第126課: いかない vs いけない

To be or not to be, or in this case, to choose いかない or いけない is a not so simple choice for the Japanese learner to make at times. They both come from the verb 行く, which has the basic meaning of “to go.” Unsurprisingly, the basic meanings of 行かない and 行けない are “to not go” and “cannot go” respectively.

1. なにもかもうまくいかないときは、自分じぶんえる、いいチャンスではないでしょうか。
Isn’t when everything goes wrong a great chance to change oneself?

2. でも、そうかといっておれ投票とうひょう(をし)にってもかなくてもべつ一票いっぴょうおもみをかんじない。
But even so, whether I go vote or not, I don’t particularly feel the weight of one vote.

3. んでもらえないだけならまだしも、本当ほんとう注目ちゅうもくしてほしいところに注意ちゅういかないってことが問題もんだいなんですよ。
If it were just not being able to have him read that would be one thing, but the problem is that his attention doesn’t go to the areas that I really want paid attention to. 

4. トイレにけないときにかぎって腹痛ふくつうこるのはなぜでしょうか。
Why is it that occurrences of abdominal pain is limited to when I can’t go to the bathroom?

5. 空港くうこう見送みおくりにけなくてごめんね。
I’m sorry for not being able to see you off at the airport.

Orthography Note: The uses of these two phrases that are to be discussed are typically written in Hiragana.


Translated as “there’s no way…can…” or “…cannot (afford to) …” this expression is used to state that an action is not reasonable/proper for obvious reasons and cannot be done as a result.

6. 日本語にほんご授業じゅぎょうでは英語えいごはなすわけにはいきません。
You cannot speak English in Japanese class.

7. アメリカの授業ではガムをむわけにはいきません。
You cannot chew gum in American history.

8. 授業じゅぎょうではるわけにはいきません。
You cannot afford to sleep in class. 

9. いそがしくてもないわけにはいかないよ。
Even if you’re busy, you can’t afford to not sleep.   


A: 漢字かんじ勉強べんきょうするのに時間じかんがかかりますねえ。
B:  ええ、でもおぼえないわけにはいかないしねえ。
A: It must take a lot of time to study Kanji.
B: Yeah, but I can’t afford not to remember them.  

11. 「このごろサークル活動かつどういそがしいようだね」「うん、でも、いそがしいといって宿題しゅくだいをしないわけにはいかないしね」
“You seem pretty busy these days with club activities, don’t you?” “Yeah but, just because I’m busy with them, I can’t afford not to do my homework.” 

12. 「漢字かんじむずかしいねえ」「うん、でもそうかとって漢字かんじかないわけにはいかないしねえ」
“Kanji are difficult, aren’t they?” “Yeah, but even so, I can’t afford not to write with them, you know…”

13. 「毎日忙まいにちいそがしくて時間じかんもない」「でもそうかといって全然寝ぜんぜんねないわけにはいかないでしょ」
“I’m so busy every day that there’s no time to sleep.” “Yeah, but even so, there’s no way you can just not sleep at all.”


The not so literal usages of いけない revolve around being a euphemism of 悪い.

14. かれ事故じこったって?それはいけない、あいつは大丈夫だいじょうぶなの?
He got in an accident? That’s not good; is he alright?

15. 最近さいきん日本酒にほんしゅめるようになったんですが、熱燗あつかんはあまりいけないくちなんですね。
Recently, I’ve become able to drink sake, but I can’t really handle hot sake.

16. 異物混入いぶつこんにゅうなんか全部報道ぜんぶほうどうしていたら、どこのみせもいけなくなるわ。
If every single instance of contamination were reported (in the media), all stores would go out.

17. 馬鹿ばか美容師びようしだなあ、このみせもいけなくなるだろう。
What a stupid stylist…well that shop will probably go under.

18. みすぎはからだにいけない。
 Drinking too much is not good for the body.


The phrase ていけない is used to show that something is “undesirable/unpleasant.”

19. くちなか塩辛しおからくていけないので、みずんだ。
I drank water since having the inside of my mouth being salty would be unpleasant.

20. あのくらいの年齢ねんれい女性じょせい本当ほんとうにおしゃべりでいけないっすね。
Women at that age are chatterboxes, which is really unpleasant, you know. 

21. ふゆさむくていけないね。
Winter is cold and unpleasant, you know.

22. きみがいなきゃきていけない。
I can’t live without you.

23. 最近何さいきんなにかとやりたいことがおおいせいか、どうにもっていけないがする。
Recently one way or another, perhaps from having a lot of stuff I want to do, I feel like getting distracted by no means would be good.


The phrase てはいけない is used to show that some state/action is not permissible/acceptable. It is typically translated as “must/may not.”  

24. 芝生しばふはいってはいけません。
You must not get on the lawn.

25. 教室きょうしつなかでタバコをってはいけません。
You must not smoke inside the classroom.

26. みず一緒いっしょんではいけません。
You must not take (the medicine) with water.

27. ねこはネギをべてはいけません。
Cats must not eat scallions.

