899 - ~てたまらない

JLPT N3: ~てたまらない (be dying to; unbearably)

Sometimes, grammar points are so confusing I can't bear it. Other times, they're so fun I can't get enough.

たまらない, as you might have guessed, is the negative form of the verb たまる, which means to endure or bear something. In other words, you can think of たまらない as meaning "unbearable."

When you want to emphasize that something effects you so much you can't stand it, or you just can't hold back when it comes to certain things, ~てたまらない is your best friend.

It can be used for both strong emotions and physical sensations, which can be positive or negative.

For example:

今日は朝食を抜いたから、腹が減ったまらない
きょう は ちょうしょく を ぬいた から、 はら が へってたまらない。
I skipped breakfast today, so I’m absolutely starving.
Literally: “today + は + breakfast + を + skipped + から, + get hungry (and) + たまらない.”

You know the feeling, right? You woke up late, and unlike the typical anime protagonist, you didn't even have time to shove some toast in your face before running to school. Now, your stomach is making ungodly noises and you feel kinda sick. To say that, you want to take the verb for "to get hungry," stick it in the て-form, and add たまらない. Like this:

V たまらない

Boom. "I'm hungry" has evolved into "I'm absolutely starving"! You've just leveled up your Poké-... Wait, wrong franchise...

 

If you're wondering if i-adjectives work the same way, you're right. Take the て-form and add たまらない:

i-adjective たまらない

We'll see this in the next example, which also shows how ~てたまらない can be used to express strong desires:

「ALWAYS 三丁目の夕日」をみたら、日本の家族に会いたくたまらなくなった。
「オールウェイズ さんちょうめ の ゆうひ」 を みたら、 にほん の かぞく に あいたくてたまらなく なった。
When I watched “Always: Sunset on Third Street,” it made me miss my family in Japan like crazy.
Literally: ““Always: Sunset on Third Street (=ALWAYS + sanchōme + の + setting sun)” + を + when (I) saw, + Japan + の + family + に + want to see (and) + たまらなく+ became.”
Note: The "chōme" in "sanchōme" is how towns or cities are divided in Japan. Kinda like blocks, or districts, or however places are divvied up where you live.

Hang on a sec. You said "strong desires," but "miss" is a feeling!

Yeah... about that... This is actually something I've always kinda struggled with in Japanese. You can't directly translate "I miss you"! Instead, you have to say "I want to see you". So, technically, it's a desire 😛

 

So, what about na-adjectives? Let's look at that in the next example:

老後のことを考えると、不安たまりません
ろうご の こと を かんがえる と、 ふあんでたまりません。
When I think about retirement, I get so anxious I can’t stand it.
Literally: “old age + の + thing(s) + を + think about + と, + uneasy (and) + たまりません.”
Note: the nuance of 老後 is pretty hard to translate into English. It literally means "old age," so I originally thought this sentence was talking about being scared of the ageing process. But then a native proofreader pointed out that this speaker is actually worried about their life as a retired person. For example, they might not have any savings and can't get a pension, or they could be single and anxious about being lonely in their old age. Damn, now I'm anxious...

As you can see, all you've gotta do is take your na-adjective minus the な, then slap で on after it before adding たまらない:

na-adjective + たまらない

 

So far, we've seen how ~てたまらない is used when you're expressing your own feelings. But when you're talking about someone else, you need to add ようだ, らしいのだ, etc. after it.

Take this sentence for example:

弟は最近、学校に行くのがたまらないようだ。
おとうと は さいきん、 がっこう に いく の が いやでたまらない ようだ。
My (little) brother seems to really hate going to school recently.
Literally: “younger brother + は + recently, + school + に + go + の + が + unpleasant / disagreeable (and) + たまらない + it seems.”

 

One thing to watch out for is that ~てたまらない cannot be used with reflexive verbs.

What's a reflexive verb, you ask? In English, it's usually used to describe verbs where the subject and object are the same.

In Japanese, it's, uhh... Oh look, a tanuki!!!

*runs for the hills*

Basically, you're probably best off learning these on a case-by-case basis, so here's a good example for you: 

× 恵さんがかわいそうだと思えたまらない
× めぐみ さん が かわいそう だ と おもえてたまらない。
x I can’t stand how sorry I feel for Megumi-san.
Literally: “Megumi-san + が + pitiable + だ + と + seem (and) + たまらない.”


Even in the translation, it doesn't make sense, right? Or at the very least, it sounds kinda selfish.

With verbs like this, you should use ~てならない. If you've been keeping track of our N2 lessons, you might remember this from [NDL #640] - JLPT N2: ~てならない.

○ 恵さんがかわいそうだと思えならない
○ めぐみ さん が かわいそう だ と おもえてならない。
○ I just feel so sorry for Megumi-san.
○ Literally: “Megumi-san + が + pitiable + だ + と + seem (and) + ならない.”

I wouldn't worry about this too much, though. Sure, you might need it for your JLPT test, but even if you mess up in a conversation, I'm sure Japanese folk will understand you just fine.

Just don't blame me if the grammar police come after you. I'm on the run...

 

This grammar point is a pretty fun one, and you'll hear it pretty often in TV shows and anime and stuff, but when using it yourself, I'd save it for times when you really want to emphasize how you're feeling. Unless you love being dramatic, in which case go for it!

頑張りましたね 😌 おつかれさま!

This lesson was written by Ellyn.