I'm translating the following sentence, and am stumped on how to translate 何ひとつ in a negated sentence.


my name, my family, my friends...I cannot remember x.

I know it can mean ("(not) at all", "(not) a thing") according to this answer, but this leaves me with a issue of possible double negation.

Therefore, does the 何ひとつ indicate a negative, or does it indicate what is not being negated via 何ひとつ? For example, does it function as the 'not' in "(not) at all" or does it refer to what is not in the ()?


This 何ひとつ is a negative polarity item. This means 何ひとつ is always followed by a negative expression, and 何ひとつ by itself is an intensifier. You asked about "何ひとつ in a negative sentence", but there is no such a thing as "何ひとつ in an affirmative (non-negative) sentence"! (何ひとつ思い出せる is simply ungrammatical.) The translation of your sentence is "I cannot remember (even) a thing".

This (not) or (ない) enclosed in parentheses is a common way to indicate a phrase is a negative polarity item. You seem to have seen しか(ない), まったく(ない) or (not) at all elsewhere, and this (not) is the same. Jisho.org also uses this notation (for example see 何一つ and 夢にも).

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    @Toyu_Frey, the nuance rendered in English isn't far from "even one" or "any at all" in a negative sentence, such as "name, family, friends ... I can't even remember one of them.""I can't remember any of them at all." – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 12 '20 at 4:14
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    @naruto I didn't know that 何ひとつ is always followed by a negative sentence. And I didn't know that (not/ない) in parenthesis meant the phrase was a polarity item. Thanks for introducing me to the concept of negative polarity items, I've never heard of them before, or at least not in depth. – Toyu_Frey Feb 12 '20 at 20:50
  • @naruto To clarify, a (not) or (ない) enclosed in parentheses isn't a negation, but merely a indication the item is a negative polarity item? – Toyu_Frey Feb 17 '20 at 6:45
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    @Toyu_Frey Yes. It signals ない/ぬ/etc will be accompanied elsewhere in the sentence, but this ない itself is not part of the meaning of the word. – naruto Feb 17 '20 at 6:47
  • @naruto You said in your answer that "何ひとつ by itself is an intensifier". Now I'm wondering if 何ひとつ is being used as a intensifier in my sentence. I have a suspicion that 何ひとつ is being used as one, but 何ひとつ is not by itself in my sentence... – Toyu_Frey Mar 11 '20 at 2:49

As a matter of the fact, contrary to the Naruto's answer, 「何一つ」does not necessarily follow the negative indication (though frequently).

As goo 辞書{じしょ} defines,



[Adverb] ( often follows the negation sentence ). None. Even an one thing. Without little left. Example [I don't know anything at all about the matter], [The life without no inconvenience]

Thus, 「何一つ」means, nothing, not even one thing,, depending on the context, the sentence can be the double negative, which in turn indicates positive. (Think about the life without any inconvenience,, which indicates you are an ultra rich, you don't know even how to spend your money to enjoy your life. So Naruto's claim "This means 何ひとつ is always followed by a negative expression,", is microscopically true, but that doesn't necessarily apply to the whole sentence as I presented above.(Does the life without anything worrisome mean a negative connotation?).

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    回答の趣旨がよく分からないのですが、「何ひとつ心配ない」とか「何も悪くない」みたいな、文法的にネガティブでも意味合いとしてはポジティブな文があるでしょ、だから私の回答は不十分だよ、…というご指摘ですか?(とりあえず to follow と to be followed by の区別は付けましょう…) – naruto Feb 12 '20 at 11:58
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    I'm also confused by your post. All of the examples given by either @naruto or by you show negative polarity. Note that this polarity is a grammatical and syntactical constraint on the usage of 何一つ, and is wholly separate from the ultimate meaning of the entire utterance. While 悪くない is interpretable as a "positive" statement, in terms of grammar, it is undeniably a negative-polarity statement. The positive-polarity counterpart is simply 悪い. Negative polarity (i.e. 否定) is required in order to use 何一つ. One cannot (correctly) say 何一つよい or 何一つ悪い. – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 12 '20 at 16:11

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