What Is なければならない (Nakereba Naranai) In Japanese?

なければならない (nakereba naranai)is used to express an obligation to do something. It means “must, “have to,” or “should” in English. For example, “I have to do my homework” or “I must study for the test tonight.” It also means “has to” when talking about someone else. For example, “She has to finish up her work.”

なければならない (nakereba naranai) can also be used as a stern way to give a command to someone. “You have to clean your room!” Or “You must finish this by the end of the day.” Of course, using ~なければならない as a command to someone of higher social status (your boss, teacher, etc.) would be considered very rude and even offensive.  

Ways to Say Have To / Must in Japanese

なければならない (nakereba naranai) is not the only way to say way to say “must” or “have to” in Japanese. There are a few ways you to say it, and while they all mean the same thing, their nuance and level of formality is different.

Informal/Casual Ways to Say “Must” and “Have To” in Japanese

  • なければならない (nakereba naranai
  • なければいけない (nakereba ikenai)
  • なければだめ (nakereba dame)
  • なくてはならない (nakute wa naranai)
  • なくてはいけない (nakute wa ikenai)
  • なくてはだめ (nakute wa dame)

Formal/Polite Informal/Casual Ways to Say “Must” and “Have To” in Japanese

  • なければなりません (nakereba narimasen
  • なければいけません (nakereba ikemasen)
  • なくてはなりません (nakute wa narimasen)
  • なくてはいけません (nakute wa ikemasen)

How to Use なければならない (Nakereba Naranai)

なければならない (nakereba naranai) is attached to the negative form of verbs (aka. the ない-form) that has the ない (nai) removed.

Verb ない (nai) + なければならない (nakereba naranai) = must/have to

Let’s take a look at some examples.  

Using なければならない (Nakereba Naranai) with Verbs

VerbVerb in Negative Form (ない-Form)With ない (Nai) Removed+ なければならない (Nakereba Naranai)Must/Have To ~
歩く (aruku):
to walk
歩かない (arukanai)歩か (aruka)+ なければならない歩かなければならない (arukanakereba naranai):
Must walk / have to walk
飲む (nomu):
to drink
飲ま (noma)+ なければならない飲まなければならない
(nomanakereba naranai):
Must drink / have to drink
食べる (taberu):
to eat
食べ (tabe)+ なければならない食べなければならない
(tabenakereba naranai):
Must eat / have to eat

Natural Uses of 〜なければならない (Nakereba Naranai) In Japanese

As mentioned above, なければならない is used with verbs to say that you “must do something.” When used as a command, it is usually said by a person of higher social status to someone with lower social status (like a parent to their children, a boss to their workers, etc.). Let’s take a look at some examples. 


1. あなたは薬を飲まなければならない
(Anata wa kusuri o nomanakereba naranai.)
You have to take your medicine.

2. 私は会議の前にこの書類を読まなければならない
(Watashi wa kaigi no mae ni kono shorui o yomanakereba naranai.)
I have to read this document before the meeting.

3. 私はテストの前に勉強しなければならない
(Watashi wa tesuto no mae ni benkyō shinakereba naranai.)
I have to study before the test.

4. 彼は明日までに書類を書かなければならない
(Kare wa ashita made ni shorui o kakanakereba naranai.)
He has to finish writing this document by tomorrow.

5. 私は買い物に行かなければならない
(Watashi wa kaimono ni ikanakereba naranai.)
I have to go shopping.

6. 彼女は宿題をしなければならない
(Kanojo wa shukudai o shinakereba naranai.)
She has to do her homework.

7. あなたはもっと食べなければならない
(Anata wa motto tabenakereba naranai.)
You need to/should eat more.

8. 私たちは彼と話さなければならない
(Watashitachi wa kare to hanasanakereba naranai.)
We need to talk to him.

なければなりません (Nakereba Narimasen): A More Polite Version

There are a couple of ways to make なければならない (nakereba naranai) sound more polite and formal.  

The first is to change the ならない (naranai) to the negative masu form : なければなりません (nakereba narimasen). This makes the phrase sound more formal and polite.  

You can also replace ならない with いけません (ikemasen). When used with なければ, いけません and なりません mean the same thing, but there is some difference in their usage. We’ll talk about this in more detail later in this article.  

Even though these are more formal and polite expressions, you still would not use them to demand someone to do something if they have a higher social status than you. Even saying this to your friends would come off as demanding or rude. Imagine telling your friend, “You have to play video games with me!”  

Using なければなりません is mostly for describing situations in the first person. Things like, “I have to study” or “We have to get back home early” (examples 1-2 below). Or it can describe rules or things people need to do (example 3 below). 


 1. 私は働かなければなりません
(Watashi wa hatarakanakereba narimasen.)
I have to work.

2. 私は急がななければなりません
(Watashi wa isoganakereba narimasen.)
I have to hurry up.

