension of these 3 phrases and when each are to be used. As for a), I wasn't trying to say something different. The "just won't do" is, like you've stated, is clearly related to the frustration. As for b), again it's linked to the frustration. "(There is nothing that can be done (about the frustration))." Sorry for the incomprehensibility.
    – phirru
    Aug 21, 2011 at 5:13
  • なるほど。 Thanks for explaining. Since I pretty much screwed the pooch trying to parse the original Japanese sentences, I should probably shut up now, but in for a penny, in for a pound. I would guess that the differences would be in the speaker's attitude or reaction toward the frustrating situation. At the risk of being shot down again, I would call a) Indignation "This cannot stand!" b) Helplessness (or, more charitably, stoicism) c) Rage "I can't take this!". Mr. Ito, might we solicit your good judgment here?
    – rdb
    Aug 21, 2011 at 18:58

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