what's the reason all negative verbs in Japanese ends with ない?





is It related to あるverb? I am interested in knowing the origin

1 Answer 1


ない is the negation suffix.

As a suffix, ない superseded older ぬ.

ない is not related (derivationally) to the verb ある.

  • In modern Japanese, ない on its own is used as the negative form of ある (compare それはある "there is that" and それはない "there isn't that"), but historically, we do find regularly suffixed forms like あらぬ.
    • I think this kind of usage, where an unrelated word becomes used as an inflected form of some other word, is called "suppletion" in linguistics.
      Consider also English "go" and past tense "went" -- "went" was originally the past tense of unrelated verb "wend", and the past tense of "go" was previously "yode".

As to "why" all plain (non-ます) negative verb forms include ない, may as well ask why all negative verb constructions in English include some form of the word "not".

Separately, regarding the etymology.

The negation suffix ない appears from around the late 1500s, originating in eastern Japanese dialects.

Before that, the negation suffix was ず or inflected form ぬ. Some linguists think that the predicate form ず was itself a contraction of older に [from ぬ] + す [of uncertain function]: //nisu// → //nsu// → //nzu// → //zu//.

In ancient eastern Japanese dialects, there was also a negation suffix なふ. Some scholars suggest a link between ancient なふ and modern ない, but there are problems with this theory -- なふ conjugated as a verb, while ない conjugates as an adjective; also, なふ disappears from the historical record centuries before we see ない.

After ない appeared and began spreading, both ない and ず or ぬ were in use. ない didn't really become standard until after 1907 when official government textbooks settled on using ない.

For those interested, references (in Japanese):

  • The ない entry in the 日本国語大辞典【にほんこくごだいじてん】 or NKD, via Kotobank -- particularly the [語誌] section
  • The なう entry (modern spelling of ancient なふ) in the NKD, second entry on that page, also via Kotobank
  • I've noticed that when speaking more politely, adjectives can also be conjugated with あります / ありません instead of い / ない (e.g. 寒くない -> 寒くありません), so there seems to be a relation, although I have no idea if it's a derivational relation or another case of suppletion. Does this means that the case for ない related to the verb ある is different between verbs and adjectives?
    – jarmanso7
    Oct 19, 2022 at 7:27
  • @jarmanso7, regarding negated adjectives, these are parseable as two separate words: 寒く is the adjective in the adverbial form, then the following ない or ありません is the negation adjective or the polite negative form of ある as the following word. It is also grammatically possible to say things like 寒くある, for instance. Past there, I don't understand that last sentence in your comment, unfortunately...?? Oct 19, 2022 at 7:33
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    It makes sense! Thank you very much.
    – jarmanso7
    Oct 19, 2022 at 7:48
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    @jarmanso7: With verbs, things get more complicated. Derivationally, some linguists theorize that the //-a// ending on the verb stem that is required for godan verbs to take the negative ending was in fact originally part of the ancient negation suffix, and what we now call ず (or ぬ) was, in prehistoric (pre-writing) times, something more like //-anisu//. This theory holds that the 未然形【みぜんけい】 was not an inherent feature of verbs, and only arose later through contractions. Later on, once the 未然形 and its //-a// verb stem ending was well established, it was trivial to replace ず or ぬ with ない. Oct 19, 2022 at 7:50
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    @EiríkrÚtlendi thanks for your detailed answer. In fact, my doubt arose because I discovered that the negation of adjectives uses the verb ある. Thank you for your help \(^o^)/ Oct 19, 2022 at 14:25

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