Grammar Info

N1 Lesson 6: 13/17

でなくてなんだろう

If … is not … then what is?

Structure

Noun + でなくてなん + だろう(1)

(1)であろう

Details

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    Formal

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    硬い

About でなくてなんだろう

でなくてなんだろう is a formal pattern that appears following nouns that the speaker is certain is something which is true. It can be translated as 'if it's not (A), then what is it?'. でなくてなんだろう is a combination of the conjunctive form of the auxiliary verb だ, で, the conjunctive form of the い-Adjective ない, なくて, the prefix なん 'what', and the volitional form of だ, だろう. As can be seen, the literal and common translations are quite similar.
  • あの()(あたら)しいってだけでいじめられている。あれはパワハラでなくてなんだろう
    She is getting bullied just because she is new. If that is not power harassment, then what is?
  • (おれ)はこんなに(よる)(おそ)くまでタダ(ばたら)きをしている。(おれ)社畜(しゃちく)でなくてなんだろう
    I am working late for free. If I am not a corporate slave, then what is?
Occasionally でなくてなんだろう will be followed by the sentence-ending particle か. This just emphasizes the point further, without changing the nuance.
  • (わたし)(いえ)だけ浸水(しんすい)しなかった。これが奇跡(きせき)でなくてなんだろうか
    My house was the only one that did not get submerged. If this is not a miracle, then what is?
  • 説明欄(せつめいらん)には新品(しんぴん)だと()いてあったのに(とど)いた商品(しょうひん)(きず)だらけだった。これは詐欺(さぎ)でなくてなんだろうか
    In the description, it was written that it was brand new, but the product that arrived was covered in scratches. If this is not a scam, then what is?
In most cases, でなくてなんだろう will be used to ask a rhetorical question, or to strongly assert the speaker's own opinion about something.

Examples

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  • 随筆(ずいひつ):「もう()こえないと()われた(わたし)(みみ)人工(じんこう)内耳(ないじ)のおかげでまた()こえるようになった。これ奇跡(きせき)でなくてなんだろう。」

    Essay: 'I was told that I would never hear again, but thanks to the cochlear implants I can hear once again. If this is not a miracle then what is?'

    • 小説(しょうせつ):「外国(がいこく)での休暇(きゅうか)途中(とちゅう)で、長年(ながねん)連絡(れんらく)()れなかった幼馴染(おさななじみ)偶然(ぐうぜん)出会(であ)うなんて運命(うんめい)でなくてなんだろうか。」

      Novel: 'If meeting a childhood friend you lost contact with years ago, in the middle of holidays abroad is not fate, then what is?'

      • 小説(しょうせつ):「(めし)がうまくて、(たの)しい仲間(なかま)がいて、その(うえ)(ちか)には温泉(おんせん)がある。これ楽園(らくえん)でなくてなんだろうか?」

        Novel: 'There is good food, good company, and what is more, a hot spring is nearby. If this is not a paradise then what is?'

        • 記事(きじ):「たけださんはひとり(おや)あるばかりに昇進(しょうしん)見送(みおく)られた。これ差別(さべつ)でなくてなんであろうか。

          Article:Mr. Takeda has been refused promotion just because he is a single parent. If this is not discrimination, then what is?

          • レビュー:「『(はる)かな(まち)へ』という漫画(まんが)(はじ)めて()んで(なみだ)()ほど感動(かんどう)した。このような漫画(まんが)傑作(けっさく)でなくなんだろう?」

            Review: 'When I read the manga titled 'A distant Neighborhood' for the first time, it moved me to tears. If manga like this is not a masterpiece then what is?'

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            でなくてなんだろう – Grammar Discussion

            Most Recent Replies (1 in total)

            • pampel

              pampel

              I think it would be helpful if you mentioned that using other ways of negating the expression (e.g. じゃなくて・ではなくて) may look like they’d have the same meaning but apparently lack the nuance of a rhetorical question, so it sounds like you are asking an actual question.

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