Using Verb Negative Form (〜ない) for "Not..."

    • Verb
    When 〜ない appears on the end of a verb, it means it is in the negative plain form. In other words, it has a similar function to “not”.

    Table of Contents

    What Is the ない Form of Verbs?

    The suffix 〜ない functions similarly to "not" in English, as in 食べない (not eat), 飲まない (not drink) and 来ない (not come). Also known as the ない form, this is the negative plain form of verbs. So when used at the end of a sentence, it makes the sentence casual. It can also be used in the middle of a sentence, in which case it doesn't usually show whether the sentence is polite or not, but simply gives information about whatever comes next.

    If you'd like to know how to conjugate this form, click here. Otherwise, read on to get a feel for when you'll want to use it!

    ない Form for the Present

    Just like the る form of verbs, the ない form of verbs is used to talk about both the present and the future. If we use it in the present, it is usually to talk about a situation or a "general truth" rather than a habitual action (we tend to use 〜ていない to talk about habits). So if we're watching our favorite Japanese TV show without subtitles, we might lament our inability to follow along by saying:

    • 全然分からない。
    • I don't understand at all.

    Similarly, if we can understand the Japanese just fine, but find the show to be meaningless, we can say:

    • 見る価値がない!
    • Watching it is pointless!

    That said, we can use ない for habits if the emphasis is on the permanence of the situation, rather than the action:

    • あんまりテレビを見ない。
    • I don't watch TV much.

    In speaking, 〜ない is often combined with particles to add a particular nuance or to give a more conversational tone:

    • 全く意味がないよね。
    • It makes no sense, huh?

    ない Form for the Future

    We can also use this form to talk about things we won't do. This can refer to the very near future, like a party tonight:

    • 今夜のパーティーに行かない。
    • I'm not going to the party tonight.

    It can also be used to talk about our intentions for the more distant future:

    • 絶対に地元に帰らない!
    • There's no way I'm ever going back to where I come from!

    ない Form for Invitations

    You may have already learned the polite way to make invitations using 〜ませんか. We can use the ない form in the same way, to make casual invitations. Simply adding the question particle か to the ない form is one way to do this:

    • 今度、一緒に行かないか。
    • How about we go together next time?

    However, this has an assertive feel to it so is not very common in everyday conversations. Rather, as so often happens in casual Japanese, we simply use the ない form as it is and rely on intonation to make it clear that we are asking a question:

    • 今度、一緒に行かない?
    • How about we go together next time?

    ない Form in the Middle of Sentences

    Just like other plain forms, 〜ない can be used in the middle of a sentence. In this case, it no longer makes the sentence casual because politeness is generally shown at the end of a sentence.

    Plenty of structures in Japanese only work when paired up with some kind of plain form. For this, the ない form will come in very handy. For example, かもしれない (probably) and と思う (I think) can both be used only with the plain form. So if we want to say we probably won't go to a party tomorrow, we can use かもしれない or its polite form かもしれません:

    • 明日のパーティーに行かないかもしれません。
    • I probably won't go to the party tomorrow.

    Although the overall sentence above is polite, and so has the polite form at the end, using the polite form before かもしれません would be incorrect:

    ❌ 明日のパーティーに行きませんかもしれません。

    ない Form with Nouns

    The ない form also behaves like other plain forms in the way it fits together with nouns. If we want to say "an interesting TV show" we can put simply put おもしろい before 番組 to give us おもしろい番組. To say "a place I go to," we simply say 行く場所. We can do exactly the same thing with verbs ending in 〜ない, too.

    • 行かない場所
    • a place I don't go to
    • 行かない人
    • the person (or people) who isn't going
    • 分からない人
    • the person (or people) who doesn't understand

    In English, we need to put the additional information afterwards, and often a word like "who" or "that," but in Japanese we can simply add the extra information (in plain form) before the word. While this takes a little getting used to, it's a very handy way to make more complex sentences and you'll come across it in Japanese all the time.

    Other Forms of ない

    The beauty and strangeness of this form is that, even though the verbs that end in 〜ない keep their meanings as verbs, they basically "become" い-adjectives when it comes to conjugating them. Odd as it may seem at first, the fact that the form ends in 〜い makes this peculiarity very easy to remember.

    So since ない conjugates just like an い-adjective, if you can conjugate standard い-adjectives, you can conjugate the ない form too! Take a look at the table below to see what we mean.

    Form 日本語 English
    Plain Polite
    Negative Form 食べな 食べないです don't eat
    Past Negative Form 食べなかった 食べなかったです didn't eat
    Conditional Negative Form 食べなければ if don't eat