According to this page on the etymology of the word 「切ない」, the 「ない」 in it is not the 「ない」 that means "there is no ...", but rather an ending that turns the noun 「切」 into an adjective.

On the other hand, there are many adjectives ending with 「ない」 that does seem to mean "there is no...", e.g. 「そっけない」、「あどけない」.

The questions:

  1. Is there any connection between the 「ない」 in 「切ない」 and the 「ない」 that means "there is no ..."?

  2. If the answer to 1 is no, are there a whole series of adjectives ending with 「ない」 that acts as an adjective ending? If so, what are the most commonly used among them? How about such words as 「すくない」, 「きたない」, etc.?

  • 2
    – user1478
    Aug 13, 2017 at 16:13
  • @snailplane So, should this be marked as a duplicate? I feel that, if the linked answer were fleshed out a bit more with some of the content from the following comments regarding ぬ, it would go a long way to answering exactly what the OP is interested in.
    – A.Ellett
    Aug 13, 2017 at 17:20
  • 1
    We should only mark it as a duplicate if the answers there are sufficient to answer this question as written. If you feel that's the case please vote to close as duplicate; otherwise, we can leave the link here so the questions show up as related.
    – user1478
    Aug 14, 2017 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


This is like the English prefix in-, which may or may not carry negative meanings. In- in words like invasive or inherent does not have negative meanings, whereas in- in words like indifferent or insecure clearly has negative meanings. What does in- do in inflammable? We have to remember each word and get used to it.

  • ない at the end of some adjectives clearly mean -less, non-, etc., and often there are antonyms that end with ある. 心ない means heartless and 心ある means hearty.
  • ない at the end of some adjectives do not mean 無い. ない can be just another common word ending of adjectives. 汚い and 少ない are examples of this.
  • In a few cases, adding ない at the end of an adjective does not change the meaning. See my previous answer.

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