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As practice I have been alternately translating short bits of writing both from Japanese to English and from English to Japanese. When most recently attempting the latter, it occurred to me that I have never (that I can recall) seen a way to specify 'will not' that isn't ambiguous with 'cannot' or 'does not'.

For example, the stock translation of 'I will not forgive you' (許さない) is distinguished from 'I cannot forgive you' (許せない) but not from 'I do not forgive you' (許さない again).

Some of the time this isn't a problem, but especially when writing in a 3rd person perspective, the implications of doesn't vs won't can be significant (i.e. 'The man didn't tell her his name' implies nothing in particular, but 'The man would not tell her his name' implies that the question of the man's name was explicitly rebuffed, suggesting suspicion, secrecy, or just plain rudeness).

In that specific example, the distinction could be made with a sentence like '彼女は尋ねたのに男は名前を言わなかった', or '男は彼女に名乗らないと言った', these approaches cannot always be used and require more information than might be available. Is there a more general way to distinguish between 'cannot'/'does not' and 'will not' in Japanese, either explicitly or by changing the sentence structure?

EDIT:

Since the current answerers seem to have misunderstood my question, I will attempt to clarify here. Firstly, I am not intending to conflate or group together 'cannot' with 'does not', except in that they are both alternatives to 'will not'.

Secondly, the distinction I'm trying to make between the two and 'will not' is not one of tense (present/past vs future) but one of intent. 'I cannot tell you' implies a very different intent than 'I will not tell you', and it is this difference which I am trying to express in Japanese.

  • "I cannot tell you" and "I will not tell you" is very different indeed, but do not "教えられない" and "教えない" go with them, one by one? They're different as well. The last instances are not a problem to translate, aren't they? – Geika Kiyomizudera Jan 30 '18 at 4:29
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Is there a more general way to distinguish between 'cannot'/'does not' and 'will not' in Japanese, either explicitly or by changing the sentence structure?

How about using 「~(よ)うとしない」 and 「~(する)つもりはない」 (or 「~(し)ないつもりだ」 depending on the context)?

For example...

「男は名前を言わなかった。」
The man didn't/wouldn't tell her his name.
「男は名前を言おうとしなかった。」
The man would not tell her his name.

「男は名前を言わない。」
The man does't/won't tell her his name.
「男は名前を言おうとしない。」
The man will not tell her his name.

「私は名前を言わなかった。」
I didn't/wouldn't tell her my name.
「私は名前を言おうとしなかった。」
(?「私は名前を言うつもりはなかった。」 lit. I had no intention to / I didn't intend to say may name.)
I would not tell her my name.

「言わない。」
I don't/won't tell you.
「言うつもりはない。」 -- or 「言わないつもりだ」 depending on the context
I will not tell you.

「許さない。」
I don't/won't forgive you.
「許すつもりはない。」 -- or 「許さないつもりだ」 depending on the context
(or maybe 「許さない。」 ← sounds strong and masculine)
I won't forgive you.


We also have 「~まいとする」 and 「~まいとした」 to mean "(3rd person) won't~" (「~ようとしない」) and "wouldn't~" (「~ようとしなかった」) , though they sound pretty literary. Using まい, you could say like... 「男は名前を言うまいとしている。」「男は・私は名前を言うまいとした。」

「~するつもりはない」(lit. I have no intention to do~ → I don't intend to do~) and 「~しないつもりだ」(lit. I intend not to do~) are both used to mean "I won't~" "I'm not going to~" "I'll never~", and one can be preferred over the other depending on the context.  

  • And... "I will tell" "I'll forgive" can be 言お , 許そ , so "I won't tell" "I won't forgive" could be 言うまい , 許すまい , depending on the context... though ~まい sounds pretty literary. – Chocolate Jan 30 '18 at 3:40
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    Wouldn't 「~(よ)うとしない」/「~(する)つもりはない」 actually be like "I have not (yet?) decided to ..." (decision hasn't been made), where as OP wants "I have decided not to ..." (decision has been made)? – muru Jan 30 '18 at 7:12
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    @muru As for 「~(よ)うとしない・(よ)うとしなかった」, we use them to mean "won't", "wouldn't", though it might seem illogical. eg: "I asked Bill to come, but he won't." 「ビルに来るように頼んだが、彼は来ようとしない 」"Tom won't cut the grass"「トムは芝生を刈ろうとしない 」... [S would not...] (どうしても)... しようとしなかった "I told them not to, but they would do it anyway."「やめろといったのだが、彼らはどうしてもやめようとしなかった 。」(from ジーニアス英和辞典). We also have ~まいとする・まいとした but they sound quite literary. As for 「(する)つもりはない」, we also have 「(し)ないつもりだ」, and both can be used to mean "I won't~" "I'll never~" "I'm not going to~", and – Chocolate Jan 30 '18 at 15:24
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    (cont.) depending on the context, one can be preferred over the other, eg. 「正直に言え!」「いやだね。何も言うつもりはない 。(not 言わないつもりだ)」「そうか、何も言わないつもりだな。(not 言うつもりはないな) それならこっちにも考えがあるぞ」 – Chocolate Jan 30 '18 at 15:28
  • After looking into it a bit, this seems to be exactly what I'm after! Thank you! – P... Jan 30 '18 at 18:41
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I have to nitpick a bit to get to a plausible answer. First, I would not group cannot and does not as part of the same type of expressions. While cannot refers to the possibility (in this case, lack of it, from the idea that something that cannot do something is unable to do it), does not and will not are more closely tied together, as something that is the inaction in its present and future tenses.

