Is じゃないです equally correct as じゃありません?



Text books normally teach that the negative of です is じゃありません. However it seems very common to hear native Japanese use じゃないです.

Is this slang or somehow less correct than じゃありません? Would it be marked as incorrect in a JLPT exam?

If they are both equally correct why is じゃありません taught to beginners? (To me じゃないです seems simpler for a beginner to remember.)

Niall Murphy

Posted 2011-08-10T12:15:47.987

Reputation: 775

3I remember when I was taking Japanese 101, my professor saw Nakama teaching じゃありません as the polite negative and she literally recoiled in horror, after which she made it clear that we were to use ではありません. – Kaji – 2014-03-31T05:02:27.870

7I was under the impression that the negative of です is ではありません – Nicolas Raoul – 2011-08-10T12:30:36.950

3@Nicolas: That's right. じゃありません is a shortened form of ではありません. So ではありません and ではないです are more formal than じゃないです and じゃありません。But in answer to the question, they are both correct. I don't know that one is more 'correct' than the other. じゃないです is certainly more commonly spoken than じゃありません。Most common in speech is simply じゃない - but it's obviously less formal / polite too. – Samurai Soul – 2011-08-10T12:55:59.040



I read an interesting paper on this very topic a few months ago. Let's see…ah, here it is:

A Discussion of the Polite Negative Verb Forms masen and nai desu (PDF, Japanese)

This paper by Kayoko Tanaka was presented at the eighth annual conference on Japanese language education research at Nagoya University in 2010. Ms. Tanaka, using sentences drawn from a survey of spoken Japanese, draws the following contrast:

~ません (in spoken Japanese)


masen has a strong sense of formality, and often expresses the speaker's firm denial. Also, it is often used to add a sense of assertion or in emphatic constructions. This is thought to arise from the influence of the linguistic form (where the order is polite mase + negation n), in which the intent of negation appears stronger than the politeness. From this the speaker can draw the listener's attention to the negating function. If we assume that expressions which appear nearer to the end of the sentence leave stronger impressions, the negating function of masen leaves a strong impression. (emphasis mine)

~ないです (in spoken Japanese)


nai desu is often used in spoken Japanese. As indicated by Noda (2004), the effects of this construction are such that it is often used in concert with sentence-ending particles, and that it is easily joined with the (verb) + shiteiru form. This is thought to arise from the influence of the linguistic form (where the order is negation nai + polite desu), in which the level of politeness appears stronger than the negating function. From this the speaker can draw the listener's attention to the level of politeness. If we assume that expressions which appear nearer to the end of the sentence leave stronger impressions, the politeness of nai desu leaves a stronger impression. Also, it is further thought that this may have the effect of softening the speaker's strong assertion of a negative expression. (emphasis mine)

So basically…

~ません and ~ないです are semantically equivalent, but ~ないです is softer and less insistent. If you need to give a firm denial with no wiggle room, go with ~ません. But since this level of bluntness can be inappropriate in some situations, ~ないです is there if you need it.

Also, this applies to every negative sentence (not just those ending in a form of です):




Derek Schaab

Posted 2011-08-10T12:15:47.987

Reputation: 21 235

1Also, one might want to note that ない is in fact similar to an i-adjective (形容詞) which does take です for politeness. AFAIK I have never heard anybody say 話すです or anything like that. – ithisa – 2013-08-12T12:00:07.500

1Nice. This makes a lot of sense - very clear. さすがプロー。 – Samurai Soul – 2011-08-10T15:50:00.867

16An important fact about this paper is that it only discusses 自然談話 (spoken language?) (see section 2). According to the results cited in the paper, ません is overwhelmingly more common than ないです in written text. – Tsuyoshi Ito – 2011-08-10T16:21:38.623

@Tsuyoshi Ito: Quite true. I will edit to emphasize this point. – Derek Schaab – 2011-08-10T16:28:29.567

2Interesting. I asked some Japanese friends and teachers about this a while back, and they gave me exactly the opposite answer. – rintaun – 2011-08-11T00:13:19.807

