第265課: The Volitional II: The Negative Volitional: ～まい
The auxiliary verb まい is best known as the negative volitional auxiliary. It is essentially the opposite of ～ようだ, but historically it was viewed as the opposite of ～べし (=～べきだ). With the advent of ～ないだろう, its use in the spoken language has diminished quite a lot, but it is still used in several other grammatical patterns. It is also still fairly common in the written language. With that being said, let’s begin learning about it!
Conjugating with ～まい 「～まい」の接続
In Standard Japanese grammar, ～まい follows the 未然形 of 一段動詞, サ変動詞 (する), and カ変動詞 (来る), but it follows the 終止形 of 五段動詞. In polite speech, it is seen after the 終止形 of the auxiliary verb ～ます.
Although these are the standardized conjugation rules, many speakers will attach ～まい to the 終止形 of all verbs, resulting in 見るまい (vs 見まい), するまい (vs しまい), 来るまい (vs こまい), etc. As for する, it is even possible to see the forms すまい (fairly common in literature) and even せまい (more old-fashioned). For the purpose of exams, it is best to utilize the standard conjugations shown above, but it is important to know that there is significant variation present in the speech of modern speakers.
Conjugating ～まい 「～まい」の活用
～まい, like all other auxiliary verbs, has its own bases. However, much has changed over time, and as a consequence, only its 終止形 and 連体形 remain.
※The 連体形 is only used with the nominalizers こと and もの.
Negative Volition 打ち消しの意志
The primary usage of ～まい is to show negative volition. This translates to “shall not” in English. This can be roughly reworded as ～ないようにするつもりだ. Although it isn’t that common in the spoken language, it is very succinct and it can be said that is more emphatic as an effect.
※Regarding the use of the verb する with this usage of ～まい, some speakers feel that すまい is more effective at expressing one’s intent (lack thereof) than しまい. This may be rooted in the fact that すまい has existed in this capacity for much longer as it descends from the classical form すまじ.
I shall say no more.
I shall not make such a mistake again.
Not even the creditor would approve of such a cruel means.
I will absolutely not fail!
The moment I fixed my glance on the woman’s face, I was determined not to leave until I killed the man.
From 藪の中 by 芥川龍之介.
Negative Supposition 打ち消しの推量
The next usage of the auxiliary verb ～まい is to show what’s called ‘negative supposition.’ This means that the speaker supposes that something is not so. Thus, it is equivalent to ～ないだろう. ～ないだろう has almost entirely replaced ～まい in the spoken language, but it exists in this capacity in the speech of older generations and is still used heavily in literature. It is also possible to see this usage in polite speech as ～ますまい.
It’s not that they didn’t know.
The wife’s crime wasn’t just that. If it were, I too wouldn’t be suffering as I am now in this darkness.
From 藪の中 by 芥川龍之介.
Anyway, in the end, I did not have the strength to really die. I had thrust the knife into my throat, thrown myself into the pond at the foot of the mountain, and all sorts of other things, but insofar I am like this unable to die, this too is surely nothing to boast.
From 藪の中 by 芥川龍之介.
Merely speaking of what happened after would be no more than useless words.
From 藪の中 by 芥川龍之介.
However, for those who receive a death sentence, mustn’t they being hoping for a pardon, being suddenly saved, or even a miracle up until the moment they meet their punishment instead of knowing their execution date?
From 死 by 森鴎外.
Even if it was your own little sister, you’d never understand since you’ve never seen your sister turned to bones.
From 死体紹介人 by 川端康成.
Kikuko had said, “Satoko-chan, come here. Let’s make some zoni mochi. Won’t you please help?” to call Satoko to the kitchen, and although it seemed she had intended for her not to run down the hall past Shingo’s bedroom, Satoko paid no heed to this and continued running down loudly through the hall.
From 山の音 by 川端康成.
If there were no war, nay, there would be no such grief as this.
Grammar Note: ～ものを is a somewhat old-fashioned compound final particle which expresses lament.
Similar to the concept of showing negative volition, when used in the second person, ～まい may be used in the same sense as ～てはいけない. In doing so, it is usually followed by the final particle ぞ.
You mustn’t speak absurdities.
You mustn’t let a single soldier escape.
Just a little more; you mustn’t let your guard down.
You absolutely mustn’t leak this to anyone.
～まいとする means “to try not to”. It is normally replaced by ～ないようにする. This paraphrase can also work for when する is not the verb phrase, but in this case, because using ～まい is a little more common in the spoken language, such a paraphrase is not necessary.
Even if you try not to laugh, you’ll eventually end up laughing.
I decided that I wasn’t going to meet (him).
Until that time, I decided in my heart not to meet him by all means.
