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Why can't use も or は in the following sentence:

易しい質問に答えられなくて(は・も)、とても恥ずかしかった。

In the case of ても, I was told it probably has to do with 逆条件.

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  1. 易しい質問に答えられなくては、とても恥ずかしかった。 The usage of negative-ては presents a specific case, which must be followed by a judgement/statement of inability. 恥ずかしかった is a personal feeling that has arisen as a result of not knowing the answer, not an objective judgement.

    • (Possible negative-ては option: 易しい質問に答えられなくてだめだ。"Not being able to answer easy questions (as opposed to being able to answer them) is bad." Replacing だめだ with いけない or ならない holds the same meaning.
    • Another option: 易しい質問に答えられなくて大丈夫だよ。"Not being able to answer easy questions (as opposed to, e.g., not being able to write by hand) is okay.")
  2. 易しい質問に答えられなくても、とても恥ずかしかった。 When using a negative-ても, the clause following must present information that goes against the assumption upon hearing the first clause (as you wrote, we must have a 逆{ぎゃく}条件{じょうけん}, literally "opposite condition"). Since one would naturally assume that the subject would be 恥ずかしい because they cannot answer simple questions, the second clause does not satisfy as a 逆条件.

    • (Possible negative-ても option: 易しい質問に答えられなくて、恥ずかしくなかった。 "Even when (the subject) could not answer a simple question, (subject) was not embarrassed.")

「易しい質問に答えられなくて、とても恥ずかしかった。」 Using neither は nor も is the most natural sounding for your meaning here. て connects the two clauses by saying "(the subject) could not answer simple question, and/so (subject) was embarrassed."

  • Thank you very much for your answer. I do not question what you said on ては because it matches what I recall I read on it but would you have any references addressing it (so that I can use it as a refresher) – 永劫回帰 Sep 9 '18 at 16:35
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    Hmm. I don't have a reference for the wording that I used. Most sources I'm seeing just talk about negative-ては in reference to obligation, which I guess is similar to what I said, because what creates the obligation to do something is the judgement of whether that thing is good or bad. This Georgia Tech grammar guide is a good refresher on that form. I'll follow up if I find anything else useful! – matai Sep 9 '18 at 17:04
  • Anyway, 答えられなくては 恥ずかしかった is an imaginary or a habitual conditional which means "I would be embarrassed if/when I couldn't answer". – user4092 Sep 10 '18 at 2:02
  • 易しい質問に答えられなくては、大丈夫だよ。 という文は、おかしいです。「~~に答えられなくて 、大丈夫だよ」なんて言いません。「~~に答えられなくて大丈夫だよ」なら言います。 – Chocolate Sep 12 '18 at 1:29

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