@rintaun: I find that odd, because the raw feeling I get from the sum of the Japanese speech I have heard is consistently on the side of ~ません asserting the negation more than ~ないです. Maybe there's a dialectical variation going on beneath the surface…? – Derek Schaab – 2011-08-11T02:45:26.387

@rintaun btw, by opposite answer do you mean that your friends say ないです is emphasizing more on "assertiveness" than "politeness" and as for じゃありません it is emphasizing more on "politeness" than "assertiveness" ? – Pacerier – 2011-08-12T17:35:37.987

1actually, my teacher said that じゃないです is not correct, because it doesn't make sense (but people say it often in Japan). Its not right because in adjetives ~na, です is needed (です:Formal/だ:Informal)while in adjetives ~i, です marks politeness (暑いです:Formal/ 暑い:Informal). I asked a japanese person, and she said she uses じゃないです a lot!! even if its wrong. ^^ – daniel tomio – 2011-09-13T02:12:44.947

1@daniel tomio: "Correctness" is relative when talking about languages. There's the linguist camp, which defines correctness by the rules they force upon languages, and then there's the speaker camp, where correctness is defined by what people actually say. ~ないです may not be correct from a linguistic standpoint (as to why, I have no idea), but it's so firmly entrenched in modern Japanese usage that by every other standard it's a perfectly valid form. – Derek Schaab – 2011-09-14T20:35:20.253

1yeah. that's true. all languages are that way, it could be grammatically wrong (or strange), but if people say it, it's ok. we can't fight the spoken language. And I think nowadays people don't mind if じゃないです is wrong or not, they just use it (and a lot!). xD. someone told me also that it could be a variation of some regions of japan. well, who knows. lol – daniel tomio – 2011-09-15T01:58:47.267

8@DerekSchaab I would argue that most linguists are primarily concerned with the way a language is actually spoken. ~ないです is perfectly valid from a linguistics standpoint. Linguists often do deal with the "rules" of language, but this is in the sense of trying to find a way to describe the language rather than trying to prescribe how it should be used. In fact, many linguists are concerned with the various dialects of a language even though they do not match the "standard" dialect. – Nathan Ellenfield – 2011-09-28T23:06:26.830

2@DerekSchaab - where do you find all these papers? – istrasci – 2011-09-29T14:02:53.330

2@istrasci: Google. One trick is to put filetype:pdf into the query, which biases the results toward academic papers (usually published in PDF format). – Derek Schaab – 2011-09-29T14:17:40.213

Touche. Based on your profile, I was always under the impression that you were a formal Japanese teacher/researcher. And, as such, would have easier access to academic-type papers. てゆ訳っす。 – istrasci – 2011-09-29T15:32:45.890


Disclaimer: I'm neither a native speaker nor a linguist so this answer of mine is entirely my opinion and theory as a beginner, which may not be appropriate here but I wanted to share it anyway.

To me ではないです or じゃないです is like turning a negation statement into polite:

Xではない (a negation statement) + です (make it polite)

While ではありません or じゃありません is like a polite negation of a statement:

X (a statement) + ではありません (politely negate it)

I'm not sure how it actually affects the quality of politeness of the sentences, but my guts feeling is that ではないです is slightly less elegant than ではありません due to the following reason: Making a plain negative statement polite gives off the feeling of not thinking about being polite from the beginning. It is like being forced to be polite due to the circumstances, unlike politely negating the statement which gives off the feeling that you are already thinking about being polite before being negative.


Posted 2011-08-10T12:15:47.987

Reputation: 18 701

2If you assume that ません is an unbreakable unit, then you are on the right track. But the question is: how does that lead to the difference of the nuance/usage? Or, are you assuming that there is no difference in the usage? – None – 2011-08-10T13:20:51.547


じゃないです is a colloquial, uneducated way of saying じゃありません. It is not totally ungrammatical, but is not totally correct either.

My reasoning for this is because it is not the shortest way of saying it. Assuming that ない results from obligatory deletion of ara in Tokyo dialect and that the i-ending of an i-adjective is an obligatorily replaced form of ku aru, the fully expanded form of the two expressions are:

ないです (7 morphemes)
ar-ana-ku ar-u des-u

ありません (4 morphemes)

Using ありません is much shorter. For those people who do not use じゃありません, the negative morpheme en, which is conditioned to be used only with politeness, is either blocked temporarily or is not known by the speaker.

