Question about ~ずにはいられない vs ~てならない vs ~ざるを得ない


The topic title pretty much speaks for itself - when these three grammar points take on the meaning of “can’t help but doing,” is there a nuance in meaning? When I type them into the reviews section I usually need to backspace because it doesn’t say “Can you say it another way?” - it just marks it as an incorrect answer. This makes me think there is a nuance between the three grammar points that is too big to be considered unimportant.

Any help much appreciated - thanks.

Still making mistakes on this one-and-a-half years later :rofl:
Anyone got any ideas?

This is not a complete answer, but me just sorting through this myself and contributing one resource I have.

From the Bunpo app on iOS (not to be confused with Bunpro), here’s two portions of explanations they offer:

~てならない is used to express emotions and feelings that you cannot control. Although not always the case, this usually expresses your uneasiness or anxiety.

~ざるを得ない is used when there’s something that you’re hesitant about doing. … Sometimes ずにはいられない and ざるを得ない can be used interchangeably. However, not only is ざるを得ない more common of an expression, it is also used in sentences without strong emotions, while ずにはいられない/ではいられない are used only to show some strong urge or emotion that leads you to do something.

So, paraphrasing, it seems like

  • ~てならない – when you have an uncontrollable feeling that’s a result; this attaches to your feeling
  • ~ずにはいられない – when you have an uncontrollable feeling that is cause to do some action; this attaches to your action
  • ~ざるを得ない – when there’s an external force on you and there’s no use fighting it; this attaches to your action

:warning: Of course, I’m still learning too, so I could be messing up something here. :wink:


That’s really easy to understand, thanks!


Good topic, struggling as well…I was just thinking yesterday for てならない the " can’t help but" is actually more confusing…I think the translations could be switched to “very much” for these sentences to help give it a singular definition (very, extremely) without mixing up the the others and mastering the point. I know the nuance is on the ‘extreme’ feeling here but I think it’s close enough so I can use it for Japanese usage (which is most important to me, not the exact English). Other translations may use “unable to resist, unable to suppress” so it’s another case of not getting too attached to the translation and creating BP havoc.

1 Like