I've been working on my understanding of じゃない and I came across a line in Super Mario RPG that I think I know the meaning of, but I'm not certain so I wanted to check.

The scene is, Mario and Mallow go charging through a hail of arrows to reach the boss. At some point during their charge, Mallow trips and falls down and Mario just keeps on going. Mario then reaches the boss and Mallow shows up a moment later. Mallow then turns to Mario and says:

<マロ> マリオさん! ひどいじゃないですか。

One of the meanings for ひどい on Jisho.org is 'heartless', which I think fits the context pretty well. So I'm thinking Mallow is saying "Mario San! Are you heartless?" Implying, "How could you just leave me back there?"

From what I've learned so far the ですか is supposed to be the text equivalent of intonation to change what would normally be (ひどいじゃない not heartless) into (are you heartless?)

Am I even close or am I completely getting the じゃない wrong here?


1 Answer 1


There are many answers covering this piece of grammar called rhetorical negative, like this one I asked myself over 3 years ago...

Basically adding 「じゃない」 or 「(な)の/ん+じゃない」 to the end of a sentence can turn it into a rhetorical negative.

exploring your example:

マリオさん!ひどいです。 - Mario-san! That's cruel. / You are cruel.

マリオさん!ひどくないです。- Mario-san! That's not cruel. You are not cruel.

マリオさん!ひどいじゃないですか?- Mario-san! Aren't you cruel?

If we want to be more specific, and perhaps have a more natural translation:

Mario! Don’t you think that’s cruel of you? (Leaving me there) or Mario! You are so cruel, aren’t you?

In the polite form, when using this rhetorical negative you will definitely end it with ですか. And for proper affirmations you will end it with です.

It gets trickier when we're using informal language because both affirmations and rhetorical negatives can end with just じゃない.

In that case you will only be able to tell the difference by the speaker's intonation, and / or by the context.

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    ひどいじゃない as an actual negative is ungrammatical; this can only be the rhetorical negative. The actual negative form of ひどい is ひどくない.
    – Angelos
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 14:22
  • lol you’re right, for some reason I was thinking of it as a na-adjective. Corrected, thanks!! Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 15:45
  • Maybe it's just me, but the 3rd translation sounds unnatural to my English ear. It almost sounds like Mallow is saying something like, "I thought you were cruel, are you not?"(Implying as if Mario normally leads a cruel lifestyle and should continue to be cruel). Again maybe it's just me though. I'm very curious as to what other people think. Thanks! Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 17:38
  • Hmm I’m not a native English speaker so I might fail to convey the best nuance for that situation. But at the cost of being a bit verbose, it would mean something like “Mario! Don’t you think that’s cruel of you? (Leaving me there)” or “Mario! You are so cruel, aren’t you?” Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 18:01
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    That sounds MUCH more natural and makes sense to me. I think you may want to change it to that or something closer to that. My brain goes to phrases like "Mario! How can you be so cruel?" or "Mario! Why are you so cruel?" Thanks again :) Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 18:18

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