Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Beyond the Basics
At its most basic, もう means "already" and もう〜ない means "not…anymore."
Here are some examples. Let's say someone asks if you've eaten lunch yet. If you have, you could say:
- Yeah, l already ate.
That person, however, urges you to join them anyway because they have a coupon for a popular restaurant that's about to expire. You might respond with:
- No, I can't eat any more.
It's that simple!
But, how can もう mean both "already" and "(not) anymore"?
もう expresses something relative to the existing amount or state of things. And, "already" and "not…anymore" are relative expressions that are always based on a certain point in time. As its core, もう signifies that you have a certain reference point in mind and what you're talking about has already passed the point, or will not pass that point anymore.
So in the first example もう食べたよ (l already ate), your reference point was set to "when you eat lunch" and もう indicates that you have already eaten your lunch and have passed that point.
In the second example もう食べれないよ (I can't eat any more), the reference point was set to "when you can still eat" and もう expresses that you have passed that point and can't eat any more.
In some cases, もう can also mean "a little more" than the current quantity or condition. Though all of its uses stem from the same concept, they are quite different in terms of nuance. To keep it simple, these uses have their own page. If you want to learn more, check out もう for A Little More.
Patterns of Use
もう + Verb
As you've already seen in the earlier examples, もう can be used with a verb.
When もう means "already," it's used with the past tense of the verb, like:
- It's already done.
When もう means "not anymore," it's used with the negative form of the verb:
- I can't do it anymore.
You can also use this もう in the past negative, as in:
- I couldn't do it anymore.
However, the above sentence can give the impression that you're discussing a situation in which something wasn't available to you anymore and you couldn't do it.
If you want to say that you were attempting to do something but were unable to continue or complete it after a certain point, it's common to attach another expression, such as それ以上 (beyond that).
- I couldn't do it any further beyond that.
もう + Adjective
You can use もう with adjectives, too. For example, imagine you're heating up a pan to cook something and it gets hot quicker than you anticipated. When you notice this, you say:
- あ、もう 熱い。
- Oh, it's already hot.
In this situation, it's also common to use the verb なる (to become) to indicate the change of state, like:
- Oh, it got hot already.
In this example, なる takes its ている form to indicate that you're talking about the current state after the change.
You can also express that something is "no longer…" the case, or "not anymore" using the もう〜ない pattern with an adjective. For example, when you notice the pan is no longer hot after you had turned off the stove, you can say:
- It's not hot anymore.
- Oh, he's already famous.
(Literally: Oh, he's got famous already.)
- He's not famous anymore.
もう + Noun
もう can also be paired with nouns that describe age, roles, time, places, events, or anything else that can eventually reach or pass a point.
So if you want to say that you're already a high school student, you can say:
- I'm already a high school student.
Of course, you can use もう with です or だ, too, as in もう高校生です or もう高校生だ.
On the other hand, if you want to highlight that you are no longer a high school student, you use the もう〜ない pattern and say:
- I'm not a high school student anymore.
もう For Asking "Have You Already…?"
You learned how to use もう to say that you've "already" done something. This use of もう is also frequently used to ask whether someone has already done something.
For example, if you want to ask your colleague if they've had lunch yet, you can say:
- Did you already eat lunch?
Or, if you want to ask your friend if they've already finished their homework, you can say:
- もう 宿題した？
- Have you already done your homework?
But if you want to respond in the negative with "not yet," you'll need to use まだ or まだ〜ない, as in:
- I haven't eaten yet.
- I haven't done it yet.
If you aren't familiar with how to use まだ, check out its dedicated page!
もう and Time/Age
もう can be used with expressions which indicate time or age. In these cases, it implies that the point in time or age to which you're referring is rather late or old, and that point has already been reached.
For example, say you're hanging out with your friends and have lost track of time. When you check your phone, you say:
- It's already eleven o'clock.
