Japanese expression: どうにでもなれ (dou ni demo nare)

By | May 31, 2022

In this post I’d like to go over the meaning and derivation of the expression “どうにでもなれ” (dou ni demo nare). While this expression is made up of a bunch of basic words, the resultant meaning may surprise you.

First, let’s look at the individual words with their basic meanings

  • どう (dou)
    • A question word that means “how”, or  “in what way”
  • に (ni)
    • A common particle that is used for a variety of meanings, including to express the location of existence or the direction of an action. Can also be used to convert a word into an adverb (i.e. 静かに [shizuka ni] = “quietly”)
  • でも (demo)
    • This word has a large number of uses, see a focused post on it here.
  • なれ (nare)
    • This is the command form of the verb なる (naru), which have various meanings including “to become” or “to ring”. Often when written in hiragana it is the former meaning (“to become”), and that applies to this expression as well. Note that “become” can mean turning into something (“I have become a teacher”), but it can also have the nuance of something occurring.

Just looking at all the various meanings of these words can be quite confusing, so let’s look at some related things and we will eventually arrive at the meaning of this phrase.

First of all, there is どうなる (dou naru), which expresses how something occurs or what occurs. Let’s look at a basic sentence.

  • 明日はどうなるかな? (ashita wa dou naru ka na?)
  • I wonder what is going to happen tomorrow?

The でも is probably the trickiest part of this expression, because as mentioned above it has a lot of meanings. But in this situation it acts to generalize in the sense of there being various possibilities. Here is an example sentence:

  • その車はどこにでもある (sono kuruma wa doko ni demo aru) 
  • You can find that (type of) car anywhere.

Notice that the “ni” particle is used in the above example because the location of existence of something is in question.

Now if we put these things together with the verb なる (naru), we end up with ”どうにでもなる” (dou ni demo naru) which has the feeling that anything can happen. This is a little similar to the expression どうでもいい (dou demo ii), which literally means something like “it is good no matter how it is”, and can be more easily understood as “I don’t care”.

Finally, the original expression in question, どうにでもなれ (dou ni demo nare), the command form of “naru” is used (“nare”). This isn’t easy to express literally in English, but think of “nare” meaning something like an order for something to happen or for something to become something else.

If we put all this together, we arrive at a meaning such that the speaker (or writer) is saying they want things to happen in any sort of way, in other words they don’t care what happens. 

Another way to get a good feeling for this word without getting deep into Japanese grammar is to use a Japanese-Japanese thesaurus. This one has a bunch of alternate expressions that have similar meanings to どうにでもなれ. Perhaps this one is the easiest to understand: (The English translation I have provided is non-literal, but it will give you a good idea of the nuance.)

  • やっていくことができない (yatte iku koto ga dekinai)
  • I can’t do this anymore

From this, we can see the expression “dou ni demo nare” is used when something is not going well and you longer care about the outcome. Also, even though the original expression has a verb in the command form, most of the (near) synonyms don’t have any command-form verbs.

As you probably know if you have read my other post, giving the best translation for a word like どうにでもなれ depends heavily on the context. But personally I would consider phrases like “screw it” or “f*** it” in order to capture the sense of abandon as well as the rough nuance.

On a final note, the purpose of the に (ni) particle in this phrase is ultimately a bit confusing, since どう can itself be used as an adverb, and there is not really any sense of existence of a verb. In fact you can say “どうでもなれ” (dou demo nare) which has essentially the same meaning. Having said that, I think the form with “ni” is more common, and there are a few other common phrases that use “ni” in a similar way:

  • どうにかなる (dou ni ka naru)
    • It will work out somehow  (this is conceptually the opposite of “dou ni demo nare”)
  • どうにもならない (dou ni mo naranai)
    • It’s not going to work out
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