A few uses of 〜じゃない

By | March 7, 2014

As most people who have studied a little Japanese know, じゃない is an expression in Japanese that means “is/are not” and is be the opposite of だ (the copula, or “is”). In this post I’ll go over a few different ways to use じゃない. (じゃない happens to be an abbreviation of “ではない”, though that isn’t related to the material in this post)

First, an example sentence for the basic meaning of “is/are not”.

  • 僕はアメリカ人じゃない。
  • I’m not an American.

You can also use じゃない after の (or ん)to negate a statement.

  • そういう事を言ってるんじゃない。
  • I’m not saying that.

Here the ん is an abbreviation of の, which is being used in a similar way to わけ. In fact, you could replace ん with わけ, and have pretty much the same meaning.

If you change the じゃない after の (or ん) to “じゃなかった?”, you can express that you thought someone would do something (but didn’t).

  • 君、日本に行くんじゃなかった?
  • I thought you were going to go to Japan?

You can use a similar pattern to express that you wish you hadn’t done something. All you need to do is change the verb before the ん to past tense, and change the intonation at the end of the sentence from a question to something more firm.

  • 君に教えたんじゃなかった!!
  • I shouldn’t have told you!!

Another way to use じゃない is when you suspect something or have a hunch.

  • 実は、この授業が難しいんじゃないかなと思ってたよ
  • Actually, I was thinking that this class might be difficult.

A more literal (and less natural) translation would look like this:

  • Actually, I was wondering if it wasn’t the case that this class is difficult.

Another common usage of じゃない is to try to convince someone of your feelings about something by asking a rhetorical question.

  • すごい (ん)じゃない(か)?
  • Isn’t that awesome?

The polite form of this would be “~じゃないですか?”. Conversely, you could shorten it to simply じゃん as is done by younger people.

  • すごいじゃん!
  • Isn’t that awesome!

You can use this in a similar way when answering a question in a noncommittal way.

  • ね、パーティーにこのドレスを着て行っていいと思う?
  • Hey, do you think it’s OK for me to wear this dress to the party?
  • いいんじゃない?
  • Sure, why not.

Based on this type of response, the person answering doesn’t have a particularly strong feeling about the dress.

In written Japanese, or polite/formal spoken Japanese, the full のでない is sometimes used, and the ん before it can be written out fully as の. In cases like this there is an interesting abbreviation that occurs when someone is trying to suggest something politely.

  • 友達と日本語の勉強をするといいのでは?
  • Maybe it would be good to study Japanese with your friend?

The here のでは would be short for 〜のではないですか? or ~のではないでしょうか?

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6 thoughts on “A few uses of 〜じゃない

  1. FujikoToyohashi

    Although I use (and hear) the typical いいんじゃない? very often, I never knew the polite version of this expression to be いいのでは. It’s always intersting to learn something new (^_^)

  2. JB

    It startled me when I first heard my students say やばくない? in class – I quickly realized that it wasn’t really a question but more of a statement (the context was that their team suddenly went to last place during an in-class game). But I also hear it used as a persuasive as well, as well as the じゃん ending.

    (Basically, listening to teenagers speak in any language can be a headache!)

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Yeah, I think that ”やばくない?” is pretty close to the English phrase “isn’t that crazy?” or “isn’t that messed up?” though there may be a better translation to more closely match modern teenager speak. While technically a question, depending on the tone it can be used more for persuasion.

      If the matter is more agreed upon between the speaker and the listener(s), then I guess “やばいよね〜” would fit better.

  3. Razahia

    Hello, I was wondering about something in one of your examples.


    Is there a reason to add と思ってた when かな already adds a sense of wondering?

    Also what would be the different if you use かもしれない instead of じゃない? A % of uncertainty here?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. locksleyu Post author

      “かな。。。” just gives a sense of “wondering” or “maybe”. In the case of か(な)と思う, it sounds more like you are speaking to someone, like “I think that maybe…”. “~かな” sounds more like you are talking to yourself.

      Also, you can use  〜と思います to be polite, whereas ~かな by itself is not polite.
      〜と思ってた means “I was thinking about” so it is talking about the past. This is very different than ~かな which is talking about right now.

      I can’t give a percentage for かもしれない vs じゃない, but I will say the former is more a neutral “maybe”, where as the latter can be more of strong assertion “上手じゃない!” or a little weaker suggestion “いいんじゃない?”. Both of these require the right tone of voice which is hard to express in just words, though.

      If you have more questions, let me know.


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