I noticed in an anime I watched, one of the characters said something like below:


And what I think the meaning is: Didn't you just eat a few while ago?

From what I have learned in Japanese classes, 「じゃない」, which is the shortened form of 「ではない」, must follow a noun word/phrase/clause. But in the spoken sentence above the 「じゃない」 follows a 「~た」 form of a verb. Is that sentence grammatically correct? Is this one of the many examples where colloquial language may skip a few grammar rules here and there?

I think the sentence would be grammatically correct if there is 「ん」 in between the two phrases: 「さっき食べたんじゃない」. Did I actually mishear?

  • 1
    Follow-up question - I've actually never heard this said by male speakers, is this expression used freely by both genders? Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 9:02
  • @Mark: Male speakers would probably use さっき食べたじゃん. I remember hearing it in GTO, Gokusen etc, whose characters are predominantly male.
    – Lukman
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 13:35
  • Are you by chance confusing Jyan that is Nagoya-ben and Yokohama-ben for Jyanai? According to my wife, it is not a distinguisher between males and females, but take that for what's that worth. Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 15:46
  • @Mark: I agree that ~じゃない in this sense is chiefly used by female speakers, but male speakers sometimes use it, too. Perhaps ~じゃないか may be more common for male speakers, but I am not definitely sure. Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 16:42
  • @Ito: I'm in Nagoya so everyone here, guys and girls, says Jyan all the time which probably skews my sense on which gender it is used primalry by outside of Aichi. Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 1:14

3 Answers 3


I do not know if さっき食べたじゃない is grammatically correct or not, but sentence + じゃない is a common colloquial construct whose meaning is similar to a tag question as Amanda wrote: “You ate it a little while ago, didn’t you?” It is a statement rather than a question, and the じゃない part indicates either that the speaker is surprised by the fact that he/she has to say it or that the speaker wants a confirmation.

An example of surprise:

A: 冷蔵庫に入れておいたケーキがない! (I cannot find the cake I put in the fridge!)
B: あんたさっき食べたじゃない。 (You ate it a little while ago, didn’t you.)

An example of wanting confirmation:

A: さっきケーキを食べたじゃない。あれじつは1週間前に賞味期限が切れていたの。 (We (or you or …) ate cake a little while ago, didn’t we? To tell the truth, that cake was best before a week ago.)

I think that さっき食べたんじゃない has a different meaning from さっき食べたじゃない. さっき食べたんじゃない has two meanings:

  1. Without the raise of pitch at the end of the sentence, it is a negation of さっき食べた. “It is not true that I ate it a little while ago.” The usual negation of さっき食べた is さっき食べなかった (I did not eat it a little while ago), and they have different meanings, but I cannot explain it clearly.
  2. With the raise of pitch at the end of the sentence (often denoted by a question mark: さっき食べたんじゃない?), it is a question “Didn’t you eat it a little while ago?” with indication that the speaker thinks that “you” probably ate it a little while ago.
  • This is about as spot-on as you can get. The only thing I would add is that じゃない is sometimes shortened to じゃん in very informal contexts. Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 13:20
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    @Derek, Doesn't "じゃん" dialect dependent?
    – YOU
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 13:21
  • @YOU: I don't believe it is. I regularly hear things such as いいじゃん across a wide variety of speakers. Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 13:38
  • 2
    @Derek, @YOU: According to a quick web search, じゃん is spoken in wide area of Japan including Saitama, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures, but it seems still dialect-dependent. Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 14:08
  • From the answer: > An example of wanting confirmation: > A: さっきケーキを食べたじゃない。あれじつは1週間前に賞味期限が切れていたの。 When asking for confirmation, ん is not necessary?
    – rebuuilt
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 8:49

No, you probably didn't mishear. This is a pretty common construction in colloquial Japanese, though it is not grammatically correct.

It might help to think of the じゃない as a tag that turns the sentence into a tag question, with a tone of surprise or disbelief.


I'd probably say that you misheard, and that there was in fact a 「ん」 in there. The usage of 「の」 is outlined in this grammar page. I am a beginner myself, but from what I can tell, it appears that the phrase is being used for explanation. However, the phrasing seems strange to me, as the following would seem more appropriate for a question:

さっき食べなかったの? - Didn't you eat a little while ago?

If the intonation of the statement wasn't a question, then I might be inclined to think that it would have a different meaning:

さっき食べたんじゃない。 - [It's not like] I ate a little while ago.

It is an interesting question, though - I hope a native or expert can offer some more insight on this.

  • 4
    The original grammar has the ん or の, yes, but it's frequently dropped in colloquial speech. Sometimes it's even abbreviated further to e.g. 「さっき食べたじゃん」
    – bdonlan
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 1:52
  • さっき食べなかったの? and 食べたんじゃないの? are different. The latter implies that the speaker has a knowledge/suspicion that the person he speaks to already ate before, similar to "Isn't it the case that you already ate? (because I can smell curry from your mouth etc)"
    – Lukman
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 4:52
  • @Lukman: Is the ending の in 食べたんじゃない optional, then? Or is the meaning changed if it is omitted? I suppose it also depends on intonation when actually speaking.
    – voithos
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 5:35
  • putting の everywhere is a bad habit if you're not a girl. If as a man you want to express the same thing try ~のか or just んじゃない +1 bdonlan, Lukman didn't mishear.
    – repecmps
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 6:29
  • "putting の everywhere is a bad habit if you're not a girl"? First I've heard of this. If you end your sentence with の (as opposed to のだ), that's one thing, but I'm not aware of the use of の/ん being itself feminine. Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 9:34

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