She was resolute not to sleep, but she finally ended up falling asleep.
～でもあるまい & ～こともあるまい
The grammatical patterns ～でもあるまい and ～こともあるまい indicate an inappropriate situation. It is best translated as “it is not as if…” The critical, ironic, or belittling nuance that accompanies this phrase may be directed towards someone doing something inappropriate. If directed toward oneself, it gives off a strong self-deprecating tone.
It’s inappropriate to be so mad just for being told the truth.
～こと[は・も]あるまい follows verbs whereas ～[では・でも・じゃ]あるまい follows nouns. You may also see this expression followed by the conjunctive particle し, and it is in this situation that ～まい is still commonly used in the spoken language.
Besides, people wouldn’t go to stay who live 15 minutes away by car.
It’s not as if you’re a kid; buy it yourself.
Though somewhat less common these days, it is also see the final particle に follow these expressions to emphasize the speaker’s displeasure/dissatisfaction. In fact, ～まいに can be used to express any sort of negative supposition with this added nuance.
If you’d just stay quiet, you’d have nothing to say.
As you can see, negative supposition and the sense of prohibition are both at play here.
It’s not as if you’re an idiot, so don’t do that.
The grammar points ～(よ)うが～まいが and ～(よ)うと～まいと are used to mean “whether…or not…” There is no difference between the two, but they are both viewed as older equivalents to ～ても.
Whether it’s true or it’s not true, I still have no part in it.
Even if you go or don’t go, it’s my victory.
Whether people come or not, I’m still going to throw a party.
Though this expression isn’t frequently used in the spoken language in Standard Japanese, in the dialects in and around Nagoya, it is used more frequently but with a twist. Speakers here, for instance, will say しようがしよまいが. It is possible to see this used with the particle と instead of が, but が is used extensively more, perhaps due to having better cadence.
Whether you take a COVID PCR test or not, that doesn’t change the fact that over 100 people were newly infected yesterday in Aichi Prefecture.
In fact, in these dialects the volitional conjugation 未然形 + ～(よ)う is altered entirely to 未然形 ＋ ～(よ)まい when followed by the particle か when inviting people to do something. ～まいか also exists in Standard Japanese with this same meaning, but it follows the conjugation rules from before. It must be noted that for 五段動詞, depending on the locality, speakers may choose to use either the /a/ or /o/ containing 未然形.
Ex. 行かまいか ＝ 行こまいか ＝ 行くまいか (Standard).
As mentioned above, ～まいか may be used to express a request, albeit in an old-fashioned way. Or, it may also be interpreted the same way ～ないのだろうか? The difference is based on intonation. If there is an upward intonation, then it is interpreted as ～しないか, but when there is a downward intonation, it is interpreted as ～ないのだろうか.
The weather forecast called for snow, but at this rate, there won’t be any snow today, huh.
Haven’t you liked fish from the start?
It’s cold so could you bring me a blanket?
Also seen as such in なろうことかなるまいことか, ～まい may also be used in the sense of ～すべきではない or ～するはずがない. This is perhaps the only time that the 連体形 of ～まい is actually used.
Of all things, throwing your newly bought phone into the ocean…
There’s no sense in thinking things will go your way; think about it.
As we have learned, the 連体形 of ～まい is no longer really used in modern speech. However, the older 連体形, まじき, is actually more productive, surviving in the phrase あるまじき (unworthy/improper) and a handful of other phrases. This usage derives from the prohibition nuance.
It is an improper act.
36. すまじきものは宮仕え。（Set Phrase)
It is better to work for oneself than to work for someone else.
Grammar Note: Also seen as 「せまじきものは宮仕え」. The form 「せまい」 was, in fact, used in the colloquial speech of many during the Edo Period, and it can be still heard in situations such as authentic kabuki performances.
～まじき ＝ ～まじい
Occasionally in Early Modern Japanese literature, you may encounter まじき as まじい. This is a representation of how ～まい would’ve been heard in the spoken language right before it became further contracted to ～まい.
Her running off as soon as she looked back saying “hurry, hurry!” seemed all too much like a lie, but as Shimamura looked at her retreating figure go farther away, a suspicion unfit for the scene grazed his mind as he thought again about why she was always so serious.
From 雪国 by 川端康成。
The officer’s saber and the young geisha’s little pouch and bells on her flowery hairpin resounded with the beating of their feet. Though the lyrics were elegiac and unbecoming of a solider, as it was the ensemble of a twenty-five or so year old lad and a fifteen, sixteen or so year old girl, it had the quality of a marching song.
From 童謡 by 川端康成.
It was surely heresy unworthy of the Noh mask to even touch or try to put over one’s face.
From 山の音 by 川端康成.