Please I need some help here. I am all in on learning to mimic how Japanese speak and write as well as learning proper grammar. Just knowing vocal and grammar will lead to unusual and unnatural speech, but sometimes I run into a concept that really confuses me. This sentence is an example.


I understand all the words in this sentence. I understand that it means, “I have to write a report.” My problem is my head is having trouble wrapping itself around WHY does it mean, “I have to write a report.”

When I see this sentence or sentences like it, my brain is torn in half trying to parse it properly.

Can someone please take the time to explain to me how and why this sentence and others like it communicate a requirement to do something?

Origin of ~なければ ならない is a similar question, but it doesn't really ask why which is what I am asking. Knowing it is so doesn't help me understand why it's so and how to plug into my brain how to parse it without having to stop and deconstruct the puzzle of it.

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    japanese.stackexchange.com/a/40719/3295 does this help? – Igor Skochinsky Sep 19 '19 at 12:41
  • I don’t know. It’s not quite the same, and I don’t feel like the question nor answer are providing me with an answer. It’s just reinforcing the “that’s just what it means” but isn’t giving me the why. It’s the information I need to plug into my brain so it parses these sentences correctly. The way it is now, unless I have a translation in front of me, my brain just struggles with it. You see I am trying to learn Japanese without needing to manually parse and translate, but this isn’t plugging in for me. – Escoce Sep 19 '19 at 12:47
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    I think I covered the "why" pretty well in Origin of ~なければ ならない. – istrasci Sep 19 '19 at 15:50
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    @Escoce ならない is equivalent to なりません – Igor Skochinsky Sep 19 '19 at 20:10
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    @Escoce Can you clarify what part you're still struggling to understand in the linked answer? Do you mean that you can't connect "that won't do/be good if you don't" with "must", or you can't understand why the Japanese comes to mean "that won't do/be good if you don't", or something else? – broccoli facemask - cloth Sep 20 '19 at 6:50

The components are:

書く - To write

書かない - Not to write

書かなければ - If I/you/etc. don't write

書かなければなりません - If you don't write it's not good

The literal meaning is something like "If you don't write it's not good", so you must write.

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  • Maybe this helps. The sentence literally says, "If don't write, not" but I understand often some meanings or words are a given, such as watashi wa and anato wa are often omitted and even considered rude if you use them too much. So is "good" a given but unspoken meaning? – Escoce Sep 19 '19 at 13:31
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    ^ The sentence literally says, "If don't write, not" <-- Nope, it literally says "If don't write, doesn't complete/succeed". See: One of the definitions of なる (成る) is to be completed (完成する), or to succeed (成功する), and thus carries the implication of "good". Consequently, ならない then means not completed; not successful; "it won't become (good)". - Origin of ~なければ ならない – Chocolate Sep 19 '19 at 13:47
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    Maybe the form なければいけない could be easier to understand? いけない also means something is not good, so ~なければいけない literally means "if you don't ~, it's not good" (~なければ, "if you don't ~"; いけない, "it's not good"). The idea is that if you don't ~ it's not good, so you have to ~. – Mauro Sep 19 '19 at 14:03
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    @Escoce was there a resource that you had seen suggesting that なりません means "not"? – Leebo Sep 19 '19 at 14:09
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    Another fine example of how using Google Translate makes it actively harder to understand a language… – snailplane Sep 19 '19 at 22:23

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