Avoiding the ない

I’ve got a short piece on 遠慮 over at Néojaponisme. It’s a rewritten version of one of my first posts  – “How to Say No by Saying Yes”. Don’t forget that you can also make use of お断り as a “Hell no” for comedic purposes.

遠慮 is a useful phrase for avoiding ない, but かねます is a far more blatant dodge. It is a verb ending that attaches to the stem (most often to the verbs できる, する, 致す, and 負う) and means “can’t” or, more appropriately in this case, “unable to”.

So rather than use できない or できません, you can say できかねます which has the same fundamental meaning. This is, as you can probably imagine, an incredibly polite, serious way to say something. Personally I find it hilarious that you can just replace the unpleasant negative ending with one that isn’t negative and make it all better. I’d like to meet the first guy who did that.

(Oda Nobunaga: おい、お前。パイ作ってきてくれ。
Advisor: えっと、あのぅ。パイ、作れなーあっ。作ることができなーあっ。作り...かねます。
Nobunaga: かねますって、一体何なんだ?
Advisor: はっきり言えば、できないということ。
Sound of head falling on tatami.)

In every case, the speaker finds him/herself unable to do something that puts him/her in an unfortunate position. かねます almost has a built in “unfortunately” along the same lines as 〜てしまった as well as a “we ask for your understanding” as in ご了承ください.

An extremely useful set phrase I learned in college is わたくしどもでは決めかねます, which can be used if you’re ever put on the spot to make a decision that is outside of your immediate jurisdiction; it literally means “I alone am unable to make that decision”, but it also sort of implies that you will consult your superiors.

する, 致す, and できる are generally attached to other verbs. For example, 賛成 (さんせい) – そういう考えもあるかもしれませんが、賛成できかねます。 “You may think that, but I (unfortunately) am unable to agree.”  

負う, as ALC tells us, is often used to duck responsibility – 責任を負いかねます.

Very much like 遠慮, かねます is one of those secret code words/patterns that is able to convey a lot of meaning efficiently because everyone knows what it really means. You, too, can tap into all the trappings of かねます, as long as you know when you need to use them.

0 thoughts on “Avoiding the ない

  1. Some more evidence for your theory (maybe): use of “-kanenai” to mean “It might happen”, almost always for negative things: 殺され兼ねない, 破産し兼ねない. Hypothesis: the underlying trend is not to avoid saying “nai” per se, but to avoid using it when it would negate a _good_ thing (and prefer it when it would negate a bad one).

  2. Yeah, that’s a good point. 兼ねない is a pattern that’s only familiar to me from JLPT study, but that definitely works. (Anyone out of the loop should read this: http://howtojaponese.com/2008/03/19/an-experience-with-maybe/)
    Another thing I’ve been thinking recently is that かもしれない might mean probably will happen for negative verbs and probably won’t for positive verbs.

  3. Err…maybe that last positive and negative should be changed to “things” instead of “verbs”.

  4. I found it interesting to note from reading your post, along with Rikaichan help to confirm, that the suffix ども is both plural and singular. Weird.