3. 私たちは税金を納めなければなりません
(Watashitachi wa zeikin o osamenakereba narimasen.)
We must pay taxes.

What’s the Difference Between なければならない (Nakereba Naranai) and なければいけない (Nakereba Ikenai)

  •  〜なければならない (nakereba naranai) is often used for things that are social rules or general common sense.
  • 〜なければいけない (nakereba ikenai) is often used for personal matters (personal beliefs, activities, etc.)

Examples: なければならない(Nakereba Naranai)

1. 海外旅行に行くときは、パスポートを持って行かなければならない
(Kaigai ryokō ni iku toki wa pasupōto o motte ikanakereba naranai.)
When we travel abroad, we must have our passports with us.

2. 日本にいる間は日本の法律を守らなければならない。 
(Nihon ni iru aida wa nihon no hōritsu o mamoranakereba naranai.)
While you are in Japan, you must obey Japanese laws.

3. 大学に入るためは、試験に受からなければならない
(Daigaku ni hairu tame ni wa shiken ni ukaranakereba naranai.)
To enter the university, you must pass the entrance exam.

Examples: なければいけない (Nakereba Ikenai)

1. 明日は早起きしなければいけない
(Ashita wa hayaoki shinakereba ikenai.)
Tomorrow, I have to wake up early.

2. 洋服が汚れてしまったので、着替えなければいけない
(Yōfuku ga yogorete shimatta node kigaenakereba ikenai.)
I have a stain on my clothes, so I have to change.

3. 私は犬を散歩させなければいけない
(Watashi wa inu o sanpo sasenakereba ikenai.)
I have to take my dog for a walk.

How to Say “You Must Not Do” In Japanese

If you want to tell someone NOT to do something, or when something is prohibited, you can do so with the following expressions:


  • Verb in Te-Form + はならない (wa naranai)
  • Verb in Te-Form + はいけない (wa ikenai)
  • Verb in Te-Form + はだめ (wa dame)*


  • Verb in Te-Form + はなりません (wa narimasen)
  • Verb in Te-Form + はいけません (wa ikemasen)

*Note:  〜してはだめ (shite wa dame) is often used in casual conversations. It sounds brief and casual.

Verb Conjugation Examples:

VerbVerb in Te-Form+はならない/いけない (Wa Naranai / Ikenai) You Must Not ~
入る (hairu):
to enter
入って (haite)+はならない/いけない  入ってはならない / いけない
(haitte wa naranai / ikenai):
You can’t / must not enter
食べる (taberu):
to eat
食べて (tabete)+はならない/いけない 食べてはならない / いけない
(tabete wa naranai / ikenai):
You can’t / must not eat
行く (iku):
to go
行って (itte)+はならない/いけない 行ってはならない / いけない
(itte wa naranai / ikenai):
You can’t / must not go


1. 夜中にお菓子を食べてはならない / いけない / だめ
(Yonaka ni okashi o tabete wa naranai / ikenai / dame.)
You can’t / must not eat snacks late a night.

2. 夜中に出歩いてはならない / いけない / だめ
(Yonaka ni dearuite wa naranai / ikenai / dame.)
You can’t / must not go for a walk in the middle of the night.

3. 人の物を盗んではならない / いけない / だめ
(Hito no mono o nusunde wa naranai / ikenai / dame.)
You must not steal from others.

Casual Conversations: なきゃいけない (Nakya Ikenai) / ちゃいけない (Nakucha Ikenai) 

In casual conversations, native speakers often say なきゃいけない (nakya ikenai) or なくちゃいけない (nakucha ikenai) instead of longer なければならない (nakereba naranai) / なければいけない (nakereba ikenai). When using these short forms, it is also common to omit the いけない (ikenai) or ならない (naranai) completely. 

For example:

  • 行かなきゃいけない (ikanakya ikenai) –> 行かなきゃ (ikanakya): I have to go
  • 帰らなくちゃいけない (kaeranakucha ikenai) –> 帰らなくちゃ (kaeranakucha): I have to get going (go back home)

Let’s look at how these casual versions are used in conversation.


1. 早く家に帰らなきゃ(いけない)。/ 早く家に帰らなくちゃ (いけない)
(Hayaku ie ni kaeranakya (ikenai). /Hayaku ie ni kaeranakucha (ikenai).
I have to go back home early.

2. 宿題をやらなきゃ (いけない)。/宿題をやらなくちゃ(いけない)
(Shukudai o yaranakya (ikenai). /Shukudai o yaranakucha (ikenai).
I have to do my homework.

3. お昼ご飯を食べた後、出かけなきゃ (いけない)。/お昼ご飯を食べた後、出かけなくちゃ (いけない)
(Ohiru gohan o tabeta ato dekakenakya (ikenai). / Ohiru gohan o tabeta ato dekakenakucha (ikenai).
I have to leave after I eat lunch.  