So, part of the problem with this is the fact that Japanese does not have a clear present/future distinction. Tenses regarding the present/future are discerned by mostly context. This is somewhat true of English as well, and is dependent on helping verbs to accomplish this distinction.

Using your examples, think on the following:

男は彼女に名乗らないと言った
He told her that he will not give her his name.

男は彼女に名乗れないと言った
He told her that he cannot give her his name.

男は彼女に名乗っていないと言った
He told her that he is not telling her his name (right this moment).

Looking at the conjugation and presence or absence of helping verbs is probably the most concise way of determining which is being said.

In addition, if your point is to try and express an action that does not happen as part of a sequence of actions, or as an action that has no need to happen, you might consider this form, though it is a bit irregular:

男は彼女に名乗ることはないと言った
He told her that he will not give her his name (as he has no need to and so will not be done).

EDIT: Adding the section below.

If the idea is to differentiate intent versus an action just not happening, you'd mark intent with つもり. For example:

男は彼女に名乗るつもりはないと言った
He told her that he has no intention of giving her his name.

...or likewise:

男は彼女に名乗らないつもりだと言った
He told her that he intends to not tell her his name (which sounds a bit strange in English).

  • I think you misunderstood my question. Firstly, I did not intend to group 'cannot' with 'does not', except in that they both are alternatives to 'will not'. Secondly, my question is not one of tense at all, but of intent. The distinction I wish to make between 'he does not tell' and 'he will not tell' is that the former describes an event not occurring while the latter describes 'his' intention. – P... Jan 30 '18 at 1:29
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    「名乗っていない」はほぼ間違いなく "I have not told her his name" の意味になると思います。「今まさに」などを付ければ別ですが。 – naruto Jan 30 '18 at 3:24
  • @P... you're right in that I misunderstood your question. I went off this portion of the question to base my answer: 「For example, the stock translation of 'I will not forgive you' (許さない) is distinguished from 'I cannot forgive you' (許せない) but not from 'I do not forgive you' (許さない again).」in the sense that 許さない is both future and present tense in one. I will edit my answer to better explain what you mean, though Chocolate has already answered excellently. – psosuna Jan 30 '18 at 19:25
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'cannot'
許せない

'does not' 
許していない

'will not'
許さない

Does not is talking about a state, the state of forgiveness. It doesn't imply it will forever hold true - one day he may forgive right?

We can use the grammar point ~ていません to say the current state of something. 銀行に行っています, means he is at the bank - right now - because he went there and that is now his current state.

So in your case:

'Can't say'
言えない

'Not saying' 
言ってない

'Won't say'
言わない
0

I think that the issue is ambiguity of the so-called present-tense in many languages in general. By saying 'will not forgive' does that imply that you currently forgive the person, but will not in the future? Or is it present progressive, 'I am not forgiving you', which can be used colloquially as well, but to mean indefinitely? 'I am not going to forgive you' implies that this non-forgiveness is never-ending, so the nuance is equivalent to 'I will never forgive you.'

English verbs (non-auxiliary) also do not conjugate to future tense. You have to add a helping verb: will, won't, did, didn't, etc. 'I caught a fish' is fine but 'I catch a fish' is strange. Why is that? Because the present is fluid and the action of catching a fish either happened, is happening, or will happen. Even if you stop time, you will be 'catching a fish' indefinitely.

Where exactly does the present end and the future begin?

It is much easier to just be specific when applicable, such as 「今はお前を許せない 。」「決してお前を許せない。」Other than that, context and nuance are your guides.

「彼女は尋ねたのに男は名前を言わなかった」

'She inquired, but the man wouldn't give his name.' [There is only past tense here]

-

「男は彼女に'名乗らない'と言った。」

(The man told her) 'I will not give you my name.' [indefinite]

As far as conflating 'cannot' and 'does not', I sincerely do not see the reason for this.

You also mention 'does not' is also indefinite. That is why we use the infinitive form of verbs to indicate present tense. If you were to ask 'When exactly does he not forgive her?' the answer would be the same in English or Japanese: A confused look.

Also check out Tae Kim's Blog.

  • "Most English verbs also do not conjugate to future tense" ← All, actually. English doesn't have a morphological future tense. – snailboat Jan 30 '18 at 0:14
  • I think you misunderstood my question. Firstly, I did not intend to group 'cannot' with 'does not', except in that they both are alternatives to 'will not'. Secondly, my question is not one of tense at all, but of intent. The distinction I wish to make between 'he does not tell' and 'he will not tell' is that the former describes an event not occurring while the latter describes 'his' intention. I will try to edit my question to make this more clear. – P... Jan 30 '18 at 1:30
  • @snailplane Point taken. Thanks for the heads up. – BJCUAI Jan 30 '18 at 3:33

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