Japanese word focus: くだらない (kudaranai)

By | June 10, 2019

In this post I’d like to go over the Japanese word “kudaranai”, which is often written in hiragana as くだらない, and sometimes in kanji as 下らない. As usual, I’ll first go into the basic meanings, followed by a discussion about the word origin and relevant nuances.

The meanings of this word are fairly easy to understand, and fall into two categories. The first is to have little or no worth, and the second is to be obvious or not make sense––what can be summarized as “stupid”. These meanings blur together because something obvious often has little worth.

In case you are curious, one of my Japanese to Japanese dictionaries describes くだらない as:

問題にするだけの内容や価値がない (mondai ni suru dake no naiyou ya kachi ga nai)

This is a bit formal (as dictionary definitions should be), but it can be roughly translated as:

Not having sufficient value or content to be mentioned.

Here is an example sentence:

  • くだらない映画をみる時間がないよ (kudaranai eiga wo miru jikan ga nai yo)
  • I don’t have time to watch worthless movies.

Notice in this sentence the word 映画 is translated as “movies”. That is because Japanese (with a few exceptions) doesn’t have plural, so you have to infer by context.

When using conjugating “kudaranai”, you should treat it like a negative verb form (more on that below). So some common conjugations would be:

  • past: くだらなかった (kudaranakatta)
  • te-form:くだらなくて (kudaranakute)
  • negative:くだらなくない (kudaranakunai)

The last of these is a double negative, and you might be tempted to say “kudaru” instead of “kudaranakunai”. However, putting aside the word origin for the moment, it’s best to not focus on the fact “kudaranai” is a negative form. That’s why “kudaru” wound sound a little strange if you are trying to say “not stupid”.

In terms of nuance, as this word can be quite insulting I generally wouldn’t use it in situations where you are trying to be polite. There are many other words that can describe something you don’t like in a more indirect way (ex: “bimyou”). There are also ways to say this in a more formal way ( “konomashikunai”, etc.) I should point out that “kudaranai”, unlike the word “bimyou” I just mentioned, isn’t considered a slang term.

As the word “kudaru” (下る)means “to go down”, I was curious about whether “kudaranai” was simply the negative form of this word, so I looked up the word origin.

There is actually a bunch of different theories about the origin of “kudaranai”, which you can see (in Japanese) here.

The first one listed on that page seems most probable. It says that “kudaru” also can sometimes mean “tsuujiru” (通じる), which itself is a tricky word that has a few meanings including “to be intelligable” or “to understand”. Using this, “kudaranai” can mean “to be not intelligable”, hence “meaningless”.

Personally, I tend to use “kudaranai” by saying it under my breath (or thinking it) when I see or hear something stupid. You can also use this word in the form “kuddaranai”, which has a stronger feeling, or “kudaran”, which sounds a little old-fashioned. But I would generally suggest sticking with the normal “kudaranai” form.

(Note: featured image of “1+1=3” was taken from Pexels.com)

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4 thoughts on “Japanese word focus: くだらない (kudaranai)

  1. James Miles

    It’s Sunday so I had a chance to catch up on the posts!

    This is a funny one! I enjoyed it and found the bit about treating くだらない as a negative form especially useful for my studying 🙂

  2. Julius Jacobsen

    If kudaru can have the same meaning as tsuujiru, and tsuujiru can mean “to be intelligable”, then surely kudaranai would mean “to NOT be intelligable”, right?

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Yes, thanks for pointing that out. I added the ‘not’.


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