Ask Questions: なければならない(ん)ですか?(Nakereba Naranai (n) Desu Ka?)

Here are 2 polite ways to ask “do you have to ~?” or “must you~?” questions.  

  • なければならない(ん)ですか? (nakereba naranai (n) desu ka)
  • なければなりませんか? (nakereba narimasen ka)

The ん (n) acts to “soften” the sentence’s tone, making it sound more polite. It also lets the listener know that you are requesting information from them.  

For very casual conversations (with your friends, family, etc.), you can use these short phrases to ask questions: なきゃだめ? (nakya dame)

The “dame” part must be said with a rising intonation to make it sound like a question. Or you could make it sound a little more polite by adding ですか to the end: ~なきゃだめですか? (nakya dame desu ka?)


1. あなたは5時までに帰らなければならないんですか?/帰らなければなりませんか
(Anata wa goji made ni kaeranakereba naranain desu ka / kaeranakereba narimasen ka?)
Do you have to go home by 5 o’clock?

2. 私は追試を受けなければならないんですか / 受けなければなりませんか
(Watashi wa tsuishi o ukenakereba naranain desu ka? / ukenakereba narimasen ka?)
Do I have to take a makeup exam?

3. 残業しなきゃだめですか?
(Zangyō shinakya dame desu ka?)
Do I have to work overtime? (Even though I do not want to)

4. 太郎: お父さん、今日は学校に行かなきゃだめ
Tarō: (Otōsan, kyō wa gakkō ni ikanakya dame?)
Dad (even though I do not want to,) do I have to go to school today?

    お父さん: 行かなきゃだめだよ!
Otōsan: (Ikanakya dame da yo!)
Yes, you must go to school!

 5. この仕事は私がやらなきゃだめですか
(Kono shigoto wa watashi ga yaranakya dame desu ka?)
Do I have to do this job?** 

**Note:  The nuance of this sentence is “Someone else can do this job. Why me?”

6. この仕事は今日やらなきゃだめですか
(Kono shigoto wa kyō yaranakya dame desu ka?)
Do I have to finish this work today (even if I do not have time/even though I want to go home)? 

How to Answer the Question “〜なければなりませんか?” (Nakereba Narimasen Ka?) 

Now that you know how to ask questions using this pattern, it is also essential to know how to answer them in natural Japanese.  

You can either answer with a はい (hai) if you agree to the question, or a formal いいえ (iie) or a more casual いや (iya). Answers using はい are usually followed by repeating the verb + なければ (nakereba) / なくては (nakute wa) + ならない (naranai) / いけない (ikenai) or by repeating the subject/object of the sentence along with the verb. (Example 1 & 2)

However, what is probably more common is to agree with the question by saying そうですね (sō desu ne). (Example 3)

If the answer to the question is no, you can simply state why it is not correct. For example, “Do I have to bring a pen?” “No, but you’ll need an ID.” (Example 4 below)

You could also use this pattern: Verb in negative (ない -form) +てもいい (temo ii). This means “it is okay NOT to do something.” Or, in simpler terms, “You don’t have to do ~.” (Example 5 below)

Let’s go straight into some examples.


 1. この薬は飲まなくてはいけませんか
(Kono kusuri wa nomanakute wa ikemasen ka?)
Do I have to take this medicine? 

    Wrong Answer:

(Hai. Nakereba narimasen.)

    Correct Answer:

(Hai. Nomanakereba narimasen.) 
Yes, you have to take it.

2. この書類はペンで書かなければなりませんか
(Kono shorui wa pen de kakanakereba narimasen ka?)
Do I have to fill out this form with a pen?

     Wrong Answer:

(Hai. Nakereba narimasen.)

     Correct Answer:

(Hai. Pen de (kaka) nakereba narimasen.
Yes, you have to fill it out with a pen.

3. 現金で払わなければなりませんか
(Genkin de harawanakerba narimasen ka?)
Do I have to pay with cash?


(Sō desu ne.)
Yes, that’s right.

4. バスで行かなければいけませんか
(Basu de ikanakereba ikemasen ka?)
Do I have to go by bus?  


(Iya, takushī demo ii desu yo.)
No, you can also go by taxi.  

5. 明日の会議は出席しなければなりませんか
(Ashita no kaigi wa shusseki shinakereba narimasen ka?)
Do I have to attend tomorrow’s meeting?


(Iya, shusseki shinakutemo ii yo.)
No, you don’t have to attend.  

What Is ねばならない (Neba Naranai)、ならん(Naran), and いかん(Ikan)?

ねばならない (neba naranai) is sometimes used in writing to express something that must be done. Think of it as the literary version of なければならない。

ねばならない (neba naranai) = なければならない (nakereba naranai) / しなくてはいけない (shinakutewa ikenai).

