なくて Japanese Grammar Lesson
Grammar Type: Phrase
Essential Meaning: Do not do X, and… / Is not X, and…
- Verb negative informal + なくて
- E.g. 食べなくて [X does not eat, and…]
- E.g. 話さなくて [X does not speak, and…]
- い-Adjective Stem + くなくて
- E.g. 高くなくて [X is expensive, and…]
- (な-Adjective Stem / Noun) + [では / じゃ] + なくて
- E.g. 静かじゃなくて [X is quiet, and…]
- E.g. 先生じゃなくて [X is a teacher, and…]
- なくて connects a negative clause ending with ない to a main clause (via the negative て-Form), and it expresses the cause or reason for the action or state expressed in the main clause. This cause / effect relationship is relatively weak compared to phrases such as ないから and ないので.
- E.g. 先生の説明がわからなくて困りました。[I didn’t understand the teacher’s explanation, so I was troubled.] In this example, not understanding the teacher’s explanation is the cause, and being troubled is the effect. This relationship is fairly indirect (i.e. not understanding didn’t necessarily directly cause the speaker to become troubled, but it at least contributed / led to the speaker becoming troubled.)
- If there is no causal relationship between Sentence 1 and Sentence 2, ないで is generally a better choice than なくて to connect the clauses in a neutral manner. ないで does not have a causal implication.
- E.g. 中田さんは大阪に行かないで京都に行った。 [Mr. Okuda didn’t go to Osaka; he went to Kyoto.] Since this sentence does not express a causal relationship between Sentence 1 and Sentence 2, ないで is more appropriate than なくて.
- なくても is a common construction that means “Even if X, Y“.
- E.g. 小川は頭がいいから勉強しなくても東京大学に入れるよ。[Because Kogawa is smart, even if he doesn’t study he can get into Tokyo University.]
- E.g. この難しい漢字は覚えなくてもいいですか。[Is it OK even if I don’t memorize this difficult kanji?]
- The hierarchy of directness is: ので > から > ないで > なくて. Since indirectness = politeness in Japanese, なくて is the most polite way of expressing a negative cause – effect relationship.
- E.g. 朝七時に起きられなくて会社に遅れました。[I wasn’t able to get up at 7 AM, and I was late for work.] This example expresses the cause – effect relationship in a very indirect way. The lateness is implied to be caused by the failure to wake up at 7 AM, but this is not literally stated.
- E.g. 朝七時に起きられないで会社に遅れました。[I wasn’t able to get up at 7 AM, and I was late for work.] As explained above, ないで does not necessary convey a causal relationship between getting up late and being late for work. But this causality can be inferred simply based on context.
- E.g. 朝七時に起きられなかったから会社に遅れました。[Because I was unable to get up at 7 AM, I was late for work.]
- E.g. 朝七時に起きられなかったので会社に遅れました。[Because I was unable to get up at 7 AM, I was late for work.]
日本では日本語が話せなくて残念でした。[I couldn’t speak Japanese in Japan, so it was too bad.]
試験は難しくなくてよかったですね。[The exam was not difficult, so that was good.]
字が上手じゃなくて恥ずかしいんです。[I’m poor at drawing Japanese characters, so I’m embarrassed.]
厳しい先生じゃなくてよかった。[He wasn’t a strict teacher, so that was good.]
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