So I was wondering this arcaic means of expressing volitional in Japanese, and the question comes up: Can a native japanese distinguish between ん-negative and ん-volitional in a phrase without or with insufficient context? Is there a special conjugation for ん-volitional for this purpose?

  • Isn't asking if a native can distinguish them without context like asking if an English native can distinguish present tense "hit" from past tense "hit" with no context?
    – Leebo
    Jun 15, 2021 at 6:56
  • It's an interesting question and your example makes little sense here.
    – user26484
    Jun 15, 2021 at 11:37
  • @user26484 can you help me understand how it's different? If the two things are identical in form then isn't the context what allows you to determine the meaning? I agree that it's interesting to discuss how they are used differently, but that has everything to do with the context, so it didn't make sense to me to ask about removing it.
    – Leebo
    Jun 16, 2021 at 22:53
  • It's not a matter of with or without context, the ん-volitional does not operate outside specific phrasing as already indicated. If they were asking, say, how to distinguish between the the volitional ~せんと and the negative ~せんと without context, sure, it's a valid complaint, but here he's asking about the ん by itself. Of course, something like 言わん can never be used in the volitional sense, regardless of context, which might've been the questioner's source of confusion.
    – user26484
    Jun 17, 2021 at 23:15
  • @user26484 I thought it could be used that way in classical Japanese. I'm not that familiar with classical Japanese though.
    – Leebo
    Jun 18, 2021 at 0:25

1 Answer 1


In modern Japanese, the ん-volitional is used only in a few fixed expressions such as 言わんとすること. It is almost always followed by とする.

The ん-negative is not normally used in standard Japanese to begin with but only in certain dialects. Form-wise, it may be followed by と but not by とする.

Though I happen to have grown up speaking a dialect in which the ん-negative is the norm, I cannot think of a situation where the two might be confused.

  • Thanks for the answer! Then how about in the arcaic speech?
    – MoonLord
    Jun 14, 2021 at 19:29
  • @MoonLord: I don't understand what you mean by "archaic speech".
    – aguijonazo
    Jun 15, 2021 at 0:22
  • I mean, in biblical texts for example: それ神はその獨子を賜ふほどに世を愛し給へり すべて彼を信ずる者の亡びずして、永遠の生命を得んためなり.
    – MoonLord
    Jun 15, 2021 at 4:07
  • 1
    @MoonLord: I have never had to read such a text. I doubt the ん-negative is used in such texts. ぬ is more likely.
    – aguijonazo
    Jun 15, 2021 at 4:18

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