しょうがない (shou ga nai) Meaning Japanese Grammar - It Can't Be Helped

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'しょうがない (shou ga nai) Meaning Japanese Grammar - It Can't Be Helped'

Anna Baffa Volpe

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しょうがない (shou ga nai) Meaning Japanese Grammar - It Can't Be Helped

The expression しょうがない (shou ga nai) can be translated as it can't be helped, there is no way or there is no method.

しょうがない is the colloquial and informal expression of ()(かた)がない.

It is worthy to know it, because it is an expression of common use in the Japanese language.

How to form しょうがない

て form of the Verb+しょうがない
い Adjective without い + くて+しょうがない
な Adjective without な ++しょうがない


I used my computer too often so my eyes have been so tired lately.

As you can see, the expression しかたがない is not translated, but the concept is that because of the assiduous use of the PC, my eyesight has become fatigued and I can't do anything about it.

When we use しょうがない

しょうがない or is used for unpleasant things that sadden or annoy us; things that usually depend on external causes and for which we can do nothing.

Here are some situations we can use しょうがない:

  • when we are in a hurry and we are in line at the supermarket, we cannot do anything but wait;
  • when we have planned a beautiful trip to the beach, but a sudden thunderstorm has come, so we have to abandon our plan.

We can't use しょうがない for very serious things of our own or other people, only for fairly light things in our daily lives.


I reluctantly help my sister with the paper she asked me to.

As we see in this sentence, the subject does not feel like doing the action, but the situation is such that he cannot refuse to do it, he has to do it somehow.

The expression has been used in its adverbial function: しょうがなく + Verb.

An appropriate adjective that translates the expression しょうがない could be inevitable.

ドラエモンと野比のび太, Doraemon and Nobita Nobi



Do something about it!



It can't be helped...

Other ways to translate the expression:

  • There's nothing I can do
  • I have no choice
  • That's life

しょうがない and the Japanese approach to Life

しょうがない is recently considered one of the Japanese motivational phrases together with ()()(がい) Ikigai the reason of being or ()(まん) Gaman persevere and be patient.

It expresses very well the spirit of the Japanese people, the positive attitude even towards situations that are normally considered negative.

The expression itself is negative, but its nuance is positive: it teaches us not to make importance of things that do not depend on us, to observe them and let them go.

「仕方がない」日本人をめぐって : 近代日本の文学と思想: The Japanese 'No Way': Japanese Literature and Thought in Modern Japan by Shutō Motosumi

Difference between しょうがない and ()(かた)がない

しょうがない is considered more colloquial and informal, while ()(かた)がない is used in a more formal context.

We can hear a more formal expression using the verb ある in its polite negative form ありません, that is ()(かた)がありません.


It's a necessary item, so I don't mind if the price is a bit high.

In an informal and colloquial context the particle が of ()(かた)がない is omitted.

A verse from a Japanese song of the Nineties:

But I want to see you. I can't help but want to see you.
Title of the song: '逢()いたくてしかたない', 'I miss you' by Hiromi Go.


But I want to see you. I can't help but want to see you.

しょうがない to express bodily sensations

しょうがない is often use when we can't control or suppress certain emotions or bodily sensations.


My head hurts so much today.


It's too cold today.

As we see in the previous sentences, we do not need to literally translate the expression, we can emphasize the feeling or sensation expressed by using adverbs such as very, extremely, too, so.


After eating breakfast, I feel incredibly sleepy.

しょうがない referred to other people

When we want to express how a third party feels, we have to use ようだ, そうだ, らしい it seems that.


My friend seems to be really struggling with studying.

しょうがない speaking of feelings and sensations

しょうがない is often used when we talk about (かん)(じょう) feelings, emotions and (かん)(かく) sensations and we can find the adjectives:

  • (かな)しい sad, unhappy
  • (つら)difficult, painful
  • ()(あん)worried, anxious
  • (ざん)(ねん)regrettable, unfortunate
  • (いや)unpleasant

or verbs and expressions about sensations such as:

  • (つか)れる get tired
  • (いた)painful
  • (ねむ)sleepy
  • (はら)()become hungry


I'm so anxious about what will happen in the future.

しょうがない can also be used with adjective or expressions of positive meaning, emphasizing the emotion.


I'm very happy to receive this gift!


My grandchild is so adorable I can't help it.

Examples of しょうがない

Use of しょうがない in a positive way, the subject expresses a strong desire:


I really want to drink something cold.

Use in situation considered negative: I can't help but


I can't help but get angry because my children are so selfish.

Another example talking about a negative situation: If it can't be helped


If it's that hard and you can't help it, I think you can quit your job.