Sometimes, when you first run across a new foreign language expression your initial impression is that it’s rarely used, but days later you start seeing it crop up all over the place. The focus of today’s post is one such construct, at least for me.
This expression builds off the fact that ない （無い）, which loosely means “does not exist” for non-living (or more accurately “non-breathing”) things, can be treated like an adjective. This means you can conjugate it into an adverbial form of なく. How is this useful?
Well, first let’s use an example to review how we can use なる (to become) with the く adverbial form to talk about a change of state.
- 野菜を食べると頭がよくなる [If you eat vegetables you’ll get smarter]
- 来年は値段が高くなるだろうね [I bet the price will go up next year]
- 反射神経が速くなる [(your) Reflexes will get faster]
Now for the tricky part. We can use this same pattern with ない to get なくなる, which means roughly that something will “begin to stop existing”. In other words, ある ‘becomes’ ない. Let’s look at few specific examples to make this clear:
- お金がなくなった [I lost my money]
- 本がなくなった [I lost my book]
So far, so good. Now the real cool part is that we can use this same pattern for *any* negative word, including verbs. This basically means to stop doing something. A few examples:
- 足が直ったら転ばなくなった [When my leg healed I stopped tripping]
- もう気にしなくなった [I stopped caring]
- 宝くじに当たって仕事をしなくなりました [I won the lottery and quit work]
じゃない（ではない）contains ない, and the “＋なくなる” pattern can be used here as well to good effect.
- いつか素人じゃなくなるよ [Some day you won’t be a amateur anymore]
- このサイトはもうただじゃなくなった [This web site isn’t free anymore]
For an advanced usage of this, you can even apply it to the “しなければいけない” expression (“have to do”).
- 会社をやめなければいけなくなったらどうするの？ [If you had to quit your company what would you do?]
Notice that in many of these examples you can’t just translate using “… stop doing”, and have to get creative on a case-by-case basis.
I’ll give one final usage which can prove quite useful when you become confused about something.
- よく分からなくなった 「I’m confused」
Literally this means “(I) stopped understanding well”, but the English “I’m confused” captures this nuance in a more natural way.
Practice question: How would you use “〜なくなる” say “I am busy so I stopped studying Japanese”?