Wednesday, May 1, 2019

koto nai ことない

WIP: this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, koto nai ことない means someone has "never done something," or that something has "never happened," or that something "doesn't exist," or "doesn't happen." Variants include koto ga nai ことがない and koto wa nai ことはない.

Literally, it's the combination of the light noun koto こと plus the i い adjective nai ない, "non-existent." Grammatically, koto is qualified by an adjective, such as relative clause, so it can abstractly refer to "a kind of something," and then the nai says that kind of something doesn't exist or happen.

The opposite is koto aru ことある, "exists," "happens," "I've done it."

Depending on the adjective qualifying koto, the meaning changes.

To illustrate:
  • ii koto nai いいことない
    Good thing is non-existent.
    There's no good thing [about this].
    There's nothing good [about this].
    Good things never happen [to me].
    • This is when an adjective word qualifies koto.
  • yaru koto nai やることない
    Thing to do is non-existent.
    There's no thing to do.
    There's nothing to do.
    • This is when a verb, a relative clause, qualifies koto.
    • And the verb is in the non-past time.
  • kanashimu koto nai 悲しむことない
    Thing to be saddened is non-existent.
    There's no thing to be saddened.
    There's nothing to be sad about.
    • Phrase used when telling someone not to get sad about something that happened, because it's nothing to be sad about.
    • Grammatically it's the same as the above one.
  • yatta koto nai やったことない
    Thing done is non-existent.
    Doing [it] has never happened.
    [I] have never done [it].
    • This is when the verb is in the past.
    • This article will focus on this one.

To elaborate: if you have a noun, you can just throw ga nai がない at it, "doesn't exist," "I don't have it:"
  • kane ga nai 金がない
    Money is non-existent.
    [I] don't have money.
  • kanojo ga inai 彼女がいない
    Girlfriend is non-existent.
    [I] don't have a girlfriend.

But this ga が particle can only be attached to nouns, not to adjectives or verbs. Thus, the light noun koto こと acts as an adapter to make it syntactically possible to refer to adjectives and verbs.
  • ureshii 嬉しい
    Happy.
  • ureshikunai 嬉しくない
    Not happy.
  • *ureshii ga nai 嬉しいがない
    (wrong.)
  • ureshii koto ga nai 嬉しいことがない
    ureshii koto nai 嬉しいことない
    Happy stuff doesn't exist.
    There's nothing happy. Nothing happy happens.
  • ureshisa ga nai 嬉しさがない
    Happiness is non-existent.
    Lacking happiness.
    • Note: normally other words would be used for "happiness," this is just a grammar example.

Note that a relative clause isn't necessarily just the verb, it can have arguments:
  • manga wo yonda koto nai
    漫画を読んだことない
    Thing "has read manga" is non-existent.
    I've never read manga.
  • kaigai ni itta koto nai
    海外に行ったことない
    Thing "has gone overseas" is non-existent.
    I've never gone overseas.
    • In Japan: "I have never visited another country." Because Japan is an island, so every other country is "overseas," kaigai.
  • kanojo ga kareshi ni bentou wo tsukutta koto nai
    彼女が彼氏に弁当を作ったことない
    Thing "she made a boxed-lunch for boyfriend" is non-existent.
    She has never made a boxed-lunch for [her] boyfriend.

Furthermore, it can be in the passive:
  • homerareta koto nai
    褒められたことない
    Thing "to be praised" is non-existent.
    I've never been praised [for what I do, by anyone].

Since nai ない is an adjective, it can qualify nouns itself.
  • mita koto nai
    見たことない
    Thing "has seen" is non-existent.
    To have never seen [something].
    I have never seen it.
  • anime wo mita koto nai
    アニメを見たこと
    Thing "has seen anime" is non-existent.
    I have never seen anime.
  • anime wo mita koto nai hito
    アニメを見たことない
    Person [that] thing "has seen anime" is non-existent.
    A person that has never seen anime.
    Someone who has never seen anime.

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