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I have been studying the adverbs and in the grammar book they said that there are some negative adverbs that means that when you use it the next verb must be in negative form, for example:

  • あまり わかりません

  • ぜんぜん 出来ない

But I found the expression ぜんぜん違う shouldn't it be ぜんぜん違わない? how do I know when to put the verb in a positive form or in a negative form?

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「全然」has two definitions:

  1. not at all (with negative verb)

  2. wholly, entirely, completely

Therefore, it's meaning is based on whether the verb that follows it is in the affirmative or the negative. I'm guessing about 99% of the time you will see it used in conjunction with a negative verb, but every once in awhile you will see it used in the affirmative.

「全然違う」is one example, as is 「全然大丈夫」(I'm/It's totally fine), which is more like a set phrase. You will also occasionally see something like 「全然だめになった」(It was completely spoiled/ruined), which is similar to 「全然違う」in that 「だめ」already has a negative connotation and so to add a negative verb on top of it would make it a double negative, thus reversing the meaning.

  • I think you're right but I vaguely remember hearing that 全然大丈夫 while being colloquially understood is not actually considered to be "proper" Japanese and 全然 is supposed to only be used with negatives. I could be wrong though. – tcallred Jun 12 '17 at 20:40
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    While it's not technically "proper", it does show up as its own separate entry on jisho.org (and presumably in more formal dictionaries as well), suggesting that it has been accepted as common usage. – TFlo83 Jun 12 '17 at 22:47
  • This is the answer I was looking for because I have heard ぜんぜん大丈夫 too – Luis Fernando Badel Méndez Jun 13 '17 at 0:28
  • @T.Allred The idea that 全然 with positive predicates is not proper per se is originally misconception. – user4092 Jun 14 '17 at 0:40
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The standard answer is that 全然 is most naturally paired with negatives, and 絶対 with positives. However, modern Japanese has seen more usage of 全然 as meaning both "not at all" and also "completely, absolutely," replacing 絶対, and vice-versa. The end result is that in most cases, using 全然 or 絶対 yields the "same" meaning, but the context is such that you'd typically want to use 全然 for negatives, and for positives where the affirmation is negative, such as 全然大丈夫 "It's completely alright" (colloquially, "It's not a problem at all"), and 絶対 for stronger positive affirmations. 絶対大丈夫 comes off way stronger than 全然大丈夫, despite the fact they mean basically the same thing. It's a way of downplaying your tone.

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The 違う is already negative. It means "to differ" (to not be the same) as opposed to "to be the same". わかる and 出来る are positive. It's in the meaning.

ぜんぜん違わない

Would mean "completely not wrong" (which is weird to me but I'm no expert)

They probably call them negative adverbs because of the vibe they give when saying them, but if you look in the dictionary their original non-contextual meanings are positive. That's why you must add a negative meaning to them.

  • I don't like saying that 違う means "wrong". It really only means "to differ" or "to be different". Saying e.g. "your answer is different from the correct answer" may be daunting to say in English and you'd probably just say "you got it wrong" instead. But it japanese it can naturally be shortened to just "違う". Just because it may map to the English word "wrong" a lot of the doesn't mean it's its true meaning. – Christer Jun 12 '17 at 22:18
  • @Christer You are right. I messed the translation with the meaning. I never translated it otherwise though, since it's logically the same. Knowing the meaning would only help in knowing how the native speaker thinks and not what he's trying to say, now that I think about it – holyeyeolo Jun 12 '17 at 22:38
  • Unless in cases where the "wrong" doesn't fit any translation such as "AはBと違っている" which would mean A is different from B. The word "wrong" doesn't fit the English translation as there is nothing wrong (or correct). If you want to understand a word you have to know how actual users of the language thinks about it, it's not really optional. For a native speaker what he thinks and what he says should be one and the same. – Christer Jun 12 '17 at 22:53
  • Alright, I can't argue. I'll change it. It's important to understand the logical negativity of the word for this particular question tough... – holyeyeolo Jun 12 '17 at 23:19
  • I guess it's better. Though "not the same" is a better opposite that "not match". Not sure what point you are trying to convey though. ぜんぜん違わない does make perfect sense. – Christer Jun 12 '17 at 23:29

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