Japanese expression: 〜してもしきれない (~shite mo shikirenai)

By | July 18, 2022

In this post I want to go over a Japanese expression that builds on a few fundamental grammar aspects to make an interesting result. The expression can be described in generic form as  〜してもしきれない (~shite mo shikirenai), but you can switch the “suru” verbs with any other verb. 

First, let’s look an example:

  •  この染み、拭いても拭ききれない  (kono shimi, fuitemo fukikirenai)

The first thing we need to understand is the “~shite mo” (〜しても) pattern, which is “~fuite mo” (拭いても) in this example.

“~shite mo” is a very common pattern in Japanese and it is generally used to express that even if you do some action, it is not sufficient, or there is some negative result. To look at a simple example:

  • 頑張っても無理だ (ganbatte mo muri da)
  • Even if I try, it’s not possible.

The second pattern we need to understand is “~kiru” (a verb normally meaning “to cut”) being used after a verb in the masu form (i.e. fukikiru, 吹き切る). I wrote a detailed post on this with a few examples here, but in summary this pattern expresses being able to completely do something. So “fukikiru” means “to completely wipe”.

However, in the example sentence we have 拭ききれない (fukikirenai), conjugated in the negative potential form, which means “to not be able to wipe completely”.

When we put these things together, we get the meaning that even if we try to wipe the stain, we can not “completely” wipe it. Literally, in English we generally don’t say “completely wipe”, but if you think in terms of the goal of making something clean, it makes more sense. Having understood that, we can now translate the sentence a bit less literally like this:

  • この染み、拭いても拭ききれない  (kono shimi, fuitemo fukikirenai)
  • Wiping this stain isn’t going to clean it completely.

Note that this doesn’t state whether the person actually tried wiping the stain, which you could get a better idea of from the context. 

Before the first verb you can add words like どんなに (donna ni), いくら (ikura), or 何回 (nankai) in order to emphasize that action was done (or could be done) several times. Let’s look at another example using one of these:

  • どんなに勉強しても勉強しきれない気がする (donna ni benkyou shite mo benkyou shikirenai ki ga suru)
  • I feel like no matter how much I study (this), it isn’t enough.

Again, we can interpret “benkyou shikirenai” as not being able to study “completely” in the sense that it is enough for us to fully grasp some topic, or be able to pass a test.

There are other variations of this expression with basically the same meaning, for example 〜してもしきれるものじゃない (~ shite mo shikireru mono ja nai).

Most of the time you can replace the ~shikirenai part with a word like だめ (dame) or 無駄 (muri) to retain the same meaning, though the long form (with the ~shikirenai) sounds more exaggerated to me.

  • どんなに勉強してもだめな気がする (donna ni benkyou shite mo dame na ki ga suru)
  • I feel like no matter how much I study (this), it isn’t enough.

Finally, instead of using a word like “donna ni”, for emphasis you can simply repeat the “~shite mo” part.

  • 勉強しても勉強してもだめな気がする (benkyou shite mo benkyou shite mo dame na ki ga suru)
  • I feel like no matter how much I study (this), it isn’t enough.
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