Friday, January 11, 2019

~gatai ~がたい, ~難い

In Japanese, ~gatai ~がたい, also spelled ~gatai ~難い, is an auxiliary adjective that means something "hard to do" because you aren't willing to do it, or it's "hard to happen" because you don't believe it normally happen.

(not to be confused with gattai 合体, which means "to combine.")

Manga: Maid in Abyss, メイドインアビス (Chaper 15, 不動卿)


As an auxiliary adjective, ~gatai ~がたい is attached to the masu stem of verbs, also called their "connective form," ren'youkei 連用形.
  • suru
    To do.
  • shimasu
    To do. (polite form.)
  • shi

  • shi-gatai
    Hard to do.
  • shi-gatai
    (same meaning.)


The word ~gatai ~がたい can be conjugated just liked any i-adjective.
  • ~gatai
    Hard [to do].
  • ~gatakatta
    Was hard [to do].
  • ~gatakunai
    Not hard [to do].
  • ~gatakunakatta
    Was not hard [to do].

Although it's grammatically valid to inflect it to negative (is not, was not), in practice those inflections are rarely used, as ~gatai is mostly used to say something is difficult to do, not to say something isn't difficult to do.


When ~gatai is written with kanji it becomes ~gatai ~難い, written with the kanji for the word "difficult," muzukashii 難しい.

Confusingly, ~nikui ~にくい, another auxiliary adjective that also means something is "hard to do," can also be written with kanji as ~nikui ~難い. That is, ~gatai and ~nikui are written the same way when they're written with kanji, they're homographs.

Katai 難い

The word katai 難い, an adjective meaning "difficult," is where the auxiliary adjective ~gatai ~難い comes from.

The ka か becomes ga が due to a change in pronunciation called rendaku 連濁, which adds a "diacritic," dakuten 濁点, to the suffix.

To make matters more confusing, katai 難い, "difficult," is homonym with katai 固い, "solid." And to make them even more confusing, in English there's word that's synonymous with both "difficult" and "solid," the word "hard."

~がたい vs. ~にくい

The word ~gatai is very similar to ~nikui ~にくい, which also means something is hard to do, but there are some differences.

Note that, regardless of the differences, most of the time people will say ~nikui rather than ~gatai anyway because ~gatai is more used in writing, in some set phrases, and by characters in manga who speak in a more solemn, literary way, while ~nikui is more used in normal speech.

Resisting to Do It

One difference between ~gatai and ~nikui ~にくい is that ~nikui is something that's difficult to achieve or to happen due its nature, while ~gatai expresses that something is hard to do because you find resistance doing it.

For example:
  • iu
    To say.
  • ii-nikui
    Hard to say, because of the nature of what's being said.
    Anyone would find this hard to say.
  • ii-gatai
    Hard to say, because I'd rather not say it.
    Maybe I'm not so sure about it, so I'd like to refrain from making a comment.

This means that ~nikui is more objective, difficult for anyone, while ~gatai is subjective, difficult for you.

Furthermore, ~nikui means that, while complicated to do, it's possible to achieve, while ~gatai means that, because of reasons, you think it's probably not gonna happen.

I'd Rather Not

You'll see that ~gatai is often used with verbs where the difficulty isn't that the process is complicated or that the execution in practice is troublesome (~nikui), the difficulty is merely your willingness to do it. (~gatai).
  • shinjiru
    To believe.
  • shinji-gatai
    Hard to believe.
    I'd rather not believe it.
  • yurusu
    To forgive.
  • yurushi-gatai
    Hard to forgive.
    I'd rather not forgive it.
  • yurushi-gatai koui
    An act [that's] hard to forgive.
    Unforgivable act.
  • mitomeru
    To acknowledge.
  • mitome-gatai
    Hard to acknowledge.
    I'd rather not acknowledge it.
    I'll never admit it!

Psychological Verbs

It's also used with verbs related to the mind, in which the difficulty is entirely psychological.
  • wasureru
    To forget.
  • wasure-gatai
    Hard to forget.
    I'd rather not forget it.
  • kangaeru
    To think.
  • kangae-gatai
    Hard to think.
    I'd rather not think it's so.
  • rikai suru
    To comprehend.
  • rikai shi-gatai
    Hard to comprehend.
    To me, it makes no sense. I can't comprehend it.
  • taeru
    To endure. To tolerate. To bear.
  • tae-gatai
    Hard to endure.
    Intolerable. Unbearable.
  • tae-gatai kutsujoku
    An humiliation [that's] hard to endure.
    An unbearable humiliation.

Manga: Maid in Abyss, メイドインアビス (Chaper 15, 不動卿)
  • do shi-gatai
    Hard to persuade-and-make-understand.
    Even if you tried to persuade them, you don't think they'd understand.
    They're irredeemable. Beyond salvation.
    • do suru
      To persuade someone to understand.
      To make them see the truth, the logic, to make them see the light.
      To redeem. To save. (from saido 済度, "salvation," Buddhist term.)

Note that, although ~gatai is generally translated as if something "can't" happen, it doesn't literally mean it "can't" happen, just that you believe it's so difficult to happen it probably won't happen.

That is, it's different from a negative potential conjugation of a verb:
  • shinjirarenai
    Can't believe [it].

Although, in practice, the example above has pretty much the same meaning as shinjigatai.

Probably Not Gonna Happen

Another case is that ~gatai implies something is difficult to occur, that it's rare for it to occur.
  • aru
    To have.
  • ari-gatai
    Hard to have. Hard to come by.
    • ari-gatou gozaimasu
      "Thanks" comes from the adjective above.
  • eru
    To acquire.
  • e-gatai
    Hard to acquire.

Note that, while ~nikui can also mean something is hard to happen, its meaning is slightly different. For example:
  • koware-nikui
    Hard to break. Rarely breaks.
    Something that's hard to break because of how it's built, but, like all things, will eventually break, just not as easily as other, more breakable things.
  • koware-gatai
    Hard to break. Probably won't break.
    Something you believe to be hard to break because you think it's absolutely unbreakable, or maybe you believe it would take a lot to break it, anyway, you don't think it's going to break easily, anytime soon or ever.

~がたい vs. ~づらい

The difference between ~gatai and ~dzurai ~づらい is that, while both are subjective ways to say something is difficult, ~dzurai means something is hard to do because it causes distress, whereas ~gatai means something is hard to do because you don't want to do it.

For example:
  • hanashi-nikui
    Hard to talk.
    Because I don't have the time to talk. Anyone in my position would have difficulty talking.
  • hanashi-dzurai
    Hard to talk.
    Because it's a subject that makes me uncomfortable.
  • hanashi-gatai
    Hard to talk.
    Because it's a subject I'd rather not talk about.
    Because it's someone that I believe I probably won't be able to talk with.

Further Reading



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  1. Great post! Also wanted to say thanks for the blog in general, it's well written with smooth prose and an enjoyable mix of humor and useful content.