Essential Japanese: Nanto-naku – Without Any Particular Reason – なんとなく

When I was in high school, I was almost never late. Well, that’s not exactly true – I was late from time to time. My school had a rule about being late: we had to fill out a form writing down the time and reason. After filling out the form, we had to find someone from the teachers’ office to get his approval.

I thought that the practice was time-consuming and unnecessary, especially having to write the reason which I thought was utterly useless. ‘What difference does it make?’ I thought. Most students simply overslept. Wasn’t it obvious? Sure, there were some lazy ones who got up early enough but were still late because they were watching TV or whatever procrastination they were involved in at the moment, but what were they supposed to write? ‘Watching a particularly engaging morning show’ surely wouldn’t cut it. We would just end up writing the same old excuse (I overslept) again and again and I don’t think the teachers enjoyed it. (Actually, I fantasised about writing ‘saving people’s lives’ but unfortunately the opportunity never presented itself.)

One day, I got creative. I wrote nantonaku (without any particular reason) as the reason. I thought it was an interesting choice of word; the kind of inexplicableness that the word possessed pleased me. ‘We humans don’t always have clear motives to do things’, I thought, ‘and hopefully, some teachers will understand my sense of humour, and even if they don’t it’ll be interesting to see their reaction.’

What I didn’t know was that the only teacher who was available at that moment was an American who didn’t speak fluent Japanese. When I handed the form to him, he got confused.

‘What does nantonaku mean?’ he asked.

‘Ah, well …’ I looked at him awkwardly. I didn’t know how to explain for I wasn’t particularly fluent in English back then. The nuance of the word seemed awfully complicated.

Nantonaku is such a useful word. It is a perfectly valid answer when somebody asks you ‘why?’

‘I wanna eat Thai food today?’
‘Why?’
‘Nantonaku.’

‘Why are you dating him?’
Nantonaku.’

‘I’ve been feeling nantonaku sad since this morning.’

‘I nantonaku feel something good will happen today.’

The best thing about this word is that you can give a reason without giving a reason. We don’t always know the reason why we are doing something or feeling in a particular way, but when we talk about it, we may feel giving a reason is expected. Now you know how to deal with this: just say nantonaku.

That’s how I’m going to answer this question: why did I write this article? Well, nantonaku

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8 thoughts on “Essential Japanese: Nanto-naku – Without Any Particular Reason – なんとなく

  1. Kurt

    Nantonaku.

    There is a novel called 'Nantonaku kurisutaru', written by Tanaka Yasuo. This title is translated to English in several ways: 'Somehow, crystal', 'Sort of, crystal', 'Whatever crystal'.
    Is this meaning different from 'Without any particular reason'?

    This novel was recommended to me for reading because it contains a high proportion of katakana which supposedly should make it easyer to read. Actually it made the reading much more difficult and the addition of 442 foot notes by the author also did not help much.

    Kurt (native German speaker)

    Reply
    1. yuta Post author

      'Nantonaku kurisutaru' is a very nantonakuly named title! So yeah, the author chose the word just because he felt like it. It's not possible to determine the precious meaning of the word.
      I don't think that novel is particularly easy for Japanese beginners. I don't know why they recommended it to you.

      Reply
  2. Sean

    I'm so happy I found this post!

    For one reason, because my girlfriend just recently replied with 「なんとなく」to me when I asked her a question the other day, and my dictionaries weren't terribly good at helping me understand the real meaning/intention. Although I did a decent job of guessing.

    And… I think this may become one of my new favourite words. We already have a running joke about how often I say 「なんでもない!」when she asks me certain questions. But when she asks me why I'm doing something, or why I'm asking her something, it doesn't feel like a good answer. I would normally say "just because", or "no reason", or "just curious" if I were speaking english. 「なんとなく」seems like a good fit for that kind of vague, not-really-a-reason type of reason. (^o^)

    ーなにしてるの?
    ー(君を) 見てるよ~!
    ーな~んで?
    ーなんとなく!ふふふ・・・

    I love it!

    Reply
  3. Paul

    Oh lol, I know that, but in my case we just had to say it orally. Overslept was most popular reason. Second was "Family circumstances". But I think all of it were just submissions of real reason. Well, how can "badass" schoolar can say that he smoked behind the school or kinda like that. My true reason was that I want to undress my upper clothes and change shoos calmfully, without those dudes in their puberty mood "If I offend that guy with mah friends I may become more cool". Every single time I really want to say "Madame please don`t tell me that you cares, if you want to punish me just give me extra homework or kinda like that" But you and teacher both have to follow the instruction of principle who obviously think that its always just as planned, we have not any problems, please increase our budget on next year. lol, too many letters. Sorry for it, guys

    Reply
  4. Lynn

    In Germany we have similar expressions which you either can't translate at all like "darum" which is the answer to "warum" (why) or which would sound weird if you translate it literally word by word "einfach so" (simple so).

    Reply

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