第142課: The Particle なんて

The particle なんて is similar to なんか and  など because all three particles can be used to euphemize what they follow. However, the practical situations in which they are used can be very different. When it comes to how なんて is used, the tone that it gives is far more emphatic  than the other two can ever be. It also brings about unique grammar that the other two don’t.

In this lesson, we will focus solely on なんて to see how it’s used. Ultimately, it is easier to learn this particle separately so that you don’t confuse it with things that can occasionally be used similarly but not ultimately bring about the same nuance. 

How to Use なんて

Grammatically speaking, なんて can pretty much following anything. One reason for this is that it is partially composed of って, which you should understand as one of the most common means of citation in speech. The なん, as you can imagine, comes from 何. This provides major context to how the phrase generally works. It’s emphatic; it’s subjective; it’s there to draw some form of attention.

なんて can pretty much follow anything. It can be seen after nouns, adjectives, adjectival nouns, verbs, as well as full statements. Interestingly enough, as you will soon see, the copula だ can actually intervene at times to add even more dramatic effect to what’s being referred. The "referring" aspect makes だ's role akin to that of a citation particle like って, drawing upon the literal breakdown of なんて itself. 

 Part of Speech Example
 With Nouns 恋(だ)なんて
 With Adjectives おかしい(だ)なんて
 With Adjectival Nouns 新鮮(だ)なんて
 With Verbs 行く(だ)なんて
 With Sentences 本当に好きだよなんて

Although overall it is fair to say that なんて is used in mostly negative situations, it is not limited to this. Regardless of whether the statement is positive or negative, it will euphemize whatever it follows. This euphemizing can then have a belittling, critical, or supportive tone depending on the sentence. 

1. 彼女(かのじょ)包丁(ほうちょう)なんて使(つか)ったことあるのかな。
I wonder if she’s ever used a kitchen knife.

2. そもそも決闘(けっとう)なんてしませんよ。
We’re not going to be having a duel in the first place.

3. もう、健太君(けんたくん)なんて()らないわ!
I don’t know you anymore, Kentaro!

4. (わたし)なんてまだまだです。
I still have a long way to go.

5. アライグマなんて(こわ)くないよ。
There’s nothing scary about raccoons!

6. バスク()なんて簡単(かんたん)さ。
Basque is just easy!

7. 野球(やきゅう)なんてちょっと()まらなくない?
Isn’t baseball a little boring?

8. 雪合戦(ゆきがっせん)なんて子供(こども)じゃあるまいし。
A snowball fight…it isn’t as if I’m a child.

9. 人生(じんせい)なんてそんな素晴(すば)らしいものじゃない。
Human life is not such a wonderful thing.

10. 人間(にんげん)なんて(もろ)いものなんでしょうね。    
People really are weak things, aren't they?

11. セス先生(せんせい)なんて()いたことねー。
I’ve never heard of this Seth-sensei.

12. 漢字(かんじ)なんてどうしても()けないの!
I can’t write Kanji no matter what I do!

13. なんで試験(しけん)なんてやるんだろ。
Why is it that we do exams anyway?

14. お(かね)なんて()らない!
I don’t need any money!

15. 無意味(むいみ)愚痴(ぐち)なんて()きたくもない。
I don’t want to hear your meaningless complaining.

16. 本来(ほんらい)(しろ)いはずのものが(あか)いなんてちょっと神秘(しんぴ)(てき))だよね。
Something that’s originally supposed to be white being red is a little mysterious, isn’t it?

17. 男性(だんせい)じゃあるまいし、鼻下(びか)(あお)いなんて洒落(しゃれ)になりません。
It’s not as if I’m a man; my upper-lip being blue is no joking matter.

18. (はじ)まりが(こわ)いなんて、そんなの当然(とうぜん)だからね。
That’s ‘cause it’s natural for the beginning to be scary.

19. あれほど(みにく)いなんて、本当(ほんとう)残念(ざんねん)なことだ。
It truly is a shame that (he) is so ugly like that.

20. 図々(ずうずう)しいだなんて、とんでもございません。
It’s absolutely not audacious (of him).

21. 体型(たいけい)(うつく)しいだなんて、()れるわ。
I get embarrassed when I’m told my figure is beautiful.

22. (かなら)ずずっと一緒(いっしょ)(だ)なんて、あり()ないんじゃない?
Always being together forever is impossible, no?

23. 日常会話が簡単(だ)なんて嘘だよ!
It’s a complete lie that daily conversation is easy!

24. え、まさかあいつが(おれ)のことを()きだなんて・・・
What? You’re saying that guy likes me!?

25. 仏様(ほとけさま)()(はら)うなんて、人間(にんげん)出来(でき)ることじゃないと(おも)うがね。
Though I’m pretty sure reducing the Buddha into ashes is not something man can do.

26. ()(くに)神々(かみがみ)(うたが)うなんて、とんだ身分(みぶん)だな。
What unthinkable position you’re in doubting the gods of our country.

27. 息子(むすこ)さん早稲田(わせだ)に受かったなんて(すご)いですね。
That’s amazing how your son got accepted to Waseda (University).

28. 正月(しょうがつ)一度(いちど)(かえ)らないなんて(なに)事情(じじょう)があるからだろうしなあ。
There's probably got to be some reason behind (him) not going home even one on New Year’s.

29. 重要(じゅうよう)会議(かいぎ)遅刻(ちこく)するなんて、(ゆる)せない。
It’s unforgiveable to be late to an important meeting.

