第156課: Negative Prefixes: 未, 無, 非, 否, & 不

Prefixes are cumbersome in Japanese as they are in English. In English when we think of negative prefixes, we think of un-, non-, a-, in-, de-, etc. If distinguishing between all these is difficult, then you might be relieved to know that Japanese isn’t as complex in this regard. Although there is some truth in having to learn when they’re used on a case-by-case basis, differentiating between 未, 無, 非, 否, and 不 is not all that troublesome.

Although there are no rules that determine which of these prefixes are to be used, corresponding these endings with the following Japanese and English keywords will help you tremendously in understanding how they're used.

 未 まだ…ない Incompletion
 無 ない・存在しない Absence
 非 しない・ではない Unjustifiability
 否 同意しない Noncompliance
 不 ではない Simple Negation

   Another thing to keep in mind about these prefixes is that although they are being referred to as prefixes, it is not a 100% guarantee that what they attach to can be used in isolation as independent words. This is because they are being viewed as prefixes based on how they are used from a Chinese language perspective. For instance, anxiety in Japanese is 不安. 安, however, is not used as the antonym of 不安.  Instead, the antonym of 不安 is 安心. These are simply quirks that you will need to become accustomed to as you learn words with these prefixes.

未: Incompletion

Simply put, this prefix indicates incompletion. Meaning, something isn’t quite so yet, but it will (most likely) be so in the future.

1. 未熟みじゅくなだけに、かえって被害ひがいを起こす可能性が高いのです。
Precisely because (X) is inexperienced, the possibility of him causing damage is all the more high.

2. きのう、未公開みこうかいの映画をました。
  I watched an unreleased movie yesterday.

3. 未解決みかいけつ事件じけんまとめました。
  I have compiled unresolved cases.

4. 息子むすこ未成年飲酒みせいねんいんしゅをしたということで警察けいさつれていかれました。
  My son was taken by police for underage drinking. 

5. もしも未亡人みぼうじんになったら、らしかたは今までと違うのか。
  If you were to become a widow, how would the way you live differ from what it is now?

6. 未経験者みけいけんしゃばかりのオフィスで働いています。

7. 人間はだれもが未完成みかんせいだ。
  All people are incomplete.

8. もしかしたら未確認飛行物体みかくにんひこうぶったいを見たかもしれない。
  I may have possibly seen an unidentified flying object.

9. 体験版たいけんばんつうじて、たくさんの未発表みはっぴょうのポケモンがリークされてしまった。
 Many unrevealed Pokemon were accidentally leaked through the demo version.

10. 未開発市場みかいはつしじょうに乗り出す。
      To set out in undeveloped markets.

11. 10歳未満みまんの子供を対象たいしょうとしています。
       We are targeting children under ten. 

12. わたしは未婚みこんですが、子供が欲しいです。
      I'm unmarried, but I want a child.

無: Absence

Attaches to things that are nouns (in Chinese and as an effect can be viewed as nouns in Japanese). It may result in an adjective or adverb on a case-by-case basis, though. This prefix indicates total lack. It typically only attaches to Sino-Japanese words. When dealing with non-Sino-Japanese words, ~なし is preferred (ex. 底なし = bottomless).

13. 無人島(むじんとう)に住みたいと思っています。 
      I want to live on an uninhabited island.

14. 会員登録(かいいんとうろく)無料(むりょう)ですか。 
     Is membership registration free?

15. 一人で泣いたって無意味だよ。  
      It's meaningless to cry by yourself.

16. 可能性は皆無(かいむ)(ひと)しい。 
      The likelihood is near nothing.

17. 夜中(よなか)無数(むすう)星々(ほしぼし)(なが)める。
      To gaze at the endless stars in the middle of the night.

18. 無論(むろん)、その通りです。
     Of course, that's exactly the case.

19. 無視(むし)されたくないです。  
      I don't like being ignored.

20. ジンバブエは無法地帯(むほうちたい)のソマリアよりも治安(ちあん)が悪いと聞いています。 
      I'm hearing that public order in Zimbabwe is worse that lawless Somalia.

21. 無職(むしょく)の男性が逮捕(たいほ)されました。
      An unemployed male was arrested.

22. 彼女は無表情(むひょうじょう)な顔をして(だま)っていた。
      Her face was expressionless as she stayed quiet.

23. 無意識(むいしき)()()いしばる(くせ)を治したい。
      I want to fix my habit of unconsciously grinding my teeth.

24. 無関心(むかんしん)な相手に(たい)しては(いか)りを感じません。
      I don't feel anger towards those who are uninterested.

