What Does しょうがない (Shōganai) Mean?  A Guide to Shōganai and Shikata Ga Nai

Have you ever been in a situation you couldn’t control, and the only thing you could do was accept it? Or how about a situation where you wanted something very badly? I bet you probably experienced both of these situations in your lifetime.

In these situations, the phrase しょうがない (shōganai) might really come in handy. 

What Is しょうがない (Shōganai)?

First of all, you should note that there is no direct translation of the phrase しょうがない (shōganai) in English. You may think it is one word, but it is actually made up of three parts: 

  • しょう (Shō):  Originally comes from the word 仕様 (shiyō), which stands for “method,” “way,” “a means (to do something).” 
  • が (ga):  “ga” particle that is used for indicating the subject in a sentence (in this case, しょう (shō) is the subject).
  • ない (nai): Means “not” or “to not be”

If we put it all together, it means “no method” or “no way/means (to do something).” On its own, しょうがない (shō ga nai) is very commonly used when you are faced with a situation that you have no control over. It has a nuance of “well, there’s nothing that can be done about it” or “don’t cry over spilled milk.”  

It is mainly used when you have to do something you do not want to or when a situation is out of your control. It is similar to saying “there is nothing that can be done” or “it is what it is” in English. Let’s take a look at an example situation.

Examples:

It is hot outside, but you and your friend must go shopping. In this case, you can say:

1. まあ、しょうがないね。行きましょう。
(Maa, shō ga nai ne. Ikimashō.)
Well, there is nothing that can be done (about going out in the heat). Let’s go.

2. パーティーに行きたいけど、今日バイトがあるからしょうがないなー。
(Pāti ni ikitai kedo, kyo baito ga aru kara shō ga nai nā.)
I want to go to the party, but I have to go to my part-time job today (so it can’t be helped).  

しょうがない (shō ga nai) is more informal, which means you can use it with your friends or people you know relatively well. For more formal occasions, you can use a more formal/polite version 仕方ありません (shikata arimasen).

しょうがない (shō ga nai) can also be used with adjectives and verbs to express that you cannot stand doing something or, in inverse, have a strong desire to do something. 

How to Use しょうがない (Shō Ga Nai)? Naturally in Japanese

Now, let’s take a closer look at each occasion in which しょうがない (shō ga nai) is used. 

1. Can’t Be Helped

In this case, you are put in a situation that cannot be changed or influenced by you. In the end, there is nothing left for you to do other than accept it. 

Example 1:

A: あら、傘忘れちゃった!
A: (Ara, kasa wasurechatta!)
A: Ah, I forgot my umbrella! 


B: まあ、急いでるから、もうしょうがないね。
B: (Mā, isoideru kara, mō shō ga nai ne.)
B: Well, we are in a hurry, so it can’t be helped. 

Example 2:  

A: 昨日、悲しい事があった。大好きなコップが割れてしまったの。
A: (Kinō, kanashii koto ga atta. Daisuki na koppu ga warete shimatta no.)
A: Something sad happened yesterday. My favorite cup got broken. 

B: それは悲しいけど、しょうがないね。
B: (Sore wa kanashii kedo, shō ga nai ne.
B: That’s sad, but it can’t be helped. (There’s nothing you can do, so don’t worry about it and try to move on).  

As you may have noticed, しょうがない (shō ga nai) is used as a phrase on its own here to express a state of being helpless in a situation. 

2. There’s No Other Way

しょうがない (shō ga nai) is also used when you are in a situation with a solution that you don’t like.  This usage has a nuance of, “well, I guess that’s the only thing that can be done” or “This is the only option available.”  

Example:

A: うわぁ、満席だ。周りには他のレストランもなさそう…
A: (Uwā, manseki da. Mawari ni wa hoka no resutoran mo nasasō.)
A: Ah, all the seats are taken. And it looks like there are no other restaurants nearby…

B: しょうがないね、外で待ちましょう。
B: Shō ga nai ne. Soto de machimashō.)
B: Well, I guess this is the only option, so let’s wait outside. 

Using しょうがない With Adjectives: Unbearable / Can’t Stand It

Shō ga nai can be used with adjectives to describe a level of excessiveness. In other words, using しょうがない with adjectives makes the meaning much stronger. The English equivalent would be “too ~” or “so ~ that I can’t stand it.” (As in “too cute” or “so cute!”)  

