February 16, 2023

What’s the Difference between 言えず and 言わず?

Japanese negative form grammar

Using the ず ender

In Japanese, there are several ways to mean "to not do something." The ず ender indicates the actor is "not doing" the verb. It is often followed by に to indicate something is not done while doing something else.

For example:


father | as for | nothing | without saying | left

My father left without saying anything.

In this case, father did something (left) without doing something else (speaking).

Making the ず form

To make this form, simply take the ない form (plain negative) of a verb, drop the ない, and add ず. 

How to say not eat and without eating in Japanese


Well... yes, for Group 2 verbs. 

Verbs in Japanese have three groups. 

  • Godan Group 1 (-u verb / 五段動詞(ごだんどうし))
  • Ichidan Group 2 (-ru verb / 一段動詞(いちだんどうし))
  • Irregular verbs する (to do) and ()る (to come)

The irregular verbs, you just have to memorize, but there are only two, so this is easy:

  • する (to do) → せず (without doing)
  • くる (to come) → こず (without coming)

In the case of Godan 五段動詞(ごだんどうし) Group 1 verbs, it can be a little tricky. This is because the negative and the potential have different roots. 

In other words, the plain negative of ()う is ()ない, but the potential negative of ()う is ()ない. Therefore, if you drop the ない and add ず, you’ll have two forms: ()わず (without saying) and ()えず (unable to say).

Confused? Let's look at a verb conjugation chart from Jisho.org:

With Group 1 Godan verbs, the negative form is ~わない (don't...) but the potential is ~えない (cannot...). 

Let's compare:


(without saying)

Making "without saying":

  • The negative of ()う is ()わない
  • Drop the ない
  • And you get ()わず which means "without saying."


(without being able to say)

Making "Without being able to say"

  • The potential of ()う is ()える.
  • The negative of the potential is ()えない
  • Drop the ない
  • And you get ()えず which means "without being able to say"

Example Sentences

Let's look at two example sentences to drill this in:


He just stared at the man without being able to say anything in astonishment.



He left the room without saying a thing.


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