I'm a bit puzzled by the use of 〜に限らない vs 〜に限られていない. Here are example sentences from a textbook:

  1. 日本語を勉強している学生は、日本語専攻に限りません

  2. 最近、プロの相撲の力士は日本人に限られていない

These both mean "not limited to", and have the same sentence structure. Here are my specific questions:

  1. How is 限られていない being used as a passive verb here?
  2. Would 限られない work?
  3. Does sentence (1) have the same meaning as:


  1. 限られていない is the te-form of the passive voice of 限る, followed by いる to denote the continuation of state. So the literal translation is "has not been limited". Basically ~ていない focuses more on how things have been up until now rather than how things are now, but in this case the difference is not very important.
  2. Of course it works. 限られない is the plain passive form of 限る, "is not limited".
  3. Yes. 限らない and 限られない have the same meaning because it works both as a transitive and intransitive verb. I think 限らない is more common and concise, though.

All in all, 限らない, 限りません, 限られない, 限られません, 限られていない and 限られていません can roughly mean the same thing.

  • Thanks for clearing up some of my confusion! I used your answer to dig through some of the grammar that was tricky, and added an appendix to this answer below. – kennysong Feb 10 '18 at 23:25

I accepted naruto's answer above as it answered my questions, but also wanted to parse through the grammar that was confusing me.

The source of my confusion was that the active verb 限る is usually translated as "is limited to", a passive verb in English. (This discussion only concerns the intransitive 限る.)

A literal "translation" that is active and intransitive might be,


A has the limits that are B.

A is the agent, B is the indirect object.

A literal "translation" that is passive and intransitive might be,


B gives the limits, which affect A.

B is the agent, A is the entity that is affected.

These "translations" are not of much practical value (especially since passive, intransitive sentences don't exist in English), but are useful for understanding the grammar.

The takeaway from the accepted answer is that 限る、限られる、限られている roughly mean the same thing, and are all idiomatic expressions.

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