Language | WELL SAID

We can't say you don't have to learn 'nakute mo ii'

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing writers

Kyō no pātī niwa muri shite shusseki shinakute mo ii yo. (You don’t have to attend today’s party if it’s too difficult.)

Situation 1: Section Chief Mr. Okubo approaches Ms. Gray, who looks a bit pale.



Gurei: Nandaka kyō wa zutto atama ga itai-n desu.

Ōkubo: Sō ka. Ja, kyō no pātī niwa muri shite shusseki shinakute mo ii yo.

Gray: For some reason, my head has hurt all day today.

Okubo: Oh, really. Well then, you don’t have to attend today’s party if it’s too difficult.

The expressions Xなくてもいいです and X必要(ひつよう)はありません, where “X” is a verb in its nai-stem, express a lack of obligation or necessity. They can be translated as “you don’t have to X” and “you don’t need to X”:


(You don’t need to drink this medicine once your fever goes down.)

In casual conversation, it is alright to drop the “です.” In fact, Xなくてもいいです suggests a concession, so it isn’t an appropriate term to use when addressing superiors:


(I don’t have to go into work tomorrow.)

I-adjectives can be used in the place of “X.” When “X” is a na-adjective or a noun, however, Xで(は)なくてもいいです is used:


(The hotel room doesn’t have to be big/It’s fine if the hotel room isn’t big.)


(The room doesn’t have to be quiet.)


(Those taking part in seminars don’t need to be students.)

Situation 2: Takako, a junior high school student, asks her teacher a question in class.



Takako: Sensei, koko ni namae o kakanakereba narimasen ka.

Kyōshi: Iie, kakanakute mo kamaimasen yo. Ankēto desu kara.

Takako: Teacher, do we have to write our names here?

Teacher: No, you don’t have to worry [about writing your names]. It’s [only] a questionnaire.

The structure Xなくてもかまいません/Xなくてもかまわない is similar to Xなくてもいいです, but implies a more trivial lack of necessity and can therefore be translated as “X doesn’t matter” or “you don’t have to worry about X”:


(It doesn’t matter if you don’t respond immediately.)

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. Sere is chatting with his colleague, Mr. Mita.



セレ:ほら、[ネットの写真(しゃしん)を見(み)せる] こんなふうに生活しているんだ。








Sere: Do you know what a minimalist is? They’re people who live with hardly any things.

Mita: Ah, it seems those kinds of people are on the rise lately.

Sere: Look, [shows photos on the internet] they live like this.

Mita: Huh, there’s really hardly any furniture.

Sere: Yeah. I’d like to try living like this, too. Yuri and I both think we don’t need to have too many things.

Mita: It’d be easy to do the housework.

Sere: Yeah. And the rooms wouldn’t have to be so big, either. If we do that, then we wouldn’t have to work so hard to pay the rent.

Mita: Hmm, that kind of lifestyle, I’d love to live like that, but it’d be impossible. I wouldn’t be able to part with my kaijū (Japanese monster) collection.

Sere: Ah, Mita, you have quite a variety of collections, right?

Mita: Yeah, I work hard in order to have my collections.

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