28. そとあそんじゃいけないぞ。(Masculine)
You mustn’t play outside.  

To ikenai/Tara ikenai と・たらいけない 

The phrase といけない is used to show that if said state comes to be, the speaker and or persons involved will be troubled. たらいけない is also possible, and as expected, it simply shows that a certain state/action would not be pleasant if it happens/is done.

29. 遅刻ちこくするといけない ので、なにより時間厳守じかんげんしゅです。
Being late is bad, and so strict observance of time is above all.

30. 野菜やさいくさるといけないから、一旦家いったんいえかえって冷蔵庫れいぞうこれてからかけましょう。
It won’t be good if the vegetables go bad, so let’s return to the house for a moment, put them in the refrigerator, and then go out.

31. 毎日まいにちみがかないといけない。
You must brush your teeth every day.
Literally: It’ll be bad if you don’t brush your teeth every day.

32. 賞味期限しょうみきげんれたら、絶対ぜったいべたらいけないものといえば、たしかにたまご鶏肉とりにくとかですね。
In speaking of foods you should never eat once it’s passed its expiration date, there’s definitely eggs and poultry, right? 

33. 高血圧こうけつあつくすり服用ふくようしているときに、グレープフルーツなどべたらいけないとよくわれます。
When taking high blood pressure medicine, you’re often told not to eat things like grape fruit.


The phrase なくては・なければいけない is used to express some obligation/necessity to do something and it is typically translated as “must do…” As we have discussed once before when we discussed the “must/must not” phrases, double negatives like in this situation create positive expressions just as in English.

34. 足下あしもと注意ちゅういしなくてはいけません。
You must watch your step.

35. 必要ひつよう書類しょるい提出ていしゅつしなくてはいけません。
You must submit necessary documents.

36. 有料道路ゆうりょうどうろとおらなければいけません。
We must go through a toll road.

37. そうしたチャンスはまれなので、つけたときにはおおきく投資とうししなくてはいけません。
Such chances are rare, and so when you find them, you need to invest a lot.

38. タオルも大量たいりょう購入こうにゅうしなくてはいけません。
We have to purchase a large quantity of towels as well.


In addition to what we’ve seen, it’s important to note that いかない sometimes becomes いかん・いかぬ. The latter is more dialectical and or potentially old-fashioned, but you will still frequently encounter it in anime/manga among other places. Interestingly enough, despite having seen the different usages of いかない and いけない, いかん・いかぬ can be used in the same instances as both いかない and いけない.

39. 背中を見せるわけにかんぞ。
You cannot show your backside.

40. 通すわけにはいかぬぞ。
I cannot have you pass by.

41. やられたわ、もういかん。
Ugh, I’m done for.

42. 威張ってはいかん。
Don’t be stuck up.

43. 無理をしてはいかん。
You mustn’t push yourself.


Another noteworthy variant that can be used for any of the usages we’ve discussed thus far is あかん. This word is famously used in Kansai dialects and likely derives from the set phrase 埒が明かない, which means “to not get anywhere.” This word, not being in Standard Japanese, has a peculiar pitch accent in that all three syllables are high pitch. This word is so well-known and frequently used that there is no way that you can watch TV for more than an hour before it’s used.

As far as grammar is concerned, many of the example sentences below will incorporate dialectical grammar that we have yet to ever cover, but contrary to the “must” patterns you’ve grown accustomed to, あかん follows verb by adding ない and dropping the /i/.

 Ichidan Verbs 食べる + あかん = 食べなあかん
 Godan Verbs 飲む + あかん = 飲まなあかん
 Suru する + あかん = せなあかん
 Kuru 来る + あかん = 来なあかん

45. そないことしたら、あかん。
You shouldn’t do stuff like that.

Dialect Note: そんな becomes そない for most Kansai dialect speakers.

46. 子共は見たらあかん。
Kids don’t need to watch.

47. 一回ぐらいは見に来なあかんで。
You must come see at least once!

Dialect Note: The particle で the end of a sentence in Kansai dialect is similar in meaning to the particle よ.

48. あかんゆうたら、あかん。
If you say it’s no good, then it’s no good.

Dialect Note: 言ったら tends to be pronounced as yūtara in Kansai dialects. The verb 言う also tends to be used without the quotation particle と.

49. あかん子やなあ。
What a messed up kid.

Dialect Note: The copula verb is usually や in Kansai dialects.

50. 体重を減らすどころか増やさなあかんぐらいやで。
Rather than losing weight, you’ve gotten to the point you need to be gaining some.

51. あかん、雨降ってきた。
Crap, it’s started to rain.

52. こんだけ頼んでもあかん。
You can’t entrust anything to (him) even if it’s just something like this.

Dialect Note: これだけ becomes こんだけ in most Kansai dialects.

53. しっかり勉強せなあかんで。
I have to properly study.

54. こら、あかんわ。
This is no good.

Dialect Note: これは is frequently contracted to こら in most Kansai dialects.

55. 何で朝起きなあかんのか。
Why do I have to wake up in the morning?