Another use of the simple non-past tense in Japanese: admonishing children

By | August 17, 2016

One of the convenient things about Japanese is that there are less verb tenses than in English, where you have things like “will run” and “would have run” (though there is still a few in Japanese). However, the tradeoff is that there are a bunch of other ways to use the smaller set of tenses to express a variety of things. For example, “pre-masu form” plus “な” is a command to do something (ex: 食べな), which I think came from “~なさい”.

Accordingly, there are a bunch of ways to say the same general thing, each with subtle nuance differences. For example, let’s look at a few ways to say “don’t 〜”, using the verb “動く” (ugoku, to move) as “don’t move”:

  • 動くなよ
  • 動くな
  • 動かないでくれ
  • 動かないで
  • 動かないでください
  • 動かないでもらえませんか?

These are roughly ordered in increasing politeness, from harsh commands to polite requests. There is a bunch of even more polite expressions that I’ve omitted here.

The reason I’ve chosen this example is that I wanted to introduce one other way to say “Don’t ~” which I didn’t learn from any textbook. Rather, I learned it from using Japanese in my day-to-day life and raising our son in that language.

It is to simply use the non-past form of a verb. For example:

  • 動かない!

Depending on the tone and context, this can mean “I will not move” or “Don’t move!”. I’ve added to exclamation point so that when you say it, it sounds closer to the latter.

I’ve heard this word used, as well as used it many times myself, when admonishing a child. For example, if my son was trying to touch something dangerous, I would say:

  • 触らない! (don’t touch that!)

If you want to get a feeling for this, you can think of the English expression “You are not touching that!”, which is somewhat close in meaning.

As you probably know, relationships between people (ex: boss<->worker) are reflected in Japanese using various different linguistic structures, such as the desu-masu form. So I would try to avoid saying something like “触らない!” to someone above your (age, experience) level, or even to another adult. Depending on the person, I would say something like this:

  • あの。。。すみませんが、ちょっと触らないでもらいたいんですけど。。。


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