I am interested in hearing other accounts of this contrast.

To answer ento's question:

In general (in any language), a well phrased (correct) sentence has to be the shortest among the alternative strategies that have the exact same meaning (including connotation, naunce, etc.). This is a genaral, basic fact about language, and is observed at various levels (word, sentence, discourse). For example, in English, it is not fully appropriate, unless there is a special connotation or purpose, to say sentences like

I am doing eating of a sandwich
I am feeling sadness
It is the case that it is sunny today [As a main sentence]

because there are shorter ways of saying them with the same meaning:

I am eating a sandwich
I am sad
It is sunny today

My explanation above handles ないです vs. ありません in relation to this basic principle. This is about awkardness, appropriateness, consiceness, and correctness, but is not directly related to formality.

As for the measure of shortness, there can be several possibilities, but for symplicity, I used the number of morphemes.


Posted 2011-08-10T12:15:47.987


2Does it really give off the "uneducated" vibe that much? I've heard this from all types of people, including Japanese teachers and very serious university students. – phirru – 2011-08-10T13:04:37.080

@phirru It is an uneducated form in the sense that it is the only choice for uneducated people. Uneducated people cannot use じゃありません. On the other hand, educated people have access to either form. And teachers and university students can use じゃないです knowing that there is the form じゃありません but do not want to bother being totally correct. – None – 2011-08-10T13:14:18.297

1@sawa: I don't understand "uneducated people cannot use じゃありません"? Cannot use it on what grounds? That they haven't learned it? I suppose it's not as commonly heard as じゃないです, so it's possible they've never learned it. But I have a hard time buying that. – Samurai Soul – 2011-08-10T14:39:58.677

@Samurai_Soul They don't know it, or it doesn't come to their mind when speaking. – None – 2011-08-10T15:09:41.660

2Could you elaborate on the relationship between a phrase's length and its correctness, advancedness and formality? Are shorter phrases generally more correct, advanced and/or formal? I simply want to hear more because I couldn't quite follow the logic there.. – ento – 2011-08-10T16:19:56.550

I think there are unexamined assumptions in your counting strategy here. Why include "ara" if it is so obligatorily deleted that no-one has used it for generations? How come -i (from -si) is replaced with "-ku aru", which is obviously a less basic (and newer!) form? If you treat "desu" as a clitic (which is what some people argue it is evolving into in spoken J., cf forms like "だったっす"), you could easily recount: na-shi desu (3) vs ar-i-(i)mas-e-nu (5). Morpheme count might actually be the reason that じゃないです is preferred by speakers with this model of the language. – Matt – 2011-08-10T22:31:08.827

@Matt 1. If you don't assume underlying ara, then you have to assume that nai has multiple meanings such as negation of existence, negation of possession, negation of perfect, negation of progressive. With the assumption, this reduces to the ambiguilty of aru. 2. I think you are mixing historical change with synchronic derivation. -ku form is the basic form in present adjectives, observed in other forms, (for example, the past katta comes from ku ar-ta. It is i ending that is exceptional. – None – 2011-08-10T22:48:30.227

@Matt 3. In linguistics a clitic means an element that has a pronominal nature attached to a verbal element. I think you are using it in a different sense. I don't know what you mean with it. – None – 2011-08-10T22:49:27.370

1@sawa Thanks for detailed reply. I should stress before I get into this that my argument is not that your model is wrong so much as it is not the only possible model. 1. So your argument is, when faced with the aru/nai vs saku/sakanai irregularity, we must attach a null morpheme to /nai/ conveying the meaning "conjugation of the verb aru"? OK, I can accept this as a model, although I don't agree that it is the only possible model, or that it must then follow that this null morpheme should be counted if we are measuring length. – Matt – 2011-08-10T23:16:38.347

