There are certain words that you hear over and over again when listening to Japanese people talk. At some point, you can say them yourself without even knowing what they mean! One of those words is dame. So what does dame mean in Japanese?
That is exactly what we’ll go over today in depth.
I’ll provide you with the most common answers when the word is used on its own, and then some of the more complicated interpretations of it for when its used as part of a grammar pattern.
What Does Dame Mean In Japanese?
The Japanese word “dame” can be spelled in several different ways and they are all fairly common to see when reading manga, novels, or blogs on the internet. Here are the many different spellings of it:
- だめ (hiragana)
- ダメ (katakana)
- 駄目 (kanji)
- dame (romaji)
For this post, I’ll be hopping from one form of writing to the next so that you can become familiar with all of the different versions of it.
If you enter this word into the dictionary, it will tell you that ため (dame) means “no good” or “useless” which is correct, but doesn’t fully help you when you want to know how it can be used.
Let’s take a look at some example sentences that use ダメ and see how they’re translated into English.
- kare wa damena bōifurendo desu.
- He is a no-good boyfriend.
In this example, you can see that 駄目 is being used as a na-adjective which is being used to describe the type of boyfriend that this guy is: a “no-good” one.
So in this usage, 駄目な can be put in front of a noun to say that it is “useless; hopeless, no-good” and so on.
- watashi wa damena hahaoya deshou ka?
- Do you think I’m a bad mother?
This word can also be used at the end of a sentence with the help of だ (da) or です (desu) to say that something won’t work and that its not a good thing to do.
- ikaga deshou ka? dame desu ka?
- What do you think of that? Is it a bad idea?
Related: Learn what ikaga means in Japanese.
- tanin ni narisumashite wa dame desu yo.
- Impersonating someone else is a bad idea.
Usually when you use だめ in this way, you’re telling the other person that they really shouldn’t be doing that.
If you read the manga Yotsubato at all, then you might remember a scene in the first chapter where Jumbo is talking to Yotsuba and gives her dad some grief by saying he’s useless.
- tōchan wa dame da na!
- Your dad’s useless, am I right!
The word だめ can also be used to say no in Japanese.
The thing to keep in mind when saying no with だめ is the nuance that it carries. It’s not a straight refusal because you prefer something else, but rather because (once again) you either don’t believe that it will work, or you just feel that its a bad idea.
- tomodachi ni natte kureru?
- Would you be my friend?
- dame da.
When Dame Means You Can’t Do Something
There are several ways to tell a person that they can’t do something in Japanese. One of those ways utilizes だめ and we are going to go over it in this section.
In this context when you use だめ to tell someone that can’t do something, its not that they physically can’t do it, but rather that they are not allowed to do it or that they should not do it.
In other words, you’re prohibiting them from performing the action.
Take a look at the following tweet:
What you can see in the hashtag is #触っちゃダメ (sawaccha dame) which means “don’t touch” in English.
This is a pretty common informal grammar pattern where you have a verb in the ちゃ form followed immediately by ダメ which means that you shouldn’t do it.
- micha dame!
- Don’t look!
Technically speaking, this phrase should end in either だ or です to be grammatically correct. It’s pretty common to drop it when speaking casually though.
- sonna koto shicha dame da yo!
- You can’t do that sort of thing!
I mentioned earlier about using ちゃ for this pattern, but what I didn’t say at that time is that ちゃ is just a contraction of the Japanese words ては.
This means that phrases like 作ってはだめだ (tsukutte wa dame da) mean the exact same thing as 作っちゃダメ (tsukuccha dame). In both of these cases it means “you can’t make it.”
When Dame Means You Must Do Something
In this section we’re going to cover how だめ is used to say that you must do something.
This can be used when the person you’re talking to has a need or an obligation to perform an action.
It’s interesting that this is possible considering that we just finished learning how to say that you can’t do something with だめ.
The same word, opposite meanings. Thank you, Japanese.
Anyway, there are two grammar patterns that you can use with だめ and they are both informal or colloquial which means that you won’t want to use them in formal type situations.
The first one is when you use a verb in the ~なければだめだ (~nakereba dame da) form.
- kono hon o yomanakereba dame da.
- (You) must read this book.
If you break the なければだめだ pattern down into its two parts, then what you are literally saying is that “if you don’t (verb), then it won’t do.”
- なければ = If you don’t…
- だめだ = it’s no good.
It’s kind of a round about way of saying things when looked at from an English perspective.
Which is a very Japanese thing to do!
The second pattern is just the shortened version of なければ which is きゃ (kya).
- nenakya dame da.
- I must sleep.
Other Meanings For Dame
The meanings for だめ that I’ve covered so far are the most commonly used ones, but there are certain expressions or phrases that use だめ which you might encounter from time to time.
For example, the expression 駄目になる (dame ni naru) means “to spoil; to go bad.”
This makes sense based off of what we’ve learned so far of だめ and the new word なる (naru).
Since なる means “to become” you could figure out that a phrase saying “to become useless” basically means “to spoil” when referring to something such as food.
However, there are also expressions like 駄目を押す (dame o osu) which mean “to make sure” and words such as 駄目元 (dame moto) which means “giving something a try because one has nothing to lose” that a person is less likely to correctly guess because the meanings are so different from dame.
If you encounter any だめ words that you don’t understand from the explanations above, then try searching for expressions that use it and see if you can locate it there.
Is This Post Dame?
Let me know any thoughts or questions that you have by leaving a comment down below.
Hopefully this lesson today was helpful for you in understanding だめ.
If there were any confusing parts, or if you noticed any errors or typos, then please don’t hesitate to let me know and I will be happy to make any necessary corrections.
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: