Does the -ou / -you / -mashou (the "let's X") form have a negative counterpart? For example, how do I say "let's not X" for the following?:

  • 行こう
  • 食べよう
  • 寝ましょう

As far as I can remember, the Japanese courses I took in college did not teach me the negative of this form. Does it even exist? If it does not exist, how do you say "let's not X" in Japanese?

  • Nice question! +1 – Alenanno Jun 3 '11 at 10:25
  • +1, this has always bothered me. – Amanda S Jun 3 '11 at 18:59
  • @hippietrail The volitional/cohortative -(y)ō isn't really an imperative form. – snailplane May 8 '14 at 8:51
  • @snailboat: I thought somebody might have something to say but if you know linguistics what does "really" ever mean? It's usually all down to traditions and analyses. We lost the "real" language handbook shortly after the gods gave it to us. In many analyses of many languages "let's" is described as the 1st person plural imperative. But I don't know if any of the analyses of Japanese put it this way. I also don't know if it would be helpful/unhelpful or what would be best among: separate it into a new tag, rename the tag, or just edit the tag wiki to talk about it. – hippietrail May 8 '14 at 9:01
  • Might make a great question for linguistics.SE though! – hippietrail May 8 '14 at 9:04

The -ou/-you form does have a negative counterpart, but it's considered rather literary, and in any case never used in a cohortative meaning ("Let's X"). That form is the なかろう form, e.g.: 食べなかろう, which means "[He/I/etc.] probably wouldn't eat." and is equivalent to the more colloquial form "食べないだろう".

I think the most common simple way to express the meaning of "Let's not X" in Japanese is:

  • 行かないね。
  • 食べませんね。

Another option is to use a compound expression such as Xするのはやめる (which literally means "stop doing X") or Xないことにする (which literally means "Choose not to do X"). For instance:

  • 行くのはやめよう。
  • 行かないことにしよう。
  • 食べるのはやめましょう。
  • 食べないことにしましょう。

There are a quite few more possible combination such as Xないようにしよう, Xないでおこう, Xことはやめておこう, etc. Each has a slightly different nuance, so there's no direct equivalent of the positive form, but rather many different ways to express the negated idea.

  • 1
    Thanks for the detailed reply. +1 for the なかろう. I have seen that form before but I didn't know it's the negative of -mashou. そうでしたか。 – Lukman Jun 3 '11 at 11:53

According to Tae Kim, there is a negative volitional form, but it is archaic and formal, so you're better off using the modern expressions given by the other answers.

However, it does show up every now and then (トキ in 北斗の拳 seems to like using it), and it's a pretty simple conjugation, so it's worth knowing.

To form the negative volitional, you add まい to the end of the verb. If it's a る verb you drop the る first, so 食べる -> 食べまい. If it's an う verb, just add it to the end, so 探す -> 探すまい. する and くる become するまい and くるまい (isn't it rare that they fit the pattern governing the other verbs?), and you add まい after the ます form for politeness, 死にます -> 死にますまい.

examples from 北斗の拳:





  • Shouldn't that be 降りたたねばなるまい? – flamingspinach Jun 3 '11 at 13:11
  • Yep, you're right, just found that line again to confirm and it was indeed ね. – sartak Jun 3 '11 at 13:25
  • I'm a bit confused about ~まい. Does it imply the meaning of "let's not do X", such that 行くまい means "let's not go"? – Lukman Jun 3 '11 at 13:27
  • No, Tae Kim's example sentences don't express that idea. He offers 行くのをやめよう for that instead. – sartak Jun 3 '11 at 13:38
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    I hesitated a bit about introducing the ~まい form, since it's not really related to the ~おう・よう forms spoken here (neither by the meaning of 'Let's do X', neither by its etymology like the ~なかろう – Boaz Yaniv Jun 7 '11 at 18:56

Though these are not used so much:

