Japanese expression “darou ni” (だろうに)

By | December 6, 2021

In this article I’d like to go over the expression “darou ni” (だろうに), which can be a little difficult to understand the first time you encounter it.

As usual, before we look at this expression’s meaning let’s see what the individual parts mean.

First we have “darou” (だろう), a word used to express the speaker’s guess about something, although the nuance can change depending on the speaker’s tone of voice. In many cases this word can be understood to simply mean “probably” or “likely”, and is often used at the end of the sentence. For example:

  • 高いから誰も買わないだろう。 (takai kara dare mo kawanai darou)
  • Because it’s expensive, I bet nobody will buy it.

You can learn more about “darou” in this article.

Next is the particle “ni” (に), which has a wide variety of uses. Most commonly, it is used to express the direction of an action (‘to’ or ‘from’), but it can also be used for the existence of a living or non-living thing. However, before I explain “darou ni” I should also mention the common particle combination “no ni”, which is used to express a strong contrast, often with a regretful nuance. For example:

  • お腹が空いてるのにレストラン全部しまってる (onaka ga suite ru no ni, resutoran zenbu shimatte ru)

Here you can understand the “no” as normalizing the phrase “onaka ga suite ru” (basically turning a verb phrase into a noun), and the “ni” adding the sense of contrast. Here is one way to translate the above:

  • Even though (I) am hungry, all the restaurants are closed.

You can find more info about the particle combination “no ni” in this article.

Finally we come to the phrase “darou ni”. This can be understood as roughly meaning the combination of “darou” and “no ni”. In other words, there is a (regrettable/negative) contrast being made against something that is judged by the speaker to be probably the case. Let’s look at an example:

  • 雨は降らないだろうに傘持ってるね。 (ame wa furanai darou ni kasa motte ru ne)
  • You’re carrying an umbrella even though it’s probably not going to rain.

You might wonder why “darou no ni” is not used instead of “darou ni”, and in fact I have seen “darou no ni” used before (here is one example from classic literature). But for whatever reason “darou ni” happens to be more common. Having said that, I have not heard even “darou ni” used much in everyday conversation.

The word “darou” has a decidedly informal feel to it (potentially harsh depending on tone of voice), so often the polite version “deshou” is used instead. Hence “deshou ni” is a more polite version of “darou ni”.

By the way, while “no ni”, “darou ni” and “deshou ni” can be used in the middle of a sentence (as with the umbrella example above), often what would normally follow them is omitted and can be inferred from context. For example:

  • やってみればできたでしょうに (yatte mireba dekita deshou ni)

Here the sentence literally means “Even though if you tried it, you probably would have been able to do it”, but the implied meaning is that the person didn’t actually try. In English we have the “would have been” tense but there is no direct counterpart in Japanese, so we have to infer from the context.

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