Pattern: I-Adjective in te-form + しょうがない 

A Quick Review: To change i-adjectives into the te-form, you take off the final “い (i)” at the end and replace it with “くて (kute).”

I-Adjective Te-Form Conjugation Examples:

I-AdjectiveRemove Final い (i)+ くて (kute)Te-Form
可愛い (kawaii):
cute
可愛 (kawai) + くて (kute)愛くて (kawaikute)
忙しい (isogashii):
busy
忙し (isogashi) + くて (kute)忙しくて (isogashikute)
暑い (atsui):
hot (weather)
暑 (atsu)+ くて (kute)暑くて (atsukute)

Example Phrases:

1. 可愛くてしょうがない 
(Kawaikute shō ga nai)
Too cute 

2. 愛しくてしょうがない
(Itoshikute shō ga nai)
Unbearably dear

3. 怖くてしょうがない
(Kowakute shō ga nai)
Too scary 

Generally, this form is used with adjectives related to something you feel.  It is not used with adjectives that describe factual features of something. For example, you cannot say: 

Wrong:

長くてしょうがない 
(Nagakute shō ga nai.)
It so long I can’t stand it.

To describe the excessiveness of adjectives related to factual features (like length, height, speed, etc.), this pattern is used: I-adjective (with final い (i) removed) +すぎる = It’s too ~.  

Examples: 

  • 長すぎる (nagasugiru): too long 
  • 重すぎる (omosugiru): too heavy
  • 早すぎる (hayasugiru): too fast/too early

Using しょうがない With The Tai-Form: Can’t Wait To ~ / Can’t Stand ~.

Shō ga nai can be used with verbs to describe a strong desire to do something.
The pattern is: Verb in tai-form – final い (i) + くて + しょうがない

Its conjugation is summarised in the table below: 

Verb in Tai-FormRemove Final い (i)+ くてしょうがないCan’t Wait To ~ / Can’t Stand ~
やりたい (yaritai):
Want to do ~.
やりた (yarita)+ くてしょうがない (kute shō ga nai)やりたくてしょうがない
(yaritakute shō ga nai)
食べたい (tabetai):
Want to eat ~.
食べた (tabetai)+ くてしょうがない (kute shō ga nai)食べたくてしょうがない
(tabetakute shō ga nai)
行きたい (ikitai):
Want to go to ~.
行きた (ikita)+ くてしょうがない (kute shō ga nai)行きたくてしょうがない
(ikitakute shō ga nai)

This also applies to verbs in the negative tai-form. You will just remove the final い (i) and add くてしょうがない (kute shō ga nai):

Verb in Negative Tai-FormRemove Final い (i)+ くてしょうがないCan’t Wait To ~ / Can’t Stand ~
やりたくない (yaritai):
Don’t want to do ~.
やりたくな (yarita)+ くてしょうがない (kute shō ga nai)やりたくなくてしょうがない
(yaritakunakute shō ga nai)
食べたくない (tabetakunai):
Don’t want to eat ~.
食べたくな (tabetakuna)+ くてしょうがない (kute shō ga nai)食べたくなくてしょうがない
(tabetakunakute shō ga nai)
行きたくない (ikitakunai):
Don’t want to go to ~.
行きたくな (ikitakuna)+ くてしょうがない (kute shō ga nai)行きたくなくてしょうがない
(ikitakunakute shō ga nai)

Examples: 

1. 友達に会いたくてしょうがない
(Tomodachi ni aitakute shō ga nai.)
I can’t wait to meet with my friend. 

2. 家に帰りたくてしょうがな
(Ie ni kaeritakute shō ga nai.)
I really want to go back home.

3. 彼と話したくてしょうがない
(Kare to hanashitakute shō ga nai.)
I can’t wait to speak to him. 

4. 宿題をやりたくなくてしょうがない
(Shukudai o yaritakunakute shō ga nai.)
I can’t stand doing homework. 

Although both negative and positive forms are grammatically correct, people generally use this pattern to express their strong desire to do something (positive) instead of saying they don’t want to do something (negative).

Using しょうがない With Verbs in the Te-Form: Can’t Help Doing ~.

Using shō ga nai with a te-form verb will express an action that you can’t stop doing. This pattern for this usage is: Verb in te-form + しょうがない = Can’t help but do ~.

