Even after looking at example sentences, I can't seem to figure out the difference between the two. They both seem to mean "without doing ~". I gathered that ずに is a written form, but I've also been told that there are times where ずに is more natural to use. Is there a trick to figuring out which to use, or is it not that simple?

  1. 今朝、朝ご飯を食べないで仕事に来ました。
  2. 今朝、朝ご飯を食べずに仕事に来ました。 This morning I came to work without eating breakfast.

I'm unable to tell the difference between the two sentences. To me they both mean the exact same thing.


Unless you are very advanced in learning Japanese, I guess you can think both approximately mean the same. Regarding the sentences in the question, I don't see any difference.

There are a number of related questions on this site (possibly more).

I haven't read all of the above and can't give a comprehensive treatment, but let me mention just two cases where ずに and ないで are not (really) interchangeable.

Double negative construction like せずに(は)いられない sounds more natural with ずに.


  • 夜になると酒を飲まずにいられない : I cannot help but drink upon nightfall.
  • 夜になると酒を飲まないでいられない

The latter is ok, but less likely to be used.

When the first action is a reason to the second action (this is from the last of the linked question above).

  • 朝七時に起きられずに会社に遅れました。I couldn't get up at seven, and was late for office.
  • 朝七時に起きられないで会社に遅れました。

The latter is only barely acceptable, although I don't see any real danger of misunderstanding. Note that

  • 朝七時に起きられなくて/なかったから/なかったので会社に遅れました。

are all fine.

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