  • 行かないでおきましょう/行かないでおこう
  • 食べないでおきましょう/食べないでおこう
  • 寝ないでおきましょう/寝ないでおこう/起きてましょう/起きてよう

Long story short:

Let's not go is simply 行くのは止めましょう

If we use 行かないことにしましょう it is more like Let's decide to not go

I think 行くのは止めましょう is a stronger Let's not go compared to 行かないことにしましょう, though I'm not sure (someone may wish to verify / de-verify it)

Long story:

As the -おう/こう/.../よう and -ましょう forms have no negative, the まい ending is sometimes used in the situation of expressing negative intention. It cannot be used to express a "let's not" situation, and in any case is a literary form and rarely seen at the ends of sentences, however it is fairly common in a dependent clause to show one's strong determination not to do something, as in

私は、彼女とは二度と会うまいと思う。 (I'm certainly not going to see her ever again!)

Often "Let's not do ..." is expressed by saying "Let's stop doing .." using 止める or 止す. E.g.

パーティーに行くのは止めましょう。 (Let's not go to the party.)

Another construction which means "let's decide to" or "let's try to" is verb+ことにしよう/しましょう or verb+ようにしよう/しましょう. For example:

名古屋までバスで行くことにしましょう。 (Let's [decide to] go as far as Nagoya by bus.)

This construction can be used where appropriate in negative sentences.

バスでは行かないことにしましょう。 (Let's [decide to] not go by bus.)

Note that that are many verbs where the volitional/hortative forms cannot be used in a meaningful way. One cannot say "午後に雨が降りましょう", for example. On the other hand, one might hear rockers on the stage yelling:

のってるか?今夜は燃えようぜ! (You guys getting in the mood? Let's burn it up tonight!)

Side Track:

The まい auxiliary can also be used to carry the sense of "probably not". As with the use of まい in the volitional category, this usage is strictly literary.

彼はもう英語を教えるまい。 (Most probably, he won't teach English any more.)

The -ないだろう form has the literary alternative form: なかろう.


http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/wwwverbinf.html (there's alot of goodies packed in that small page ;)

  • This is a great answer, but I would feel better about long passages copied from other sources if they were indicated with the > quotation marker. – Amanda S Jun 24 '11 at 18:03
  • @Amanda uh ok just edit it as you wish – Pacerier Jun 24 '11 at 18:20
  • ~まい seems to be very popular in anime. I hear it quite often. Is it still literary in modern Japanese or are Japanese using it more often now? I can't imagine them saying ~ないだろう instead of ~まい. Especially with their penchant of shortening phrases and sentences. – dotnetN00b Apr 25 '12 at 23:08
  • @dotnetN00b Though we are told that "~なかろう" is literary, I happen to hear the "~なかろう" conjugation pretty often too in anime. Possibly someone with more understanding could give us some insight. – Pacerier Apr 26 '12 at 0:27
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    @dotnetN00b Many anime characters speak in stylized, elevated ways, just as many speak in crass ways. And as a correction to the answers, まい is applied to the 連用形 for 一段 verbs. It should be 彼はもう英語を教えまい. – Angelos May 16 '16 at 13:37

According to my understanding, they don't have one for 非意向形.

Instead, I would use

  • 行かないことにしよう

or If someone ask me, and if I don't want to, I will say.

  • (今回は)やめておきます

for 食べよう

  • 遠慮します

for 寝ましょう

  • 無理です... :P
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    LOL @ 寝ましょう --> 無理です .. I didn't mean it that way but, good catch! – Lukman Jun 3 '11 at 10:31
  • What does 非意向形 even mean? That word is not used in Japanese. – l'électeur Feb 12 '14 at 11:31

Just wanted to add that I also read that there is another conjugation that's not within these answers yet.

However, it is archaic so you shouldn't use this in normal conversations.

It is still useful to know in case you stumble to read something like this:

行くのはよそう - let's not go

よそう from the word 止す (to cease)

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