VTE + WA + IKENAI (いけない)

In Japanese, interdiction is built using the following structure:

  • Verb (-TE form) + WA + IKENAI (or NARANAI or DAME)

We could literally read: “The fact of doing that, it cannot be okay.”

Tabesugite wa ikenai yo.
Do not eat too much.

Literally: “The fact of eating too much, that can’t be okay.”

NARANAI (ならない) is mainly used in an official or legal context as a formal interdiction.

Kore o daisansha ni mudan de jouto shite wa naranai.
This may not be sold to others without authorization.

DAME (だめ) is very common in a casual context.

Oshaberi shite wa dame desu yo.
No talking. / Don’t talk. / You can’t talk.

Literally: “The fact of talking, it’s not alright.”

You may have noticed in the above examples the addition of the suffix -ます and the use of the copula です. As you already know, they make it possible to give a polite tone to the sentence.

Rouka o hashitte wa ikemasen yo.
Don’t run in the corridor.

Adjectives with I

Adjectives ending with い, like the verbs, must be conjugated using the -TE form. Remember, い is replaced -KUTE (くて).

  • Adjective with I (without the final い) + KUTE + WA + IKENAI / DAME

NARANAI is not commonly with adjectives.

Kaze ga tsuyokute wa dame desu.
If the wind is strong, it won’t be all right.

However, there are some exceptions: the adjectives of sensation/perception must be replaced by verbs of appearance.

Kowagatte wa ikenai yo.
We must not be afraid.

Here are some adjectives and their equivalent verbs of appearance:

AdjectiveVerb of Appearance
Hazukashii (embarrassed, timid) Hazukashigaru
Atsui (hot) Atsugaru
Itai (painful) Itagaru
Kowai (afraid) Kowagaru
Kanashii (sad) Kanashigaru

And so on… As you’ve probably noticed, the final “i” is replaced by “garu.”

Adjectives with NA and Nouns

How to use this structure with a noun to form a more complex declaration? You must add DE (で) or DE ATTE (であって) before は. The nominal adjectives (adjectives ending with NA) also work like that. The structure is as so:

  • Adjective with NA + DE / DE ATTE + WA + IKENAI/DAME
  • Adjective with NA + DE ATTE + WA + NARANAI

Seijika ga dokusaisha de atte wa ikenai.
A politician mustn’t be a dictator.

Shiken ga kantan de wa dame da.
The exam must not be easy.

Note: with NARANAI, it’s possible to use DE WA NARANAI, but the form DE ATTE WA NARANAI is more common.

Differences between IKENAI, NARANAI and DAME

What is the difference between IKENAI (いけない), NARANAI (ならない), and DAME (だめ)? First of all, ならない, unlike the others, cannot be used alone to form a sentence. It must be linked to a verb, a noun, or an adjective.

From a grammatical point of view, it is perfectly right to say:

いけないよ !
だめ !
いけないわよ !
だめだよ !

Those statements can be translated as “Don’t!”, “No!”, “That’s not alright!” etc. However, “ならないよ!” without any other information is not possible.

Finally, NARANAI is more often used in written language, and tends to express a general, objective, or universal interdiction, acknowledged by all (such as a law, for example). DAME is used almost exclusively in informal situations (close friends, family, etc.).

Expressing the past

To put a sentence in the past tense (you were not allowed to, you couldn’t, etc.), simply conjugate いけない or ならない or だめ to the past tense:

いけなかった いけませんでした
ならなかった なりませんでした
だめだった だめでした

Additional information

There exists an informal oral contraction that consists of replacing -TE WA (-ては) by CHA(A) (ちゃ(あ)) or CCHA(A) (っちゃ(あ)), and DEWA (では) by JA(A) (じゃ(あ)).

Uso o tsui cha dame da yo.
You must not lie.

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