The Particle なんて

第159課: The Particle なんて

The particle なんて is similar to なんか and  など because all three particles can be used to euphemize what they follow. However, the practical situations in which they are used can be very different. When it comes to how なんて is used, the tone that it gives is far more emphatic  than the other two can ever be. It also brings about unique grammar that the other two don’t.

In this lesson, we will focus solely on なんて to see how it’s used. Ultimately, it is easier to learn this particle separately so that you don’t confuse it with things that can occasionally be used similarly but not ultimately bring about the same nuance. 

How to Use なんて

Grammatically speaking, なんて can pretty much following anything. One reason for this is that it is partially composed of って, which you should understand as one of the most common means of citation in speech. The なん, as you can imagine, comes from 何. This provides major context to how the phrase generally works. It’s emphatic; it’s subjective; it’s there to draw some form of attention.

なんて can pretty much follow anything. It can be seen after nouns, adjectives, adjectival nouns, verbs, as well as full statements. Interestingly enough, as you will soon see, the copula だ can actually intervene at times to add even more dramatic effect to what’s being referred. The “referring” aspect makes だ’s role akin to that of a citation particle like って, drawing upon the literal breakdown of なんて itself. 

 Part of Speech Example
 With Nouns 恋(だ)なんて
 With Adjectives おかしい(だ)なんて
 With Adjectival Nouns 新鮮(だ)なんて
 With Verbs 行く(だ)なんて
 With Sentences 本当に好きだよなんて

Although overall it is fair to say that なんて is used in mostly negative situations, it is not limited to this. Regardless of whether the statement is positive or negative, it will euphemize whatever it follows. This euphemizing can then have a belittling, critical, or supportive tone depending on the sentence. 

1. 彼女かのじょ包丁ほうちょうなんて使つかったことあるのかな。
I wonder if she’s ever used a kitchen knife.

2. そもそも決闘けっとうなんてしませんよ。
We’re not going to be having a duel in the first place.

3. もう、健太君けんたくんなんてらないわ!
I don’t know you anymore, Kentaro!

4. わたしなんてまだまだです。
I still have a long way to go.

5. アライグマなんてこわくないよ。
There’s nothing scary about raccoons!

6. バスクなんて簡単かんたんさ。
Basque is just easy!

7. 野球やきゅうなんてちょっとまらなくない?
Isn’t baseball a little boring?

8. 雪合戦ゆきがっせんなんて子供こどもじゃあるまいし。
A snowball fight…it isn’t as if I’m a child.

9. 人生じんせいなんてそんな素晴すばらしいものじゃない。
Human life is not such a wonderful thing.

10. 人間にんげんなんてもろいものなんでしょうね。    
People really are weak things, aren’t they?

11. セス先生せんせいなんていたことねー。
I’ve never heard of this Seth-sensei.

12. 漢字かんじなんてどうしてもけないの!
I can’t write Kanji no matter what I do!

13. なんで試験しけんなんてやるんだろ。
Why is it that we do exams anyway?

14. おかねなんてらない!
I don’t need any money!

15. 無意味むいみ愚痴ぐちなんてきたくもない。
I don’t want to hear your meaningless complaining.

16. 本来ほんらいしろいはずのものがあかいなんてちょっと神秘しんぴてき)だよね。
Something that’s originally supposed to be white being red is a little mysterious, isn’t it?

17. 男性だんせいじゃあるまいし、鼻下びかあおいなんて洒落しゃれになりません。
It’s not as if I’m a man; my upper-lip being blue is no joking matter.

18. はじまりがこわいなんて、そんなの当然とうぜんだからね。
That’s ‘cause it’s natural for the beginning to be scary.

19. あれほどみにくいなんて、本当ほんとう残念ざんねんなことだ。
It truly is a shame that (he) is so ugly like that.

20. 図々ずうずうしいだなんて、とんでもございません。
It’s absolutely not audacious (of him).

21. 体型たいけいうつくしいだなんて、れるわ。
I get embarrassed when I’m told my figure is beautiful.

22. かならずずっと一緒いっしょ(だ)なんて、ありないんじゃない?
Always being together forever is impossible, no?

23. 日常会話が簡単(だ)なんて嘘だよ!
It’s a complete lie that daily conversation is easy!

24. え、まさかあいつがおれのことをきだなんて・・・
What? You’re saying that guy likes me!?

25. 仏様ほとけさまはらうなんて、人間にんげん出来できることじゃないとおもうがね。
Though I’m pretty sure reducing the Buddha into ashes is not something man can do.

26. くに神々かみがみうたがうなんて、とんだ身分みぶんだな。
What unthinkable position you’re in doubting the gods of our country.

27. 息子むすこさん早稲田わせだに受かったなんてすごいですね。
That’s amazing how your son got accepted to Waseda (University).

28. 正月しょうがつ一度いちどかえらないなんてなに事情じじょうがあるからだろうしなあ。
There’s probably got to be some reason behind (him) not going home even one on New Year’s.

29. 重要じゅうよう会議かいぎ遅刻ちこくするなんて、ゆるせない。
It’s unforgiveable to be late to an important meeting.