ならん (naran) and いかん (ikan) are old ways of saying you must not do something (prohibit something or express something that must not be done). It can be translated as “you can’t do” or “prohibited from doing ~.”

ならん (naran) / いかん (ikan) =〜してはいけない (shitewa ikenai)


1. 父は娘を助けに行かねばならない
(Chichi wa musume o tasuke ni ikaneba naranai.)
Father has to save his daughter.

2. おじいさんは木を切りに山へ行かねばならないと言った。
(Ojīsan wa ki o kiri ni yama e ikaneba naranai to itta.)
An old man said he must go to the mountain to cut some trees down.

3. 川へ入ってはいかん。/ 川へ入ってはならん
(Kawa e haitte wa ikan. / Kawa e haitte wa naran.)
You must not go into the river.

How to Use なければならない (Nakereba Naranai) With Adjectives and Nouns

In addition to verbs, なければならない (nakereba naranai) can also be used with adjectives and nouns.  

To use なければならない with adjectives, you’ll first need to change it to the く(ku) form, also known as the adverb form.  To do this, you just remove the final い (i) at the end of the adjective to get its stem-form.  Then just add く (ku) to it.  

Using I-Adjectives with なければならない (Nakereba Naranai)

I-adjective in the く (ku) adverb form + なければならない (nakereba naranai) = have to / must be {adjective}

I-Adjective Conjugation Examples:

I-AdjectiveReplace final い (I) with く (Ku)+ なければならない (Nakereba Naranai) Must Be / Has To Be ~
冷たい (tsumetai):
冷たく(tsumetaku)+ なければならない冷たくなければならない
(tsumetaku nakereba naranai)
Has to be cold / Must be cold
早い (hayai):
早く(hayaku) + なければならない早くなければならない(hayaku nakereba naranai)
Has to be quick / Must be quick
賢い (kashikoi):
賢く(kashikoku) + なければならない賢くなければならない (kashikoku nakereba naranai)
Has to be smart/well-behaved/
Must be smart/well-behaved


1. 力士は強くなければならない
(Rikishi wa tsuyoku nakereba naranai.)
Sumo wrestler has to be strong.

2. 観客は多くなければならない
(Kankyaku wa ōku nakereba naranai.)
We must have a large audience.

Using Na-Adjectives with なければならない (Nakereba Naranai)

Na-Adjective without the な (na)+ でなければならない (denakereba naranai)*** = have to / must be {adjective}

***Note:  Be careful not to mix this form up with the negative form. One of the negative forms for na-adjectives is でない (dewa nai). However, when conjugating na-adjectives with なければならない, there is no は (wa) after the で (de): でなければならない (denakereba naranai).  

Na-Adjective Conjugation Examples:

な-Adjective Without the な (Na)+ でなければならない (Denakereba Naranai)Must Be / Has To Be~
綺麗 (kirei):
(kirei denakereba naranai):
Has to be pretty/clean
Must be pretty/clean
真面目 (majime):
(majime denakereba naranai):
Has to be serious / Must be serious
静か (shizuka):
(shizuka denakereba naranai):
Has to be quiet / Must be quiet


1. 寄付する本は綺麗でなければならない
(Kifu suru hon wa kirei denakereba naranai.)
Donated must be in good condition.

2. 学校の制服は清潔でなければならない
(Gakkō no seifuku wa seiketsu denakereba naranai.)
Your school uniform must be clean/hygienic.  

Using Nouns with なければならない (Nakereba Naranai)

Using nouns with なければならない is the same as with na-adjectives. Simply add でなければならない (denakereba naranai) to the noun.  

Noun + でなければならない (Denakereba naranai) = has to be {noun} / must be {noun}

Noun Conjugation Examples:

Noun+ でなければならない (Denakereba Naranai)Must Be / Has To Be~
ぺん (pen):
(pen denakereba naranai):
Has to be a pen / Must be (use) a pen
晴れ (hare):
clear weather
(hare denakereba naranai):
Has to be clear/sunny weather/
The weather must be clear/sunny
和食 (washoku):
Japanese food
(washoku denakereba naranai): 
Has to be Japanese food / Must be Japanese food


1. お茶会に出席するには着物でなければならない
(Ochakai ni shusseki suru ni wa kimono denakereba naranai.)
To attend the tea ceremony, you must wear a kimono.

2. 日本の総理大臣は日本人でなければならない
(Nihon no sōridaijin wa nihonjin denakereba naranai.)
Japan’s Prime Minister must be Japanese.

Photo of author

Yumi Nakata

Yumi is a native speaker of Japanese. She is living in Kanagawa, Japan, raising her three kids. She studied English as an exchange student in Washington state for a year. The days she spent with her American friends are some of the greatest memories of her life.

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