かねる (kaneru) Meaning Japanese Grammar - Cannot Do

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'かねる (kaneru) Meaning Japanese Grammar - Cannot Do'

Anna Baffa Volpe

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かねる (kaneru) Meaning Japanese Grammar - Cannot Do

かねる (kaneru) in Japanese is a verb in the affirmative form, but it actually has a negative meaning and translates as: cannot do; cannot afford to do; be unable to do, find difficult to do and be reluctant to do.

The expression is considered formal and is generally used in the professional sphere.

In this post we will see its usage and the verbs and expressions that are particularly used in conjunction with かねる.

How かねる is formed

かねる is generally used combined with verbs. Its transcription in Kanji is ()ねる, but it is most commonly found transcribed in Hiragana.

Ichidan verbs without る+かねる
Base ending in い for Godan verbs+かねる
  • ()る Ichidan verb becomes ()かねる
  • ()かる Godan verb ⇨ ()かりかねる
  • する Irregular verb ⇨ しかねる

かねる for actions that are difficult and impossible to perform

かねる expresses the difficulty and often the impossibility of accomplishing an action due to external circumstances and situations.

The structure using かねる has affirmative form, but negative meaning.

山田 (やまだ)さんの意見 (いけん)には賛成 (さんせい) (てん) (おお)
Irregular verb する: verbal base し + かねる

There are many points on which I disagree with Mr Yamadaya's opinion.

  • The nuance of meaning is: there are several points where I just find it hard to agree with, I just can't agree with.

If we want to explain the meaning of かねる in Japanese using other structures:

  • ~しようとしてもできない: trying to do something but can't
  • 〜するのが(むずか)しくできない: it's difficult and I can't do it
  • 〜したくても〜できない: I'd like to do it, but I can't
  • expresses a situation of ()()(のう) impossibility

You can't use かねる when talking about the inability to do something.

We can't say:

  • (えい)()(はな)しかねる to express the fact of not being able to speak English.

I will use the potential forms and say:

  • (えい)()ができない
  • (えい)()(はな)すことができない
  • (えい)()(はな)せない
仕事 (しごと)ストレス転職 (てんしょく)決意 (けつい)した
耐える, bear, endure, resist

Unable to bear the stress of work, he decided to change jobs.

かねる expresses a situation of impossibility due to psychological factors, circumstances, situations that I perceive to be difficult.


He remained silent, unable to tell the truth because she knew nothing.

  • We find in the structure 知らせかねて the causative form that translates make someone do something. In this case the translation is: I could not let her know the truth, it was difficult for me to let her know the truth.

As we anticipated かねる is a formal expression used a lot in the business, commercial field.

For example, in the conditions of sale of a product we might find the phrase:


Sale items cannot be returned or exchanged.

In the sentence expressing the condition for sale, the verb (いた)す is used, which is the Keigo form of する.

Verbs and expressions used with かねる

There are verbs and expressions that are particularly used with かねる and they are:

  • (さん)(せい)しかねる: I cannot agree
  • (なっ)(とく)しかねる: I am not convinced, I have some reservations about that
  • (さん)(どう)しかねる: I cannot agree with you, I do not support your opinion
  • ()めかねる: I can't decide


It is hard to decide alone.

  • It is difficult to make decisions alone.

    Another phrase that can be found and heard in the professional sphere:


We do not take responsibility.

  • (わか)る is another verb that is combined with かねる and expresses the difficulty to understand.


I don't know what he thinks.

  • I just can't understand what he's thinking.

    Example with the verb (こた)える answer, reply:

すみませんが、その質問 (しつもん)には
答える is often used with かねる

Sorry, but I cannot answer that question.

Example with the verb ()める decide:


I can't decide whether to buy a car or not.

  • We find in this last sentence かねる in its ている form, which expresses in this case the state, the condition of difficulty in deciding something.

かねない: causes that generate negative effects

Phrase 1 containing the cause+Phrase 2 containing かねない and the negative effect

The negative of かねる is かねない and かねません in the polite form; it is translated with an affirmative form. It indicates the possibility that an action or condition will occur. This form is often used for unpleasant situations; a given cause generally produces a negative effect.


If you eat fast food all the time, you may get sick.

Another example where health is mentioned:


If you do not lead a healthy lifestyle, you may get sick.

Literally: there is a chance for the body to deteriorate; there is a chance for the body to get sick.


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