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Adept Adverbs ①: なかなか "Quite; Considerably"

adept #5
~ 5 Minutes


Hello, and welcome, to part one of the Adept Region's Adverbial Adventure! Now, I could explain to you exactly what that is, but I don't want to ruin the magic. Because really, this is more than a lesson. This is a journey through several distinct, tantalizing grammatical territories. Each with its own rules, nuances, and flavors.

Oh screw it. We'll be covering four different adverbs over two lessons. Here's the first one. Enjoy!

なかなか: It's "middle", twice!


  • b

    "That's quite a good idea, isn't it?”

なかなか (sometimes, but rarely, written in kanji as 中々なかなか) is an adverb that is often translated to "quite", "pretty", or "considerably". But just that info alone is not enough to master なかなか's nuances. For instance, did you know that なかなか can actually be rude?

Let's take a look at an example first.

Scenario: Mike and Steve are chatting.







So why would Mike say 「なかなかいい」 instead of just いい? What does なかなか add to this sentence?

Well, なかなか expresses that the speaker is "pleasantly surprised" with something. He wasn't expecting Steve to offer up such a good idea, and so なかなか expresses this beautifully. It's as if Mike said, "Hey, that's actually a pretty good idea!"

This nuance means that なかなか can actually sound a bit rude if you're not careful. For instance...

Scenario: The gang is heading out for a night on the town, and Shiori dressed up a bit.





Now it somewhat depends on the person as to whether or not they take this as a slight, but since なかなか often has the aforementioned nuance of pleasant surprise, it is possible.

In some situations, this nuance is fairly non-existent, such as when we're telling someone else about something that we know to be "quite X". For example:



In this context, the speaker is simply telling their friend that a certain shop's ramen is "quite good". It's info that they already knew, and so it doesn't have the nuance of surprise.

Another thing to look out for is that なかなか uses の to attach to nouns. Like so:



I'll finish this section off with a common 「なかなかの(noun)」 pattern that uses the conditional たら, as well as the causative form:



「なかなかのもの」 ("quite something") is an ambiguous phrase on its own, and so it fits into many different scenarios.



And of course, there's this phrase that you may or may not recognize from anime/manga:



More literally, this phrase translates to "You can do quite well, can't you?", but that doesn't tend to be the best translation.

Okay, now we'll switch things up a bit and pair なかなか with negative verbs. I wonder what will happen!

Negative なかなか!


  • b

    "The pizza we ordered still hasn't come hey.”

When we combine なかなか with a negative verb instead of a noun or adjective, we get a completely different (but still fun and awesome) result. The なかなか~ない pattern is used when an action isn't happening, despite us trying or waiting, or despite our expectations.

Here's an example!



In this example, the speaker uses なかなか to emphasize that despite their efforts, they just can't seem to get good at guitar.

It's also common for なかなか~ない to express that something isn't happening despite a lot of time passing.


did you know?
とおす or とおる are used to describe cooking things! Usually, this is for meat or things that should be "cooked through".

As you can see, a lot of what なかなか adds to this sentence doesn't really show up in the Japanese. There is no mention of "a long time" or even "time" at all for that matter. If we translate the sentence literally we only have "This chicken, considerably not cook, it seems," which means that the whole nuance of the chicken "taking a long time" to cook is added by なかなか. What a powerful adverb!

It's this nuance that makes なかなか a common choice for when something is taking longer than expected. Here's another example of this:



なかなか~ない takes this sentence from "The pizza we ordered isn't coming" to "The pizza we ordered is taking a while", which is a win in my book.

なかなか~ない can also indicate that something goes against the speaker's expectations (and still generally includes the nuance of taking longer than expected). Like so:



In this case, なかなか~ない adds the nuance that the speaker is finding the task of remembering kanji to be more difficult than they expected.

Sometimes なかなか becomes separated from its negative verb counterpart.



But rest assured, なかなか is still modifying 「つからない,」 not 「ほん」. In this sentence, it feels like the speaker had expected or hoped that they would have time to read, but turns out, they aren't able to. なかなか highlights this gap in expectation.

Overall, the なかなか~ない pattern can be difficult to translate into English, but once you understand the "more X than one expected" nuance, you'll be able to intuit what it means without relying on English so much.

I'll leave you with one final example, and this time I won't give you a translation. Try and think about what なかなか adds to this sentence on your own!



Alright, that's a wrap for part one of the Adept Adverbial Adventure! I hope you なかなか liked なかなか, haha. Did you find this grammar point to be なかなか面白おもしろい? 😁

Next up in part two, we've got three same-same but different adverbs, so get ready for some good ol' compare-and-contrast!


  • b

    なかなか is an adverb that means "quite" or "considerably".

  • b

    When なかなか attaches to an adjective or noun, it describes it as "quite X". This often includes a sense that the speaker is pleasantly surprised.

  • b

    なかなか attaches to nouns using の.

  • b

    なかなか can be paired with a negative verb to indicate that an action is taking longer than expected or isn't happening the way the speaker had predicted.


「なかなか(adjective)」 can add a nuance of...

When we pair なかなか with a verb...

なかなか~ない indicates that...

Homework (Grammar SRS)

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