I've seen certain translations where I feels like there's a shift in the tenses.

Ex: なぜ早く言わない!? translated to "Why didn't you say so sooner!?"

In fact, I've experienced a lot of cases where a character says the word in it's negative present form in Japanese. For example, imagine a scene where a sibling fails to wake up the other for some big event. In this case, the other sibling would say "Why didn't you wake me up"(past) instead of "Why don't you wake me up"(nonpast). However, what I see instead in Japanese is 起きてくれない instead of 起きてくれなかった.

Any explanation on the system here would be appreciated.

  • 1
    They say as a general/characteristic thing, not specific to the event itself. なぜ早く言わない could be translated badly to "Why don't you say such things right away?"
    – oldergod
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 2:30
  • @oldergod>"They say as a general/characteristic thing, not specific to the event itself. " What an excellent interpretation it is!
    – user20624
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 7:14
  • 1
    「起きてくれない instead of 起きてくれなかった」は、「起こしてくれない instead of 起こしてくれなかった」の方が良いと思います。
    – user20624
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 8:10
  • 3
    @oldergod I feel this type of なぜ早く言わない only refers to the specific event at hand. It does not imply someone always fails to report things promptly.
    – naruto
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 11:44
  • 3
    I too doubt that the present tense here is motivated by the use of the "present tense for general truths/habitual actions (or inactions)". It can as well be なぜそれを早く言わない!?, after all.
    – goldbrick
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 12:44

2 Answers 2



Here, Sentences B1 and B2 are basically the same. Both refer to the statement A just said, and can be translated as "Why didn't you say it sooner?" or "You should've said that earlier!" The only difference I can feel is that B1 is slightly more emotional and/or emphatic than B2. In particular, B1 does not imply A is a person who regularly fails to say important things promptly.

I think B1 is probably an example of historical present, an employment of present tense to express past things vividly. Despite its grandiose name, it happens in daily conversations, both in Japanese and English. But some sources say the Japanese language uses this more often than English. Tense in Japanese is somewhat more loose than that of English, and is affected by the speaker's mood.

From my experience, an emotional complaint like this is often the target of temporary shift in tense. For example, you can say なんでそんなこと言うのかなぁ ("I wonder why he said such a thing") complaining about what was said yesterday. This does not mean he is a person who always says odd things.

Some articles which may be related:


oldergod gave an excellent interpretation in the comment as:
"They say as a general/characteristic thing, not specific to the event itself."

I agree with the above interpretation in boldface, and I'll add some information to this.

When presenting universal truths and facts, and human beings' behavioral norms, the present form is sometimes used rather than a specific tense.

I'll show some examples conforming to the above idea including the example presented by the questioner.

They are phrases expressed in the present tense and the following phrases for each of them are possible ones given to proceed the conversation.

  • なぜ早{はや}く言{い}わないの? おしっこが出{で}るなら出{で}ると。
  • なぜもっと早{はや}く起{お}こしてくれないの? 学校{がっこう}遅{おく}れるじゃないの。
  • なぜ嘘{うそ}をつくの? いつも「嘘{うそ}つきは駄目{だめ}だって」言{い}ってるじゃないの。

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