In 当て字

Although not an example of the prefix, you will also see the character 無 found in the 熟字訓 reading of the native word for “fig,” which is イチジク. This is because figs, despite having many stamen and pistils, they are not visible from the outside, thus the spelling  無花果.

非: Unjustifiability

This prefix indicates that something is not belonging to a certain state of being. It is used to show unjustifiability. Meaning, whatever it is referring to, there is a state in which ought to be but this is the negation of it being so. More emotion, as an effect, can be seen in many examples of it.

不合理:  Simple negation of something being rational.

非合理: Emotional appeal to something being irrational/illogical.

It usually attaches to nouns but may result in adjectives depending on the phrase. It can attach to Sino-Japanese, native, and foreign words.

25. 非常識(ひじょうしき)な妻に息子を育てさせるのは絶対に嫌です。
      I absolutely don't want to let my senseless wife raise our son.

26. 非割(ひわ)()型優先度順(がたゆうせんどじゅん)サービス
      Non-preemptive priority service

27. ()アフリカ(けい)現代人(げんだいじん)が、DNAの1~4%をネアンデルタール人から受け()いでいる。
      Non-African descent modern humans inherit 1~4% of their DNA from Neanderthals. 

28. 現実の世界から非現実の世界に入っていってしまう。
      To end up entering an unreal world from the real world.

29. 非科学的(ひかがくてき)発言(はつげん)が大嫌いだ。
      I hate nonscientific remarks. 

30. このページは非表示(ひひょうじ)になっています。
      This page does not display. 

31. これからは非婚(ひこん)の男性が増えるでしょう。
      Men who aren't married (and don't wish to) will increase from now on.

32. 平日(へいじつ)非常勤職員(ひじょうきんしょくいん)として働いています。
       On week days I work as a part-time worker.

33. 常温(じょうおん)固体(こたい)非金属元素(ひきんぞくげんそ)といえば、ケイ素などあります。
      In speaking of non-metal elements that are solid at room temperature, there is silicon.

否: Noncompliance

 
This prefix is not near as common as any of the previous ones, but when it is used, it indicates a meaning of noncompliance.

34. その事実(じじつ)否定(ひてい)することはできないし、否定しても意味がない。
      You can't even deny the truth, and even if you were to, there would be no point.

35. 議会(ぎかい)否決(ひけつ)されたらどうなるのか。
      What happens if it's rejected by the assembly? 

36. 被告(ひこく)容疑(ようぎ)否認(ひにん)しています。 
  The defendant is denying the allegation.

不: Simple Negation

This prefix attaches to adjectives and verbs to show simple negation. It may not be absolute negation, though. For instance, it may indicate stagnation in some sense. It typically follows nouns to negate an action, and it typically follows 形容動詞 to negate a state.

37. 人は、気分がいいときは健康な食べ物を、ストレスを感じているときは不健康な食べ物を選ぶ傾向(けいこう)がある。
People have the tendency of choosing healthy foods when they feel good and unhealthy foods when they're under stress.

38. 先程(さきほど)お送りしたメールに不備(ふび)がありました。
  There was a fault in the e-mail that I had just sent you. 

39. 悪妻(あくさい)は百年の不作(ふさく)
  A bad wife leads to 100 years of failure.

40. 今年は不況(ふきょう)のため採用(さいよう)(ひか)えます。
  We are holding off on hiring this year due to recession.

41. 老眼(ろうがん)は不便だね。
  Farsightedness due to old age is inconvenient, you know.

42. 海外で行方不明(ゆくえふめい)になる。
      To go missing overseas.

 不 +Native Words

不 has been around long enough to follow a select number of native words.

43. 不行(ふゆ)(とど)きの点は許してください。
      Please forgive the carelessness.

44. 手打(てう)ちで不揃(ふぞろ)いの(めん)が多い。 
  There are many uneven noodles made by hand. 

45. なぜ不真面目(ふまじめ)な人ほど、出世(しゅっせ)するのか。
    Why is it that the less serious someone is the more he advances in life?  

不・無(ぶ): Ill-representation

This is yet another prefix which can be written as either 不 or 無 with no true rules as to when you should use which aside from standard convention on a case-by-case basis. Most examples of this involve 形容動詞 as equivalents of  the English prefixes “mis-“ and “ill-.”

46. 手先(てさき)不器用(ぶきよう)すぎる。
  I'm too clumsy with my hands.

47. 無愛想(ぶあいそう)な顔をしていると、相手も無愛想になる。
  Whenever you have a blunt look on your face, your opponent will also become blunt.

48. 顔が不細工(ぶさいく)な人と付き合えますか。
  Are you capable of dating someone with an ugly face?