@sawa 2. Yes, the -i ending is exceptional, and that is the point: it is exceptionally short. By converting it to -ku aru, are you not implicitly instituting a rule that all declarative sentences must end in an -u verb? Why can't they also end in an -i adjective? (or an -i adjective-like construction functioning as a verb ending, if you like). Again, the model that views -i as -ku aru is not necessarily an illogical one, but it obviously handicaps -i if we are then going to count morphemes. – Matt – 2011-08-10T23:18:56.300

1@sawa 3. Basically I am using clitic in the sense that Wikipedia defines it: "a morpheme that is grammatically independent, but phonologically dependent on another word or phrase" (this is broader than your definition). Perhaps the word "clitic" is inappropriate, but my point is, some linguists argue that in some speaker's MJ, です (→っす) can be viewed as something like a non-declining "politeness particle" that attaches to plain forms. Thus you get 行かないっす instead of 行きません, じゃないです instead of じゃありません, etc. (This usage might have spread from acceptance of 高いです instead of 高くあります, 高うございます etc.) – Matt – 2011-08-10T23:25:04.170

@sawa To summarize: Under your model, it is true that ないです is inferior to ありません, and these are ultimately the grounds that people criticize it on (though they may express it in a roundabout way, e.g. "ない is already an ending, it doesn't need です as well!" etc.) But, younger speakers of Japanese may already have a model that analyzes verb endings and です differently, and so applying your principles to their model may give the opposite result: that ないです is simpler and superior to ありません.... Of course, as long as 標準語 sticks to the old model, じゃないです will be "ungrammatical" in that sense. – Matt – 2011-08-10T23:29:04.960

@Matt Thanks for the comments. I would like to add some arguments. 1. As for why i ending is underlyingly ku aru, the latter form actually appears when the sequence is interrupted with elements like mo: naku mo aru or samuku mo aru. If you assume i as an element, you would have to say i or ku aru is chosen depending on whether the sequence will be interrupted, which is strange. 2. desu is obviously a verb because you can see the the verb conjugation. Particularly, the past tense is desita. I don't know about っす; it is interesting. – None – 2011-08-11T00:07:18.457

@Matt Regarding your last point, I think ないです can be considered more systematic because you can get rid of the negative n, which is only (irregularly) used with mas. That may be the reason younger people do not tend to use it. Anyway, thanks for your comment. – None – 2011-08-11T00:09:20.250

@sawa This has been fun, thanks. I see your point on /ku mo aru/, will think about that one. Re /desu/, let me note just so that we are on the same page, it is obviously originally a verb (and still a verb in the standard), but the argument is is that for some speakers it is evolving into a non-conjugating "clitic"/"particle". For these speakers, /desita/ is no longer used in the relevant contexts, and /datta + desu/ or /datta + ssu/ is used instead. (I think some argue that this is an evolution of of んです.) I'm not sure if I'm 100% in agreement with this analysis but it is intriguing. – Matt – 2011-08-11T00:31:12.467

1@sawa: Thanks for your write up. Now that I think of it, I can understand that shorter is better than a long, drawn-out sentence. I think it could be further deduced that better (shorter) writing style is preferred in formal occasions, and the formal way of expression is first taught to beginners. – ento – 2011-08-30T17:13:20.920


As per my Sensei (who is a native speaker of Japanese and grew up in Tokyo), there is absolutely no grammatical difference between ~ないです and ~ません.


Posted 2011-08-10T12:15:47.987

Reputation: 27

4Probably your sensei meant that they are almost the same. But if your sensei really does not notice any difference, I am sorry but I think that he or she is simply insensitive to the subtlety of the language. – Tsuyoshi Ito – 2011-08-12T00:10:30.440

Updated answer to be more accurate. – Murphy – 2011-08-12T06:31:41.630

3I do not think that changing “difference” to “grammatical difference” makes your sensei’s assertion any more accurate. As other people correctly state, ないです and ありません are different in formality and nuances. – Tsuyoshi Ito – 2011-08-12T12:40:51.990

1Formality and nuances are not grammar. – Murphy – 2011-08-13T07:30:59.717

3I do not agree that formality and nuances are not grammar. However, if we accept your opinion that they are not grammar, then it is of little use to know that there is no grammatical difference between ~ないです and ~ありません. – Tsuyoshi Ito – 2011-08-13T12:53:29.220