I was taught in college that the 〜ない verb conjugation behaves like an i-adjective, thus it has 〜く form, it takes 〜ければ for "if" scenario, it modifies the noun that follows it etc. Also, I know that the 〜くて form of i-adjective has overlapping roles with 〜て form of verb, such that it can be used to combine the i-adjective or verb with the next predicate, e.g. 滑りやすくて転んだ and 転んで泣いた. However, while 〜て form of verb can be used before auxiliary ください, for verbs that have been conjugated with 〜ない, instead of using the 〜なくて form with ください, we have to use 〜ないで form instead.

I just learned from sawa's answer for my previous question that i-adjective (even with 〜くて form) cannot be followed immediately by ください for the reason that the main verb is missing, but 〜なくて conjugation is attached to a verb so the issue of missing main verb should not be there anymore. Yet, why is it still not 〜なくてください, but is 〜ないでください instead? Where's the missing link in my reasoning? And finally, how does the 〜ないで form match with ください?

  • 1
    If you accept sawa's explanation for the previous question, the same reasoning seems to apply. -ない is, structurally, equivalent to an adjective ending in -い. When you attach -ない to a verb, it takes over the "main verb" role, and the part of the verb before -ない is no longer "main". If you then change the -ない to -なくて, you have removed the part with the hidden "main verb" ある (that is, the "-い"), and so you cannot attach a ください just as you cannot attach one directly to 暑くて, 寒くて, etc.
    – Matt
    Sep 22, 2011 at 6:19
  • So using ないで preserves the hidden "main verb" ある? But what about the で, how does it connect with ある?
    – Lukman
    Sep 22, 2011 at 6:32
  • 2
    The etymological roots of ~ないで are actually a mystery as far as I know -- it is an early Modern Japanese construction (post-1600), but beyond that, hard to pin down. All I can say is that ~ないで must work in the same way as ~て, i.e. it preserves "main verb" functionality in a way that the "~い → ~くて" conjugation does not. (@sawa might be able to clarify this, though; he is more familiar with this area than me.)
    – Matt
    Sep 22, 2011 at 6:46
  • 1
    (Just realized that this is a summarized and speculation-scrubbed version of Flaw's final answer, sorry Flaw!)
    – Matt
    Sep 22, 2011 at 8:15
  • @Matt no worries, it's all in good faith. I was conjecturing and waiting for validation anyway.
    – Flaw
    Sep 22, 2011 at 16:09

3 Answers 3


There is some Deep Magic going on here. Let me try to offer a theory which, hopefully, will not muddy the waters further.

The ~て form of verbs (both positive and negative) implies a decision point. That is, at some point in time, you choose to do something or not to do something. Once this choice is made, it is irreversible.

Consider 食べてください. In effect, this request means, "At some point in the future, please choose to go from your current state of have-not-eaten to have-eaten." Once you enter the state of have-eaten, you cannot go back. You cannot undo the action of eating.

With ~なくて, a second action always exists, even if it is implied. That is, the decision is between not doing one thing and doing something else. 注意しなくて転んだ means that at a certain point, you chose not to enter the state of paying attention, and as a result you tripped. As with 食べてください, the decision (the choice of states) is treated as a single point in time and is irreversible.

This is why ~なくて cannot take ください. With 食べなくてください, you are essentially saying, "At some point in the future, please choose to go from your current state of have-not-eaten to have-not-eaten." This is illogical; you cannot change from state A to state B when A and B are the same. What you really want to say is, "Please stay in the state of have-not-eaten." But because ~て is limited to a single decision point, it cannot handle the range of points expressed in "stay in this state." To use an analogy from geometry, it is like the difference between a point (a discrete, finite quantity of one) and a line (an infinite quantity of points).

Because the action of staying in the state of have-not-eaten (the action of not entering the state of have-eaten) takes place over a range of time, the ~ないで form is needed. To explain why, consider what happens when we replace ください with いる. We find the same problem with ~なくて:

○ 食べている eating (or remaining in the state of have-eaten)

× 食べなくている (grammatically incorrect)

○ 食べないでいる not eating (or remaining in the state of have-not-eaten)

いる in these forms implies the continuation of a state. 食べている works because a state-change was made at some point (食べて) and you are continuing in that state (いる). 食べないでいる works because you started out in a state (食べないで) and are continuing in that state (いる). But 食べなくている does not work because there is no state-change in 食べなくて, therefore you cannot continue in it with いる.