By using もう here, you're expressing your surprise that so much time has passed when in reality it feels like much less time had gone by. In other words, the time that passed had already gone beyond the point you expected.
Let's continue on with the same scenario. Say you tell your friend that you were supposed to go home by 10 o'clock and your parents must be furious now. Your friend responds with:
- What, even though you're already twenty years old!?
Here, もう expresses that twenty should already be old enough (and passed the age) that you should have to adhere to a curfew.
Beyond the Basics
もう For "Sufficiency"
もう can also be used with words or phrases indicating sufficiency, such as いい, 十分, or いっぱい. Used this way, もう expresses that the amount of something described has already reached a sufficient and satisfactory level.
For example, if you're stuffed after eating at a buffet, you could say:
- Ah, I'm already full.
The nuance of this statement can also change depending on whether, for instance, you're responding to someone's suggestion that you try another dish, or joyfully remarking that you're satisfied with your meal. In the case of the former, もう, meaning "already," is a fairly neutral way to state that you're unable to eat anything else.
Let's take a look at another example. Say you've worked really hard to achieve something, but you ended up burning out. A worried buddy might say:
- お前はもう十分 頑張ったよ。
- You've already worked hard enough.
Here, もう acknowledges that you've worked to your greatest capacity and now you're at a place where you're overburdened, and suggests that you take it easy for a while to recover.
If you play hide and seek in Japan, you'll hear the seeker ask the hiders if they're ready before going to look for them, like this:
- Are you ready (already)?
And if the hiders are ready, they say: 1
- I'm ready (already).
In this situation, もう shows whether or not the hiders had sufficient time to properly conceal themselves. So, yeah, Japanese hide & seek requires a bit more civility than simply declaring, "Ready or not, here I come!" and hunting folks down. 😝
もう For "Enough!"
While もう can be used in a positive manner to indicate that an amount of something has reached a satisfactory level, it can also be used negatively, implying that the limit has been reached and so you can't take it anymore.
For example, say you are a teenager attempting to persuade your parents to allow you to go on a trip with your friends, but your parents are dead set against it. You might yell at them, saying:
- That's enough!
As you can see, this is the identical statement that the hiders in the hide and seek game told the seeker in the earlier example. However, in the previous example it was a fairly neutral expression used to notify the seeker that the hider was ready. In this example it has a negative message, implying that you've had enough of arguing with your parents and have given up talking about it.
Let's take another example. Suppose you go hiking with your partner, but your legs are trembling after a few hours of trekking uphill, so you say:
- もう 無理… もう 限界だわ。
- I can't do this anymore…I'm at my limit.
In this example, もう denotes that you have reached your physical limit and can't walk any further. These phrases can also be used when something unbearable happens to you and you are at your wits' end.
もう for "Interjection"
You learned that もう can indicate that something has reached a satisfactory level or tolerable limit. もう can also be used as an interjection, which is a short explanation that is used to express sudden bursts of emotion like joy or anger.
Say you're at a concert for your favorite band. You're so excited you can't hold it in, so you shout:
- もう、 最高！
- Ah, (this is) awesome!
In this case, もう doesn't carry any specific meaning, per say, like in the previous examples where it stood for "already" or "not anymore." In this case, it's simply an utterance that expresses that you're past the point of excitement and it's reached another level.
Let's continue with the same scenario. Assume the performance is taking place in a venue with no seats, and the crowd starts to surge. You've had enough of being pushed around by others, so you might say:
- もう！いい 加減にしてよ。
- Come on! Stop it.
Here, もう expressions your frustration, either with the jerks pushing you around or the situation itself, or both, and you've had enough.
This もう can also be used to playfully tease someone. For example, if your father is constantly making dad jokes or using bad puns, you could jokingly tell him:
- Hey! Dad, you're making dad jokes again.
Simple as that, もう can be used as an interjection to express a range of emotions, depending on the context and how you say it.
If the hiders are not ready yet, they would respond with まだだよ (not yet). ↩