Examples:

1. 今日、恥ずかしい思い出ばかり浮かんできてしょうがない
(Kyō, hazukashii omoide bakari ukandekite sho ga nai.)
I keep remembering embarrassing things today, and I can’t help it

2. 今日、暑いから、水ばかり飲んでしょうがない
(Kyō, atsui kara, mizu bakari nonde sho ga nai.)
It’s hot today, and I can’t help but drink only water. 

Using しょうがない With Te-Form Verbs + も (Mo): No Use / No Point in Doing ~.

Shō ga nai can also be used when you want to express that there is no point in doing something. In this case, it is used with verbs in the following form:  Verb in te-form +も (mo) +しょうがない (shō ga nai) = There’s no point in doing ~.  

Examples: 

1. 今更そんなことを言ってもしょうがない
(Ima sara sonna koto o itte mo shō ga nai.)
There is no point saying something like that now. 

2. 夏休みだから、学校に行ってもしょうがない
(Natsuyasumi dakara, gakkō ni itte mo shō ga nai.)
It’s the summer holidays now, so there is no point in going to school. 

3. 枯れた花に水をやってもしょうがない
(Kareta hana ni mizu o yatte mo shō ga nai.)
There is no point watering withered flowers.

Other Uses of しょうがない (Sho Ga Nai)

Shō ga nai can also be used to express the phrase “if you insist” in Japanese.

When someone invites you to go somewhere together or join a meeting/party and is quite insistent on you going, you can say:

しょうがないなぁ。
(Shō ga nai nā.)
Well, if you insist. 

In this case, it can be a friendly but polite acceptance of an invitation. However, you should avoid this phrase in formal or business occasions, as it may imply that you are being forced to do something you don’t want to do.    

Slang Versions of しょうがない (Sho Ga Nai)

While しょうがない (shō ga nai) is a casual phrase used in all areas of Japan, some dialects have their own variation.  

A common one that is found in Kansai-ben (Kansai dialect) is:

しゃーない (shānai) or しゃあない (shānai). Another version you may run into is しゃーなし (shānashi).   

These variations are good to know, just in case you hear them. However, when speaking in casual conversations, しょうがない is the most standard (and safest) phrase to use. If you are in a more formal situation, you can use 仕方がない (shikata ga nai) instead.  

しょうがない (Shō Ga Nai) Vs. 仕方がない (Shikata Ga Nai): Do They Mean the Same Thing?

Yes, both しょうがない (shō ga nai) Vs. 仕方がない (shikata ga nai) share the same meaning. There may be some subtle differences, but you’ll find that you can use either with the same meaning.  

The biggest difference is that しょうがない (shō ga nai) sounds a little more casual, so you’ll hear it used more often among friends, family, and people that are close to each other.  

仕方がない (shikata ga nai) is more formal. This makes it a better choice when using it in formal/business situations or with people you don’t know well.

しょうがない (Shō Ga Nai) Vs. 仕様がない (Shiyō Ga Nai): What’s the Difference?

As mentioned above, しょう(shō) originated from 仕様 (shiyō). しょうがない (shō ga nai) is used most often in spoken conversations since it is more casual. The more formal 仕様がない (shiyō ga nai) is more likely to be found in writing.  

Moreover, 仕様がない (shiyō ga nai) can be used in a more literal way to mean that there is “no method” or “no way” to accomplish something. In this case, it can be translated as “there is no way to…” and is often used in the following form: N + の + 仕様がない = There is no way to do ~.

Examples:

1. 彼のやったことは説明のしようがなかった
(Kare no yatta koto wa setsumei no shiyō ga nakatta.)
There was no way to explain what he had done. 

2. 彼女の言葉は言い訳の仕様がない
(Kanojo no kotoba wa iiwake no shiyō ga nai.)
There is no excuse (no way to excuse) for her words. 

Conclusion 

しょうがない (shō ga nai) can be used to express lots of nuances in Japanese and might be a bit confusing given that there is no direct translation of the phrase to English. Hopefully, this table can help you memorize key points on its usage!

SituationShō ga nai form
Can’t be helpedしょうがない as a phrase
There is no other wayしょうがない as a phrase
“Too/ excessively” for adjectivesI-Adjective without final い + くてしょうがない 
“Can’t wait to (do something)”Verb in tai-form without final い +くてしょうがない
“Can’t stand (doing something)”Verb in negative tai-form without final い + くてしょうがない
“Can’t help but (do something)”Verb in te-form + しょうがない
“No use/ no point (in doing something)”Verb in te-form +も + しょうがない

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