-nai vs. -arimasen

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New Member
English - American
In Japanese I initially learned the polite forms of past forms using the "-arimasen" approach:

Example: "takai" (high, expensive)

Non-past, affirmative: takai desu
Non-past, negative: takakuarimasen
Past, affirmative: takakatta desu
Past, negative: takakuarimasendeshita

However when I later learned the short forms, I also learned that the optional polite forms simple require adding "desu" to the short forms:

takai desu
takakunai desu
takakatta desu
takakunakatta desu

This latter approach seems way easier to me and more practical since you need to use the short form in different parts of the sentence anyway; it's better practice for recalling those short forms more easily.

SO MY QUESTION IS: is there any real difference between using "takakuarimasen" and "takakunai desu" (and likewise "takakuarimasendeshita" vs "takakunakatta desu") in speech and/or writing? Semantically? Stylistically? Any situations when one would be more appropriate to use than the other?
  • Noamoxkaltontli

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Mexico
    This question really takes me back.
    I will try to answer the same way someone answered me.

    If you think about the order of language acquisition by native speakers, they will always learn the ~ない negative form first and then as school and their parents and social activities force them, they will have to learn more educated forms.
    The easiest educated form they can learn to use is ~ないです so that is what younger people or somewhat older people who don't want to be too formal will use.
    Those who take an interest in formality and/or are required to learn and learn to use higher levels of formality will be more prompt to use ありません or all the ~ぃません forms for that.

    ~ないです is chiefly a spoken form. In writing you will either see ありません or ない depending on what you are reading.
    Semantically, they have the same meaning, although there might be collocation in certain phrases or idioms. Stylistically, as I mentioned before you will probably not encounter ~ないです in formal written material.

    As a foreigner as always it comes down to what kind of impression you want to give to the people you are talking to. And that is a case by case kind of thing.
    A sort of general rule could be, perhaps:

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