Wild Nihongo!


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. べなくて [X does not eat, and…]
    • E.g. はなさなくて [X does not speak, and…]
  • い-Adjective Stem + くなくて
    • E.g. たかくなくて [X is expensive, and…]
  • (な-Adjective Stem / Noun) + [では / じゃ] + なくて
    • E.g. しずかじゃなくて [X is quiet, and…]
    • E.g. 先生せんせいじゃなくて [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. 先生せんせい説明せつめいがわからなくてこまりました。[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. 中田たなかさんは大阪おおさかかないで京都きょうとった。 [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. 小川こがわあたまがいいから勉強べんきょうしなくても東京とうきょう大学だいがくはいれるよ。[Because Kogawa is smart, even if he doesn’t study he can get into Tokyo University.]
    • E.g. このむずかしい漢字かんじおぼ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. あさ七時しちじきられなくて会社かいしゃおくれました。[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. あさ七時しちじきられないで会社かいしゃおくれました。[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. あさ七時しちじきられなかったから会社かいしゃおくれました。[Because I was unable to get up at 7 AM, I was late for work.]
    • E.g. あさ七時しちじきられなかったので会社かいしゃおくれました。[Because I was unable to get up at 7 AM, I was late for work.]

Example Sentences:

日本にほんでは日本語にほんごはなせなくて残念ざんねんでした。[I couldn’t speak Japanese in Japan, so it was too bad.]

試験しけんむずかしくなくてよかったですね。[The exam was not difficult, so that was good.]

上手じょうずじゃなくてずかしいんです。[I’m poor at drawing Japanese characters, so I’m embarrassed.]

きびしい先生せんせいじゃなくてよかった。[He wasn’t a strict teacher, so that was good.]

WILD Examples:

The first line of this song is たよりなくてなさけない。[It’s unreliable, and it’s pathetic.] This line implies that Koiking is unreliable and therefore pathetic.

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