30. ()くなんて()ってないよ。
I'm not saying that I'm going.

31. 子供(こども)(さる)(つぎ)(とし)()をたくさん()むなんてことはできない。
The young monkeys can’t also give birth to a lot of offspring the next year.

32. この(さる)ちゃん、()をたくさん()むことなんてできないもん。
This little monkey, there’s no way it can give birth to a lot of offspring.

33. 全員(ぜんいん)()かれるのなんて無理(むり)だよね。
It’s impossible to be liked by everyone, huh.

34. 禿()げるのなんて絶対嫌(ぜったいいや)だ!
Going bald would just be absolutely awful!

35. タイムマシンが出来(でき)るのなんて不可能(ふかのう)なんですよね?
Building a time machine is impossible, right?

36. 英語(えいご)できるのなんて成人(せいじん)としては()たり(まえ)じゃないか。
Being able to speak English is only natural as an adult, is it not?

37. 智美(ともみ)がああいう(ひと)だったなんて、()らなかったです。
I had no idea Tomomi was that kind of a person.

38. つい最近(さいきん)まで高校生(こうこうせい)だったなんて(しん)じられませんね。
I can’t believe that I’ve been a high school student up until just recently.

39. この()()わりだなんて(かんが)えるのは(おろ)かだ。
Thinking something like the world's going to end is foolish!

40. どうしてここに()たのかなんて、()まっている。
It’s a given as to why (he) came here.

41. ()()てか、さん()けかなんて(かんが)える余裕(よゆう)はなかった。
There was no leeway to ponder whether to address him with or without an honorific.

As a Final Particle 

To the same effect as above, you can also find なんて at the end of a sentence/statement to show utter surprise/disbelief. Depending on the tone, this may be used in ridicule as well.

42. どうして(きゅう)にお(さけ)なんて・・・
Why alcohol all so suddenly?

43. まさか、和睦(わぼく)(みち)(えら)ぶなんて・・・
Wow, to think (they’re) choosing the path of reconciliation…

44. お正月(しょうがつ)がこんなに大変(たいへん)(だ)なんて・・・
To think New Year’s would be this intense…

45. どちらも本物(ほんもの)だなんて。
Both are the real thing?!

46. これからずっと(おび)えて()らさなきゃいけないなんて。
The thought of us having to live from here on out in fear….

47. まだまだ()(がつ)なのに竜巻(たつまき)発生(はっせい)するなんて・・・
Tornadoes forming even though it’s still only April…

48. (あい)してるよなんて。
Huh, I love you...

49. あいつが「竹島(たけしま)(じつ)独島(トクト)だと主張(しゅちょう)してる」なんてもっぱらの(うわさ)だよ。
The persistent rumor is that he "claims Takeshima is Dokdo". 

Culture Note: 竹島 is a group of islands in the Sea of Japan called the "Liancourt Rocks" in English. However, the islands are under territorial dispute with Korea. Japan claims they’re part of 島根県(しまねけん) (Shimane Prefecture). However,  Korea claims them as theirs under the name 独島.  

With the Copula や 

The particle なんて does not follow the copula や, however, which is used in dialects like 関西弁 instead of だ. 

50a. 東京弁(とうきょうべん)()ってあげる(だ)なんて()っていない。〇
50b. 京都弁(きょうとべん)()うたげるなんて()うてへん。〇    
50c. 京都弁(きょうとべん)()うたげるやなんて()うてへん。X
I'm not saying that I'll buy it for you.  


As you may have already noticed and as was alluded to earlier, you can also view なんてas being equivalent to などと言って・何と言って. As you can see in the following sentences, spelling it as 何て is possible when it used more literally.

51. (いま)、何て()ったんだろ・・・
What was it that (he) said now?

52. 名前(なまえ)は何ていうの。
What’s your name?

53. この漢字(かんじ)、何て()むの?
How do you read this Kanji?

54. こんな(うわさ)(ひろ)まってるなんて、上司(じょうし)()ったら(なん)()うかな。
I wonder what the boss would say if he found out this sort of rumor was surprising.

55. 池田(いけだ)さんなんて(ひと)()りません。
I don’t know a person by the name of Ikeda-san.

56. スイーツでまずいなんてことってあんまりないですよね。
There really aren't that many times in which something is a sweet but actually tastes bad.

Sentence Note: In Ex. 56, you could interpret なんて as being the same as などと言う.

57. 旦那(だんな)なんて()ばれる身分(みぶん)じゃない!
I'm not in the position to be called “husband”!

58. 「仕事(しごと)(わたし)、どっちが大事(だいじ)なの?」なんて絶対(ぜったい)()ってはいけない禁句(きんく)なんですよ。
“Which is more important, work or me?” is a taboo that you should absolutely never utter.

59. すごいなんて言葉(ことば)では全然足(ぜんぜんた)りない。
Using a word like “awesome” is totally not good enough.

60. (わたし)、なんて(こと)を!
What have I done!

Oh How... 

Lastly, it is also important to note that なんて can be used in its own set phrases (Ex. 64) as well as an adverb meaning “oh how…,” in which case it is synonymous with 何と (Exs. 61-63).

61. カナダの(ふゆ)って、本当(ほんとう)になんて(うつく)しいんでしょう。
Oh how beautiful winter in Canada truly is!

62. うちのアパートの水道水(すいどうすい)、なんてまずいんだ。
The tap water at my apartment, it’s just awful.

63. なんてつまらないんだ!
How boring!

64. なんて、(冗談(じょうだん)で)ね。
Just joking.