How To Say “Have To” In Japanese (なきゃ)

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Today I’m going to teach you how to use the “have to” form in Japanese: have to ~ / must ~ / gotta ~

By the end of this article you will learn to recognise and use:

  •  なきゃ  / なければ  +  いけない / ならない

You’ll learn:

  • Differences between なきゃ vs なくちゃ vs なければ / いけない vs ならない
  • How to make a sentence like: “If I don’t do homework, my mum will get angry with me”
  • How to make a sentence like: “I have to ask my parents whether I can go or not”
  • More new verbs!

If you know the informal negation, it’s pretty easy to say “have to” informally.

Quick review of the informal negation:

For iru/eru ending verbs, change る into ない

寝る・ねる (to sleep) → 寝ない・ねない (not sleep)

食べる・たべる (to eat) → 食べない・たべない (not eat)

出る・でる (to leave/come out) → 出ない・でない (not leave)


For other ending verbs, change the last ‘u’ sound into an ‘a’ and put ない

書く・かく (to write) → 書かない・かかない (not write)

写真を撮る・しゃしんをとる (to take a picture)
→ 写真を撮らない・しゃしんをとらない (not take a picture)
★ “torU” does NOT have “iru” or “eru” ending but “Oru”. So “rU” becomes “rA”.

待つ・まつ (to wait) → 待たない・またない (not wait)
★ “TSU” does not become “TSA”, but “TA (た)”.


The one thing you have to be careful with is the ‘u’ ending verbs (just the hiragana う – not consonant + u).

For verbs like “to sing” 歌・うたう and “to meet” 会・あう and “to buy” 買・かう
– you need to change the last う into わ + ない

歌う・うたう (to sing) →  歌わない・うたわない (not sing)

会う・あう (to meet) →  合わない・あわない (to meet)

買う・かう(to buy) → 買わない・かわない (to buy)


Of course, we also have irregular verbs:

する (to do) → しない (not do)

来る・くる (to come) → 来ない・こない (not come)


And if you want to say “I have to do <something>”,
all you have to do is to change the ない into なきゃ

So. . .

Not eat = ない

Have to eat (inf.) = なきゃ

That’s how you say “I gotta eat/I have to eat” informally!


This なきゃ is actually an informal abbreviation of なければ which means “if I don’t/If I will not” (form.)

なきゃ = have to ~ (informally)

なければ = must (formally)

You can see this なければ has “eba” at the end, right?

Well, if you’re following along with my Absolute Beginner’s series, you haven’t learnt this form yet.

But when you see “eba” at the end, just know that it’s a conditional form (“if”).

For example, if I say 食べれば it means “If (I/you/he/it) eat”. But なければ means “if not/if I don’t do <something>”.

食べなければ literally means “If I don’t eat”.

When you want to say “I have to do something” formally, なけらば is not enough.

You have to add something to it like this:

なければ + いけない


なければ +  ならない

食べなければいけない means “It wouldn’t be good if I don’t eat” = “have to eat”

But although なければいけない and なければならない  are formal…

You wouldn’t really use them when talking politely to superiors or someone older.

This is used more for books or formal documents.

When you want to talk formally, you’d use the “-masu” form. So you’d change いけない into いけません and

ならない into なりません

Formally: なければいけません  or なければなりません

If you want to say “I must eat/I have to eat” formally, you’d say:

食べなければいけません or 食べなければなりません。

What’s the difference between いけない / いけません and ならない / なりません?

There aren’t really significant differences between いけない / いけません  or  ならない / なりません.

But if you use いけません it sounds more subjective.

If I said 食べなければいけません it sounds like the speaker must do it because the speaker himself/herself feels the need.

Whilst if I said 食べなければなりません it sounds more objective, like I must do it because others expect me to.

But this is all advanced so, for beginners, just stick to いけません

There really there isn’t much difference.

Even if you say なりません when you want to sound subjective there isn’t that much difference.

If you’re talking informally, you’re gonna say なきゃ which is super simple and easy to remember.

食べなきゃ = have to/gotta eat

With this なきゃ you can also put いけません:  なきゃ  + いけません – This sounds semi-formal.

食べなきゃいけません = have to/gotta eat (semi-formal)

When you’re talking to your clients/bosses, use なければいけません

But when you’re talking to your neighbours or friends’ parents use なきゃいけません


There is another form for informal speech: なくちゃ

なくちゃ is an abbreviation of なくては. Both of these mean the same thing: “have to do <something>”

If you ask people what’s the difference between なきゃ and なくちゃ,
most people will probably say there isn’t much difference.

That’s true but a lot of people would also recognise that なくちゃ sounds more feminine.

And なきゃ is more common generally.

And なきゃ also sounds more urgent than なくちゃ.

いかなきゃ! (gotta go!) sounds more urgent and determined than いかなくちゃ!

But this isn’t a hard and fast rule. It really depends on the tone of voice and the context.