  • I need some clarification here. So with て, there's decision point. て with positive verb means decision to do [verb] meaning there's state change, while て with negative verb means decision not to do [verb] so the state doesn't change. Thus the decision is to stay at the current state, right? But isn't that exactly what we want to request "Please do [stay at the state of] not eat[ing]"?
    – Lukman
    Sep 21, 2011 at 19:21
  • @Lukman: ~なくてください is incorrect because ~なくて, being a ~て form, calls for a discrete change in state. The action desired is not a change, but a continuation of a preexisting state. The continuation of a preexisting state is expressed by ~ないで. Sep 21, 2011 at 20:03
  • So ~て form implies a decision point and calls for a change of state? That doesn't seem to agree with "注意しなくて転んだ means that at a certain point, you chose not to enter the state of paying attention" -- choose not to enter the state of paying attention means choosing to stay at state of not paying attention, so even though the decision has been made, the state doesn't change there. Unless of course if you meant to write "chose to stop staying in the state of paying attention", then only there's state change, right?
    – Lukman
    Sep 21, 2011 at 20:36
  • @Lukman: But even with 注意しなくて転んだ, the decision point is still a single point because the main verb is 転ぶ, which happens at a single point in time. ~なくて by itself does not imply a continuous choosing to stay in the state of not doing something. Sep 22, 2011 at 0:13
  • Now I see. Seems like for "注意しなくて転んだ", the state of 注意しなく is unobservable until 転んだ happened, at this point it is observed that subject of the sentence is 注意しない, hence it's the transition of the property of the state from unobservable to observable is the event that signals that the state has changed. I'd say rather than the state changed from A to B, in this case it's actually from unknown to A; it's the beginning of the state being observable where the change of state happens ... I hope I get this highly philosophical stuff right :P
    – Lukman
    Sep 22, 2011 at 0:28

AないでB permits two readings, the 'means' reading (accomplish B by doing A), and the conjunction reading (A and B).

AなくてB only permits the conjunction reading (A and B).

Some painfully literal interpretations...

'Not eat and give to me'

'Not eat and give to me'
'Give to me by not eating'

I think it is the "Give to me by not eating" interpretation that eventually evolved into "Please do not eat", which is why 食べなくてください cannot have that meaning.


Perhaps ~ないでください is not [て-form of ない]+ください. It could be formed by using the て-form of the copula.

Another way I think it can be formed is:

Negated-Verb + で*(the condition/state of how the action takes place) + ください(please do for me).

*Could be で-particle or the て-form(Verb conjunctive form) of the copula.

This would yield "Please do for me such that the condition/state of the verb is negated". Or more naturally as "Please do not do [verb]"


Quoting from sawa's answer in this question:

In Japanese, you always need a main verb to complete a sentence. If you directly attach an i-adjective to an auxiliary ください via て, then you will not have a main verb anywhere. You need at least one main verb in between

I think it's because there is no main verb in なくてください. It's probably the same way sawa explained in the previous question. The "hidden" verb in ないでください is again the copula (In its て-form).


I guess that the [verb] in [verb]なくてください is not the "main verb" sawa was talking about.

I think it should be [verb 1]ない + [Main verb (verb 2) to which ください will be added to] + ください

ください does not append itself to [verb 1]. It appends itself to (verb 2).

  • The way I see it, both ないで and なくて have that notion of condition/state, e.g 注意しなくて転んだ, 注意しなくて is the condition for me to 転んだ. Yet, like in question ないでください is okay but not なくてください. I'm feeling that there's a missing link somewhere.
    – Lukman
    Sep 21, 2011 at 15:15
  • as a separate note, my grammar dictionary notes that ~なくて has a stronger causal link than ~ないで to whatever comes after it.
    – Flaw
    Sep 21, 2011 at 15:22
  • It has never been proper (in modern Japanese) to use a copula after a keiyōshi adjective, except for a limited set of forms e.g. です, だろう and でしょう. I vaguely remember reading that even that was once considered a barbarism.
    – Zhen Lin
    Sep 21, 2011 at 16:41
  • 3
    There are several theories about the origin of ないで and there is no established standard theory. For details, see Daijirin. Sep 22, 2011 at 4:32

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