What Does “Dame” Mean in Japanese

Dame (written as だめ in hiragana, ダメ in katakana, or 駄目 in kanji) is one of those Japanese words you will see all the time in conversation and text. The basic definition of dame is “Not Good,” but it has many other meanings: no, bad, stop, not allowed, useless, hopeless, wasted, or ruined, based on the context. In this article, we’ll go over the various ways だめ (dame) is used in Japanese.

Using Dame as a Negation: Refusing/Saying No

In Japanese, だめ (dame) is commonly used as a negation. This means the word is perfect for any situation where you want to express your refusal, dislike, or denial of something. 

You may already know how to say “No” in Japanese by using the formal いいえ (iie) or the more casual ううん (uun). However, you can use だめ (dame) in these situations to further emphasize your refusal.

Example:

ううん、行きたくないよ。
(Uun, ikitakunai yo.)
No, I don’t want to go.

だめ、行きたくないよ。
(Dame, ikitakunai yo.)
No, I don’t want to go.

It’s essential to keep in mind that dame is a much more emotive word than the standard いいえ (iie) and ううん (uun) words are. Using だめ (dame) in casual settings with people you’re close to or with people who have the same social standing is usually okay (although very direct).

However, using it with people who have a higher social status than you can seem over-dramatic and rude, so use it with caution. This means you’ll generally want to avoid using だめ (dame) to say “No” when speaking with someone like your boss or teacher.

Using Dame to Say Something is “No Good”

We can also use だめ (dame) to express that something can’t or won’t happen.

Examples:

1. 明日はだめだ、別の予定があるから。
(Ashita wa dame da, betsu no yotei ga aru kara.)
I can’t do it tomorrow; I have other plans.

2. 何度もやってみたけど鍵がはまらなくて。。。やっぱりダメか。 
(Nando mo yattemita kedo kagi ga hamaranakute…yappari dame ka.)
I tried over and over again, but the key won’t fit in the keyhole…I guess it doesn’t work after all.

Using Dame To Express Our Dislikes Or Things We Are Not Good At

Moreover, dame can be used to convey we dislike or don’t do well with something.

Examples:

1. 辛い物はだめだ。
(Karai mono wa dame da.)
I’m no good with spicy food. 

2. 私の彼氏は料理が全然だめです。
(Watashi no kareshi wa ryōri ga zenzen dame desu.)
My boyfriend is not any good at cooking.

Using Dame as a Description

Dame can also describe ourselves, other people, or things to express failure, uselessness, or hopelessness.

Examples:

1. このパソコンはだめね、電源を入れることさえできない。
(Kono pasokon wa dame ne, dengen o ireru koto sae dekinai.)
This computer is useless; it can’t even turn on.

2. 私はだめだな、先週の試験も落ちてしまった。
(Watashi wa dame da na, senshū no shiken mo ochite shimatta.)
I’m a total failure; I flunked last week’s exam too.

3. 彼は毎日毎日酒ばかり飲んでいて、本当に駄目なやつだよ。
(Kare wa mainichi mainichi sake bakari nondeite, hontō ni dame na yatsu da yo.)
He’s really hopeless, as he does nothing but drink day after day.

Using だめ (Dame) with なる (Naru): Becoming Useless/Bad/No Good

We can also describe the action of something becoming useless or ruined by pairing dame with the Japanese term for “To Become”: になる (ni naru).

だめ (dame)
Useless

+
に (ni)
“Ni” Particle

+
なる (naru)
Become

=
だめになる(dame ni naru)
To become useless

Examples:

1. 歯ブラシを使いすぎてだめになった。
 (Ha burashi o tsukai sugite dame ni natta.)
 I used my toothbrush so much it’s now become worn out and useless.

2. 雨のせいで、週末の計画がダメになっちゃうよ!
(Ame no sei de, shūmatsu no keikaku ga dame ni nacchau yo!)
The rainy weather will ruin my plans for the weekend!

Using Dame as an Imperative: Must Do Something

Much like the Japanese term for “have to/must do”: なければならない (nakereba naranai), だめ (dame) can be used as an imperative to give commands to others or to express something that must be done.

In situations where we would typically use なければならない (nakereba naranai), we can replace ならない (naranai) with だめ (dame) to make it shorter and easier to say and write! Although using だめ (dame) instead of ならない (naranai) makes it more casual.  

