The Negative て形: ~なくて & ~ないで

第33課: The Negative て形: ~なくて & ~ないで

Previously, we learned how to make the て形 in the affirmative (positive sentences), but it is also possible to combine the conjunctive particle ~て with the auxiliary adjective ~ない to create the negative て形. What’s confusing is that there are actually two ways to go about this.

  • Conjugate ~ない to its ku-type continuative form (連用形), then add ~て.
  • Attach ~て directly after ~ない, but it gets voiced as ~で in the process.

    With the first method, you get ~なくて. With second method, you get ~ないで. These forms, although etymologically more or less the same, are used in different grammatical circumstances. 

Curriculum Note: This lesson is under construction. Please enjoy what has been written thus far! 


As we already know how to use ~ない with the various parts of speech, the chart below shows how ~て looks added into the fold. 

Part of Speech + ~なくて
Ichidan Verbs 見る → 見なくて 食べる → 食べなくて
Godan Verbs 行く → 行かなくて 死ぬ → 死ななくて
Sahen する → しなくて
Kahen 来る → こなくて
Adjectives 新しい → 新しくなくて
Adjectival Nouns 簡単だ → 簡単[では・じゃ]なくて
Noun + Copula 犬だ → 犬[では・じゃ]なくて

The ~なくて form is used in the following ways:

i. In listing events, characteristics, or states of being, ~なくて serves as the proper negative て形. Whether things are truly in succession with each other as opposed to holding true at the same time depends on context.

1. このピザはハラペーニョがのっていなくて、美味しくないんですよ。
This pizza doesn’t have jalapenos on it, and it isn’t good. 

2. ジムは昔は行っていたけど、結局行かなくてやめてしまった。
I had been going to the gym a long time ago, but I ultimately wouldn’t go and ended up stopping. 

3. さっき蛇口を閉めなくて、少し時間が経ったら、なんとクモが一匹中から垂れ落ちた。
I didn’t shut the faucet early, then after a little while, wouldn’t you know, a spider dropped and fell out from inside it. 

4. 猫は視力が【良くなくて・悪くて】、嗅覚が鋭い。
Cats have bad vision [and/but] have a sharp sense of smell. 

5. 全然甘すぎなくて、とても美味しくて、飽きられません。
It’s not too sweet all, it’s very delicious, and I can’t get tired of it.

6. アメリカ南部式のスイートティーはねえ、品のいい甘さじゃなくて、ただ甘いんだ!
You see the thing is, American Southern “sweet tea” is not a refined tasting swee: it’s just sweet. 

“X is not Y but Z,” which is an application of this, is only be expressed with ~なくて.

7. セスは学生ではなくて先生だ。
Seth is not a student but a teacher.

ii. Causal relations in which the inaction stated in the first clause is responsible for what happens in the second clause. The purpose of choosing ~なくて instead is to show how consequential the flow of events is. 

8. バスが来なくて遅刻しました。
The bus didn’t come, and (so) I was late. 

9. 友だちが来なくて、困りました。
My friend didn’t come, and (so) I was upset.

10. 過去問を一切勉強しなくて、不合格になりました。
I didn’t study past problems at all, and (so) I got a failing score.

An important application of this usage is ~なくてよかった  (glad that X didn’t happen). 

11. 雨が降らなくてよかった
I’m glad that it didn’t rain.

12. 僕、女の子じゃなくて本当によかったと思う。
I’m really glad that I’m not a girl.

It is from this meaning that the patterns for “must” come from. These double negative structures utilize ~なくて’s role of marking the action/state that Y relies upon to be true. 

 Informal ~なくてはだめ < なくちゃだめ
 Neutral ~なくてはいけない
 Formal/Stern ~なくてはならない

Grammar Note: ~ては may contract to ~ちゃ in casual conversation. This may also affect the other expressions to lessen the tone but not so much the severity behind the “must.” As for the use of the particle は, it’s used to highlight the causation behind the negative statement which is X. 13. なぜ戦争で死ななくてはならないのか?
Why is it that you must die in war? 

14. 規則を守らなくてはいけない。
You/we must follow the rules. 

15. 人の一倍、時間をかけて勉強しなく【ては・ちゃ】だめだよ。
You gotta putting in twice the effort as others and take the time to study.


The most profound difference between ~なくて and ~ないで is that ~ないで only attaches itself to verbs. Meaning, it is not allowed with adjectival or nominal predicates. 

Verb Class + ~ないで
Ichidan Verbs 見る → 見ないで 食べる → 食べないで
Godan Verbs 行く → 行かないで死ぬ → 死なないで
Sahen する → しないで
Kahen  来る → こないで

~ないで in its basic understand means “without doing X.” This requires that X be a volitional verb. In doing so, it can serve three different yet interrelated nuances. 

i. X is the means of which you do Y, but X happens to be in the negative. Sometimes X is ancillary in nature to Y, while other times Y happens in succession of X. There is also often the nuance of not doing X being against some expectation. This meaning is NOT shared with ~なくて. 

16. 寝ないで待つ。
Wait without sleeping.

17. 歯磨きをしないで寝る癖だけは直せない。
Sleeping without brushing my teeth is the one habit I can’t break myself of. 

