Grammar Info

N2 Lesson 1: 2/23


Unable to, Cannot


Verb[ます]+ ない


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About 〜得ない

()る is a る-Verb that has the meaning of 'to gain' or 'to acquire'. When attached to the conjunctive form of verbs, it takes on the nuance of 'for (A) to be possible', or 'able to (A)'. In addition to this, when () is combined with ない, that nuance switches to 'unable to (A)', or 'cannot (A)'.
  • ()(しゃ)出来(でき)()ないことなどありません。
    There is nothing that our company can't do.
  • 警察官(けいさつかん)信頼(しんらい)()ないと(おも)っている(ひと)たちが()えて()た。
    More people are coming to believe that police officers cannot be trusted.
Compared to できない, meaning that the potential to do something does not exist, ()ない means something closer to 'there is no possibility that (A) can be done', or 'the possibility to do (A) has not been gained'.
Caution - ()る may be seen as either える or うる. The primary difference between the two being that うる is a relatively old form that is often seen only in literature, and almost never spoken. Despite this, うる is never used in the negative form with ない.
  • そんな(おお)きな災害(さいがい)()こりえないと(おも)います。
    I think that it's impossible for a disaster that big to happen. (Natural Japanese)
  • そんな(おお)きな災害(さいがい)()こりうないと(おも)います。
    I think that it's impossible for a disaster that big to happen. (Unnatural Japanese)
Fun-fact - () is far more formal/bookish than できる. However, there are several set phrases that are very common in daily speech that use this particular grammar point, such as あり() 'possible', and あり()ない 'impossible'.
  • まあ、それもあり()るかもしれないけど...
    Well, that is possible, but…
  • 田中(たなか)さんはすごく(あたま)がいいので、不合格(ふごうかく)になるなんて絶対(ぜったい)あり()ない。
    Tanaka-san is very smart, so it is absolutely impossible for him to fail.




    The average criminal is a person you can't trust.


    His attitude is unbelievable.


    It is not possible for me to achieve that dream.


    Naturally, you cannot mix water and oil.


    It is precisely because two dimensional characters cannot exist in reality, that they fascinate people.

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