675 - ~がたい

JLPT N2: ~がたい (difficult to VERB)

Adding ~がたい to the ます-stem of a VERB means "difficult to VERB."

This is very similar to putting ~にくい onto the ます-stem of a VERB, which we discussed in this lesson. There are some differences, though, which we'll see in this lesson.


First, an example:


死者と会話ができるなんて信じがたい話だ。
ししゃ と かいわ が できる なんて しんじがたい はなし だ。
I find it difficult to believe that someone can speak with the dead.
Literally: “dead person + と + conversation + が + can do + なんて (~to say that) + difficult to believe + talk / story + だ.”


~がたい has a bit of an old-fashioned ring to it. You don't hear it nearly as often as you hear ~にくい.

Also, it appears in a lot of set phrases. That is, people tend to only use it with a select number of verbs, one of which is 信じる (しんじる // to believe), which we saw above. Because people tend to only use ~がたい with certain verbs, I would recommend that you avoid randomly attaching it to whatever verbs you want.


The formula matches up with what we saw for ~やすい and ~にくい

V ますがたい
difficult to VERB

While the general translation is "difficult to VERB," it can also carry the nuance of "impossible to VERB."

Consider how we translated the following sentence:


クロアチアで過ごした1か月は、忘れがたい思い出です。
クロアチア で すごした いっ かげつ は、 わすれがたい おもいで です。
The month that I spent in Croatia was unforgettable.
Literally: “Croatia + で + spent + one month’s time + は, + difficult to forget + memory + です.”


More examples, just for you:


私には理解しがたい理由で、突然仕事をクビになった。
わたし に は りかい しがたい りゆう で、 とつぜん しごと を クビ に なった。
It just doesn't make any sense to me why I was suddenly fired from my job.
Literally: “I + に + は + understanding + difficult to do + reason + で, + suddenly + job + を + was fired (=was decapitated [=neck + に + became]).”
Note: For example, maybe the speaker was fired for a strange reason, like wearing a purple tie to work.


去年の大会では、耐えがたい屈辱を味わった。
きょねん の たいかい で は、 たえがたい くつじょく を あじわった。
At last year’s tournament, I suffered an unbearable disgrace.
Literally: “last year + の + tournament + で + は, + difficult to endure + disgrace / humiliation + を + tasted / underwent / endured.”


So how is ~がたい different from ~にくい

Aside from the fact that ~にくい is more common and ~がたい is a bit stiff-sounding, one major difference is that ~がたい should not be used when saying that something is difficult to do because of a lack of ability.

So this would be a bit odd to say:


✖ おかゆは箸では食べがたい
✖ おかゆ は はし で は たべがたい。
✖ Okayu is difficult to eat with chopsticks.
Literally: “okayu (=type of Japanese rice porridge) + は + chopsticks + で + は + difficult to eat.”


But this sounds pretty natural:


〇 おかゆは箸では食べにくい
〇 おかゆ は はし で は たべにくい。
〇 Okayu is hard to eat with chopsticks.
Literally: “okayu (=type of Japanese rice porridge) + は + chopsticks + で + は + hard to eat.”


Similarly, this sounds a bit odd:


✖ 鼻が詰まっていて、呼吸しがたい
✖ はな が つまっていて、 こきゅう しがたい。
✖ My nose is stuffed, and it’s difficult to breathe.
Literally: “nose + が + is clogged (and), + difficult to breathe.”


But this would be OK:


〇 鼻が詰まっていて、呼吸しにくい
〇 はな が つまっていて、 こきゅう しにくい。
〇 My nose is stuffed, and it’s hard to breathe.
Literally: “nose + が + is clogged (and), + hard to breathe.”


To be honest, distinctions like this confuse me. I wouldn't even worry about it if I were you.


What about ~づらい?!

None of my Japanese grammar books have any information about ~づらい, which works pretty much the same way as ~にくい

V ます にくい
V ます づらい
hard to VERB

So we could say:


〇 おかゆは箸では食べづらい
〇 おかゆ は はし で は たべづらい。
〇 Okayu is hard to eat with chopsticks.
Literally: “okayu (=type of Japanese rice porridge) + は + chopsticks + で + は + hard to eat.”


~づらい comes from the i-adjective 辛い (つらい // tough; difficult; hard; painful). You have to figure out when a word is 辛い (つらい) and not 辛い (からい // spicy) based on the context of the sentence, by the way.


One phrase that I find myself saying often is わかりづらい, which means something like "(It's) hard to understand."

Or if you can't breathe well, you could say:


〇 鼻が詰まっていて、呼吸しづらい
〇 はな が つまっていて、 こきゅう しづらい。
〇 My nose is stuffed, and it’s hard to breathe.
Literally: “nose + が + is clogged (and), + hard to breathe.”


...but I find that I more commonly hear:


息しづらい
いき しづらい。
It's hard to breathe.
Literally: “breath / breathing + hard to do.”


I used to have a bad habit of forgetting the verb and saying ✖ 息づらい. Oops.


Quick Recap

Here's everything you need to remember:

V ますやすい
easy to VERB

V ます にくい
V ます づらい
hard to VERB

V ますがたい
difficult to VERB


食べる(たべる // to eat
食べます(たべます // eat
食べやすいたべやすい // easy to eat
食べにくいたべにくい // hard to eat
食べづらいたべづらい // hard to eat
食べがたい(たべがたい // difficult to eat)


Don't forget to review these past lessons:
- [NDL #672] - JLPT N4: ~やすい
- [NDL #673] - JLPT N4: ~にくい

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