18. きょうは電車に乗らないで、歩いてきました。
I came by walking instead of riding the train today. 

19. 辞書を{使わないで・引かないで}、手紙を書いた。
I wrote a letter without using a dictionary. 

20. 家の中でクーラーをつけないで過ごしています。
I’m getting by indoors without having the air conditioner on.

21. 今朝、玄関のドアを閉めないで出ていってしまった。
I ended up leaving this morning without locking the front door. 

22. お金がなくてお酒を飲みに行けない。
I don’t have money, and (so) I can’t go drinking. 

23. 電車の中で吊り革に掴まらないでしっかり立てなくて、転んでしまった。
I couldn’t stand firmly without grabbing the straps inside the train, and (so) I fell over.

24. うちの子は、8歳なのに自転車に補助輪を付けないで乗れないのよ。
Even though my kid is 8, (he/she) still can’t ride (his/her) bicycle without training wheels.

This usage gives rise to various speech modals in which auxiliary verbs such as ~ください, (polite command), ~くれ (crude command), ~ほしい (wish to the listener), ~もらう (request from the listener), ~おく (leave as) attach. In any case, ~ないで’s role is to emphasize that whatever it is “not” happen. In the case of commands, the auxiliary can be dropped, leaving ~ないで by itself to serve that role.

25. 今度忘れないくださいね。
Don’t forget next time.

26. 朝ご飯を食べないでおこう。
I’ll go without eating breakfast.

27. 飛行機に子供を乗せないでもらいたいです。
I’d like for kids not to be put on airplanes.

28. タバコを吸わないでほしい。

I want you to not smoke.

ii. ~ないで may also mean “instead of” when action X is what you should be doing, but instead you’re doing Y. X is the opposite of Y, and ~ないで contrasts them. This usage is NOT shared with ~なくて. 

29. 宿題をしないで遊んでばかりいる学生が嫌いだ。
I hate students who all they do is have fun instead of doing their homework.

30. お酒を飲まないで、働いた。
I worked instead of drinking alcohol.

31. ローサさんは、メキシコに行かないで、カリフォルニアに行きました。
Ms. Rosa went to California instead of going to Mexico. 

It is also possible to see this pattern expanded to more complex sentences in which each clause has a different agent (doer), and in each case, what they don’t do is contrary to what the speaker would have hoped. If two inactions are merely being compared and placed next to each other with no ill intent involved by the agents, then only ~なくて is grammatical.

Rosa didn’t go to work, and Raeann also didn’t go to work. 

33. レイアンさんは朝ご飯を食べなくて、ラファエル君は夕ご飯を食べなかった。
Raeann didn’t eat breakfast, and Rafael didn’t eat dinner. 

iii. ~ないで may also indicate casual relation, but unlike ~なくて, it is paired with volitional verbs only. The result Y happens from the agent (doer) not doing X. 

This usage of ~ないで does happen to overlap with ~なくて. If you use ~ないで, you are emphasizing the verbal elements of the sentence. There is a sort of impulse about the statement, with the consequence of still not doing it being what brings about Y. If you use ~なくて, you are emphasizing the adjectival/static elements of the sentence. As a matter of fact, not doing X or X not happening brought about Y. Interestingly enough, ~なくて is thought to be more emotional because of this. 

34. 遊び過ぎて過去問を一切勉強【しないで・しなくて】不合格になった。

I had too much fun, didn’t study at all, and ended up failing (as a result).  

35. 日本語の宿題を【しないで・しなくて】セス先生に叱られました。
I got scolded by Sensei Seth for not doing my Japanese homework. 

36. 全然停止線に【気づかないで・気づかなくて】パトカーに呼び止められた。

Just because you are using a verb, though, doesn’t necessarily mean ~ないで is 

grammatical. If it there is no control over what happens in X, then you have to use ~なくて.

37. 時間が【足りないで X・足りなくて 〇】間に合わなかった。
There wasn’t enough time, and (so) I couldn’t make it.

Conversely, there still are grammar circumstances where both are equally plausible so long as you’re using a verb for the reasons stated above. One such situation is ~なくて済む vs ~ないで済む. Both refer to being able to get by without doing X.

38. お母さんが食料をいっぱい送ってくれているので、半年くらい買いに行かなくて済んでいる。 
My mother keeps sending me lots of food, so I’ve gotten by for half a year without shopping for any. 

39. 会社を辞めないで済むことなら、なんとかします。
If it’s something where I can get by without quitting my job at the company, I’ll figure it out. 

~なくてもいい VS ~ないでもいい

Having come this far, if asked which negative て形 is used to say “it’s okay not to do X,” you might choose ~なくて but hesitate because of how ~ないで can show negative commands. In fact, there is good reason to assume that there might be overlap in this regard too. In Standard Japanese, however, only ~なくてもいい is preferred, leaving ~ないでもいい only to be heard in dialectal speech where it remains possible. 

40. 無理にお酒を飲まなくてもいい。
It’s okay to not force yourself to drink.

41. 分からなくてもいい。
It’s okay not to understand.

42. 見ないでもええんちゃうか? (Kansai Dialect)
Isn’t it perfectly alright not to watch it, then?