Tuesday, July 16, 2019

nakunai なくない

WIP: this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, nakunai なくない means "is not not" or "there is not no" or "[I] don't have no." It's a double negative, so it translates to the positives "is," "there is," and "[I] have."

Grammatically, it'a the i-adjective or negative auxiliary nai ない, inflected to the adverbial form, naku なく, plus the negative auxiliary nai ない. So it's nai twice.

Grammar

The negative auxiliary nai ない is used to create the negative form of verbs and adjectives.
  • kawaii
    可愛
    Is cute. (i-adjective.)
  • kawaikunai
    可愛くない
    Is not cute.
  • wakaru
    分かる
    To understand. (godan verb with ru ending.)
  • wakaranai
    分からない
    To not understand.

So the negative form of the words above end in nai ない. The problem is, this nai ない can be inflected like an i-adjective. So you can inflect the nai ない to its own negative form:
  • ~nai
    ~な
    Is not. (suffix that works like an i-adjective.)
  • ~nakunai
    ~なくない
    Is not not. (negative form of suffix that works like an i-adjective.)

That means you can say this:
  • kawaiku-nai
    可愛くな
    Is not cute.
  • kawaiku-naku-nai
    可愛くなくない
    Is not not cute.
    Is cute.
  • wakara-nai
    分からな
    Is not to understand.
    To not understand.
  • wakara-naku-nai
    分からなくない
    Is not not to understand.
    To not not understand.
    Is to understand.
    To understand.

Usage

Logically, there's no logical reason to say "is not not cute" if you can just say "is cute." But that doesn't mean people don't so that.

One way nakunai is used is instead of janai for agreement. For example:
  • ii-n-janai?
    いいんじゃない
    Isn't [it] good?

The phrase above translates literally to "[it] isn't good?" When people say that, they're in practice saying: that's good, isn't it? Isn't that good?

In other words, they want to know if it "is good," but they ask whether it "is not good."

Similarly:
  • yokunai
    くない
    Is not good.
    • ii いい and yoi よい are synonyms meaning "good." But normally ii いい is used to say just "good," and yoi is used for every other inflection, like "not good."
  • yokunakunai?
    くなくない
    Is not not good?
    • Isn't [that] not good?
    • Is [that] good?

Another example:
  • sugoi janai?
    すごいじゃない
    Isn't [that] incredible?
  • sugoi jan?
    すごいじゃん
    (same meaning.)
  • sugokunakunai?
    すごくなくない
    (also same meaning.)

A less normal case is when two characters go back-and-forth trying to deny what the other is saying by just adding a nai at the end of the sentence.
  • kawaii!
    可愛
    [It] is cute!
  • kawaikunai
    可愛くない
    (you're wrong.) [It] is not cute.
  • kawaikunakunai
    可愛くなくない
    (no u.) [It] is not not cute.

なくなくない

The phrases nakunakunai なくなくない, nakunakunakunai なくなくなくない, nakunakunakunakunai なくなくなくなくない, and so on, are just evolved forms of nakunai with triple, quadruple, quintuple negatives and beyond. For reference:
  1. nai
    ない
    Is not.
  2. naku-nai
    なくない
    Is not not.
    Is.
  3. naku-naku-nai
    なくなくない
    Is not not not.
    Is not.
  4. naku-naku-naku-nai
    なくなくなくない
    Is not not not not.
    Is not not.
    Is.
  5. naku-naku-naku-naku-nai
    なくなくなくなくない
    Is not not not not not..
    Is not not not.
    Is not.

Of course nobody is ever going to say this under normal situations, but, grammatically, it's still all correct.

無くない

Sometimes, nakunai 無くない is a normal adjective inflected to negative form instead of the negative auxiliary inflected to negative form. In this case, the grammar is the same, except it's the antonym of aru ある.
  • jikan ga nai
    時間が無い
    Time is nonexistent.
    There's no time.
    We're out of time. We're going to be late. We won't make it. Etc.
  • jikan ga nakunai?
    時間が無くない
    Time is not nonexistent?
    Isn't time nonexistent?
    Isn't there no time?
    Aren't we out of time? Aren't we going to be late? Etc.

Some examples with the null particle:
  • kankei nakunai?
    関係なくない
    Relationship is not nonexistent?
    Isn't that unrelated?
    Doesn't that have nothing to do with it?
  • yaru koto nakunai?
    やることなくない
    Isn't there nothing to do?

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