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Grammar detail: 〜ないで vs 〜なくて vs 〜ずに

〜ないで vs 〜なくて vs 〜ずに - the difference between the ないで, なくて, ずに negative joining forms
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While the て form of a word is standard, in the negative, there are three main variations that have some subtle differences:
〜ないで
,
〜なくて
, and
〜ずに
.
Below we provide a more detailed summary of which construction is used when. One simple rule that can help you remember which form to use is: ないで is the negative て form, なくて is the て form of the negative, and ずに can be used instead of ないで when the meaning is 'without doing'.
**Use with adjectives**
For い or な adjectives, or a noun + ではない, the only form that can be used is なくて. In this context, the meaning is typically '... is not, and ...'.
**Negative verbs**
In general, use ないで, the negative て form of the verb. For example:
かお
あら
わないで
がっこう
学校
きました

I went to school without washing my face.
It's only OK to use なくて when its verb expresses a reason for something. For example:
でんしゃ
電車
なくて
ちこく
遅刻
しました

The train didn't come so I was late.
If the verb is a reason, either form can be used - なくて would emphasize the reason, where ないで would simply describe it.
**Standardized forms**
The なくて and ないで forms are used as part of standardized expressions, and the correct form should be used for the expression.
なくてはいけません ➜ must do
ないではいられません ➜ can't help doing
The expression 'OK not to do' can use either form:
(いか)なくてもいい = (いか)ないでもいい ➜ OK not to (go)
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See also:
  • 〜ないで - without doing
  • 〜ないで - don't do
  • 〜ないでください - please do not
  • verb negative stem + ずに - without doing
  • verb なくて form + はいけません - have to do

Kanji used in this grammar

ガン   かお face   
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3
セン   あら to wash   
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3
ガク   まな to learn   
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1
コウ    exam   
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1
コウ   ギョウ   アン   ゆ    い to go   おこな to take place   
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1
デン    electricity   
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1
シャ   くるま car   
1
ライ   く to come   きた to be forthcoming   きた to induce   
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1
チ   おそ late   おくれる to be late   おくらす to make late   
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3
コク   chisel; time   きざ to chisel, engrave   
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3
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