30. くなんてってないよ。
I’m not saying that I’m going.

31. 子供こどもさるつぎとしをたくさんむなんてことはできない。
The young monkeys can’t also give birth to a lot of offspring the next year.

32. このさるちゃん、をたくさんむことなんてできないもん。
This little monkey, there’s no way it can give birth to a lot of offspring.

33. 全員ぜんいんかれるのなんて無理むりだよね。
It’s impossible to be liked by everyone, huh.

34. 禿げるのなんて絶対嫌ぜったいいやだ!
Going bald would just be absolutely awful!

35. タイムマシンが出来できるのなんて不可能ふかのうなんですよね?
Building a time machine is impossible, right?

36. 英語えいごできるのなんて成人せいじんとしてはたりまえじゃないか。
Being able to speak English is only natural as an adult, is it not?

37. 智美ともみがああいうひとだったなんて、らなかったです。
I had no idea Tomomi was that kind of a person.

38. つい最近さいきんまで高校生こうこうせいだったなんてしんじられませんね。
I can’t believe that I’ve been a high school student up until just recently.

39. このわりだなんてかんがえるのはおろかだ。
Thinking something like the world’s going to end is foolish!

40. どうしてここにたのかなんて、まっている。
It’s a given as to why (he) came here.

41. てか、さんけかなんてかんがえる余裕よゆうはなかった。
There was no leeway to ponder whether to address him with or without an honorific.

As a Final Particle 

To the same effect as above, you can also find なんて at the end of a sentence/statement to show utter surprise/disbelief. Depending on the tone, this may be used in ridicule as well.

42. どうしてきゅうにおさけなんて・・・
Why alcohol all so suddenly?

43. まさか、和睦わぼくみちえらぶなんて・・・
Wow, to think (they’re) choosing the path of reconciliation…

44. お正月しょうがつがこんなに大変たいへん(だ)なんて・・・
To think New Year’s would be this intense…

45. どちらも本物ほんものだなんて。
Both are the real thing?!

46. これからずっとおびえてらさなきゃいけないなんて。
The thought of us having to live from here on out in fear….

47. まだまだがつなのに竜巻たつまき発生はっせいするなんて・・・
Tornadoes forming even though it’s still only April…

48. あいしてるよなんて。
Huh, I love you…

49. あいつが「竹島たけしまじつ独島トクトだと主張しゅちょうしてる」なんてもっぱらのうわさだよ。
The persistent rumor is that he “claims Takeshima is Dokdo”. 

Culture Note: 竹島 is a group of islands in the Sea of Japan called the “Liancourt Rocks” in English. However, the islands are under territorial dispute with Korea. Japan claims they’re part of 島根県しまねけん (Shimane Prefecture). However,  Korea claims them as theirs under the name 独島.  

With the Copula や 

The particle なんて does not follow the copula や, however, which is used in dialects like 関西弁 instead of だ. 

50a. 東京弁とうきょうべんってあげる(だ)なんてっていない。〇
50b. 京都弁きょうとべんうたげるなんてうてへん。〇    
50c. 京都弁きょうとべんうたげるやなんてうてへん。X
I’m not saying that I’ll buy it for you.  


As you may have already noticed and as was alluded to earlier, you can also view なんてas being equivalent to などと言って・何と言って. As you can see in the following sentences, spelling it as 何て is possible when it used more literally.

51. いま、何てったんだろ・・・
What was it that (he) said now?

52. 名前なまえは何ていうの。
What’s your name?

53. この漢字かんじ、何てむの?
How do you read this Kanji?

54. こんなうわさひろまってるなんて、上司じょうしったらなんうかな。
I wonder what the boss would say if he found out this sort of rumor was surprising.

55. 池田いけださんなんてひとりません。
I don’t know a person by the name of Ikeda-san.

56. スイーツでまずいなんてことってあんまりないですよね。
There really aren’t that many times in which something is a sweet but actually tastes bad.

Sentence Note: In Ex. 56, you could interpret なんて as being the same as などと言う.

57. 旦那だんななんてばれる身分みぶんじゃない!
I’m not in the position to be called “husband”!

58. 「仕事しごとわたし、どっちが大事だいじなの?」なんて絶対ぜったいってはいけない禁句きんくなんですよ。
“Which is more important, work or me?” is a taboo that you should absolutely never utter.

59. すごいなんて言葉ことばでは全然足ぜんぜんたりない。
Using a word like “awesome” is totally not good enough.

60. わたし、なんてことを!
What have I done!

Oh How… 

Lastly, it is also important to note that なんて can be used in its own set phrases (Ex. 64) as well as an adverb meaning “oh how…,” in which case it is synonymous with 何と (Exs. 61-63).

61. カナダのふゆって、本当ほんとうになんてうつくしいんでしょう。
Oh how beautiful winter in Canada truly is!

62. うちのアパートの水道水すいどうすい、なんてまずいんだ。
The tap water at my apartment, it’s just awful.

63. なんてつまらないんだ!
How boring!

64. なんて、(冗談じょうだんで)ね。
Just joking.