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While studying japanese I came across some grammar that really confuses me:

ここから、始まってはいけない

Ok, it says 'you must not start from here'. Which seems agreeable because the sentence is in a negative form. However then this sentence appears:

ここから、始まらなくてはいけない

Which roughly translates to 'you must start from here'. Why is this sentence also negative? Why are 'must' and 'must not' both written in a negative form and how can I tell them appart?

  • 4
    please check that you transcribed the second example correctly – Igor Skochinsky May 29 '18 at 22:26
  • Should be right now – 2hTu2 May 30 '18 at 5:47
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始まってはいけない

Its components and their "polarity":

  • 始まる: positive (to begin)
  • いけない: negative

Construction: 始まって(て form of 始まる) + は + いけない

And, positive * negative = negative

So, this roughly means "must not start" (negative)

始まらなくてはいけない

This is "positive" because it contains a "double negative"

Its components and "polarity"

  • 始まらない: negative (to not begin)
  • いけない: negative

Construction: 始まらなくて(て form of 始まらない) + は + いけない

And, negative * negative = positive

This roughly means "must not not start", or "must start", because the "not"s cancel each other

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    Multiple negation isn't actually unacceptable in English, so I'd probably reword that section slightly. Multiple marking of a single semantic negation is (for the most part) non-standard in English, but that's not really related to the Japanese example, in which each semantic negation is expressed only once. – snailcar May 29 '18 at 23:58
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    Noted. Thanks for reining that one in. Removed reference to language dependence as suggested. – Otomatonium May 30 '18 at 0:15

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