Japanese grammar: ~soude~nai [しそうでしない (shisou de shinai)]

By | May 2, 2022

Languages are filled with combinations of certain words that are used to express something that is more than the sum of their parts. You can call these “expressions”, though I like to call them the slightly more fitting term “grammar pattern”. These can be especially tricky to learn because sometimes you can’t simply look them up in a dictionary.

In this post I want to focus on the grammar pattern “~soude~nai”. As it can be a little confusing to talk about it in a general way, first let’s look at a specific example: しそうでしない (shisou de shinai), which involves the verb “suru” (to do).

  • パソコンの調子が悪くて、クラッシしそうでしない (pasokon no choushi ga warukute, kurasshi shisou de shinai)

Before I explain the meaning of this sentence, let’s look at the parts of “shisou de shinai”:

  • しそう (shisou): seems like (it) will ~
  • で (de): and
  • しない (shinai): will not ~

So roughly this phrase means “seems like it will but will not”. If we apply that to the above sentence we get:

  • My computer is not running well and seems like it will crash, but it isn’t.

To be more specific, “~soude..~nai” is used when something feels/seems/appears that it will occur (often based on appearance), but it is not actually occurring (yet). This can have a nuance of frustration or annoyance, but not always.

While we just used this pattern with the verb “suru”, we can use pretty much any other verb, we just have to conjugate it properly. Here is another example, this time with the verb “furu” (to fall, as in rain).

  • 雨が降りそうで降らないね (ame ga furisou de furanai ne)
  • It seems like it is going to rain, though it hasn’t yet.

Here we have the subject “ame” (rain) followed by the subject marker particle “ga”, and this subject applies to both instances of the verb “furu”.

The “~soude..~nai” pattern is easy to use once you get to the hang of it, and you can express a great deal in just three words. However, because of how English works there is no really good direct parallel, and as result it can be a little tricky to translate. But if you go case-by-case, you can usually think of an expression that gives a similar feeling. One thing to keep in mind is that even though “de” doesn’t imply a contrast (it is more of a neutral “and’), the composition of the phrase does have a contrast because of the negative vs. positive verb conjugations. So when you translate it into English, you might use more contrasty words like “though”, like I did in the last sentence.

Usually when using this pattern both verbs will be some plain form (non masu/desu), however if the phrase is at the end of the sentence and you are speaking with polite language, you should use a desu/masu form. For example:

  • それは、できそうでできません [sore wa, dekisou de dekimasen]
  • It seems like I can do that, but I can’t.

Finally, while “~soude…~nai” isn’t technically slang, it is used more in spoken language than written language.

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2 thoughts on “Japanese grammar: ~soude~nai [しそうでしない (shisou de shinai)]

  1. rob

    in the first sentence’s romaji rendering, “crash” is missing:

    pasokon no choushi ga warukute, [kurasshi] shisou de shinai

    thanks for your blog, i studied japanese many years ago and it is very helpful to catch up again with long-forgotten grammar. your explanations are very clear!

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for pointing out that omission, I just fixed it.

      Also thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you find my grammar explanations helpful!

      Reply

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