Example:

図書館では静かにしなければなりません。
(Toshokan dewa shizuka ni shinakereba narimasen.)
You must be quiet in the library.

図書館では静かにしなければだめです。
(Toshokan dewa shizuka ni shinakereba dame desu.)
You must be quiet in the library.

Using だめ (Dame) + しては (Shite Wa): Must Not Do/Don’t Do Something

Similar to the Japanese term for “cannot/must not do”: ~してはいけない (~shite wa ikenai), we can use だめ (dame) as a negative imperative to prohibit something or to express something must not be done. 

In situations where we would normally use ~してはいけない (~shite wa ikenai), we can replace いけない (ikenai) with だめ (dame) to make it sound briefer (and more casual).  

Example:

教室で飲食をしてはいけません。
(Kyōshitsu de inshoku o shite wa ikemasen.)
You cannot eat or drink in the classroom.

教室で飲食をしてはだめです。
(Kyōshitsu de inshoku o shite wa dame desu.)
You cannot eat or drink in the classroom.

How to Write Dame in Japanese

As you may have noticed from some of the sentence examples earlier in the article, dame can be written in kanji (駄目), hiragana (だめ), and even katakana (ダメ)! Let’s go over the connotations of each writing style and when we want to use them. 

ダメ – Dame in Katakana

Writing ダメ (dame) in katakana emphasizes emotion and importance. You will often see it used in interjections, exclamations, and emotional statements.

Let’s take a look at some examples where ダメ (dame) is written in katakana.

Examples:

1. ダメ!絶対にダメ!
(Dame! Zettai ni dame!)
No way! Absolutely not!

2. このまま髪をブローしてもらえる?パーマはダメなの。
(Kono mama kami o burо̄ shite moraeru? Pāma wa dame na no.)
Can you just blow-dry my hair for me? I don’t want a perm.

駄目 – Dame in Kanji

Writing 駄目 (dame) in kanji implies subtly and elegance. If you want to give your Japanese sentences a more literary and sophisticated feel, you can’t go wrong with writing all your words in kanji – and 駄目 dame is certainly no exception!

Chances are you won’t see this writing style very often outside of literature and formal contexts, so it’s best to refrain from using it too much. Here are some examples where dame is written in kanji.

Examples:

1. こんな失敗をするなんて僕は駄目な人間だ。
(Konna shippai o suru nante boku wa dame na ningen da.)
Making such a mistake, I’m a good-for-nothing human being.

2.  駄目で元々*だからやるだけやってみたら?
(Dame de motomoto dakara yaru dake yatte mitara?)
Why don’t you give it a try even if there is no chance you succeed?

*Note: 駄目で元々(dame de motomoto) is an useful phrase that has uses the 駄目 kanji in it.  A lot of people, especially younger generations, say ダメ元(dame moto) as an abbreviation of 駄目で元々 (dame de motomoto).

3. そういう生意気なやつにはいくら忠告しても駄目なんだ。
(Souiu namaiki na yatsu ni wa ikura chūkoku shitemo dame nanda.)
It’s pointless trying to give advice to conceited types like that.

だめ – Dame in Hiragana

だめ (dame) in hiragana is by far the most common way of writing the word. It will do the trick in pretty much every possible context you can think of, and then some!

Examples:

1. エアコンをつけたいんだけど、だめかな?
(Ea kon o tsuketai n dakedo, dame kana?)
I want to turn on the air conditioner, is that okay?

2. アメリカの旅行とか興味ない。私、英語はだめだし。
(America no ryokō toka kyōmi nai. Watashi, eigo wa dame da shi.)
I’m not interested in stuff like traveling to America. I’m bad at English anyway.

Let’s Review!

Dame has a wide array of meanings but is best summed up as a common way to say “Not Good” in Japanese. We can use dame as a negation, description, or imperative in sentences.

だめ (dame) is most often written in hiragana. You can write it this way for any situation where the word is used. Although less common, you can also write ダメ (dame) in katakana to emphasize emotion, and you can write 駄目 (dame) in kanji to sound a bit more classy or formal!

Interested in learning more Japanese words? Take a look at our other language guides here!

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