Some examples:

行く・いく (to go) ―> 行かない (not go) ―> 行かなきゃ (have to go – informally.)

In Japanese, we often put the word もう which means already so,
natively: もう行かなきゃ = have got to go now (lit. Have got to go already).
We wouldn’t actually use the word 今・いま here. 今行かなきゃ isn’t technically wrong but it is not native.

If you want to say “I’ve gotta go soon”, you can say: もうすぐ行かなきゃ –

You would also here the word そろそろ in place of すぐ - そろそろ行かなきゃ (have to go soon)

そろそろ is often used in formal speech,
so you’re more likely to hear this: そろそろ行かなければいけません (have to go soon – formally)

もうすぐ and そろそろ both mean “soon” but そろそろ is more often used in the context where the time is expected.
You already knew what time you were going to do something.

In place of なきゃ we also say ないと so そろそろ行かないと is a very common phrase for “gotta go soon”.

So, for “have to go” formally we would say:


This is super long so it will probably take you time to get used to it. But the rule is simple-ish:

Change the informal negation ない into なければいけません (NA-kereba ikemasen)

So – quick test – how would you say “I have to go to work” informally?






Have to go to work (inf.)

Let’s say it’s Sunday evening, so you would say “Tomorrow I have to go to work”. How do you say that?






Tomorrow I have to go to work (inf.)


What about “I have to go home”?

For “to go home” we wouldn’t use the verb “to go”.

We’d use an entirely different verb, which is 帰る・かえる (to go home).

帰る has an “eru” ending but you have to conjugate it like other endings because it’s an exception.

So you’d change the ‘u’ sound into ‘a’ and then put ない
so 帰る becomes 帰らない・かえらない (not go home) which then becomes

帰らなきゃ・かえらなきゃ (have to go home). You can also say 帰らないと (have to go home – inf.)

And if you want to do this formally, you’d change 帰らない into 帰らなければいけません (have to go home – form.)

“I have to go home by 5 o’clock” (formally) = 五時までに帰らなければいけません


What about “I have to do homework/I must do homework”?

Homework = 宿題・しゅくだい

To do = する

To do homework = 宿題する・しゅくだいする

So – 宿題する (to do homework ) becomes 宿題しない (not do homework).

And then becomes 宿題しなきゃ (have to do homework – informally).

If you want to say this formally, you’d say 宿題しなければいけません (have to do homework – formally).

Remember I told you that this なきゃ and なければ actually means “if I don’t”, right?

Well. . . I can even make a sentence like this:

宿題しなきゃ, my mum will be angry with me!

If I don’t do my homework, my mum will be angry with me!

If someone gets angry and you’re the victim, in Japanese we would usually use the passive form.

And the verb “to be angry” = 怒る・おこる

And the passive form of this is


怒る = to be angry

怒られる = someone is angry with me

*Information overload (don’t worry if you don’t follow yet): When using this passive form, it is constructed like this:

Someone に 怒られる・おこられる = someone is angry with me

So – “If I don’t do homework, my mum will be angry with me” = 宿題しなきゃ、お母さんに怒られる。

Okay – what about the verb “to buy”?

買う (to buy) ―> 買わない (not buy) ―> 買わなきゃ (I have to buy – inf.)

“I have to buy new shoes” (inf.)



“I have to buy new shoes” (form.)




New shoes = 新しい靴・あたらしいくつ

What about the verb “to sing”?

歌う うたう (to sing) ―> 歌わない (not sing) ―> 歌わなきゃ (have to sing)

“I have to sing in front of everyone”



If you want to say this formally, it would be:



Everyone = 皆・みんな

In front of = 前・まえ

In front of <something> = <something> の前・のまえ – depending on the verb, you have to put で or に after の前

But in the case of 歌う (to sing), it’s an action verb so you would use the で particle.

If you were saying this in the context of “I live in front of..”

Then it would be <somewhere>の前に住んでいる and you would use the に particle because it’s static.

Action verbs like eat, sing, cook, dance, and break will all use the で particle in this case.

In front of everyone + action verb = 皆の前で・みんなのまえで

Remember how I said we normally would omit the いけない bit after なきゃ?

Well we can’t do that if we want to say “because” から

Because I have to = なきゃいけない  +   から

“Because I have to sing in front of everyone, I hate karaoke.”



What about the verb “to drink”?

飲む・のむ (to drink) ―> 飲まない (not drink) ―> 飲まなきゃ (have to drink)

“Because it’s Friday, I gotta drink!”



To say “to take medicine”, we use this verb “to drink”.

So “have to take medicine” =






Medicine = 薬・くすり

How about how to say “I have to take medicine after a meal”?

After a meal, 薬を飲まなければいけません。

For meal, you can say ご飯・ごはん or if you wanna sound formal you can say 食事・しょくじ

After a meal = ご飯の後・ごはんのあと

Noun のあと = After ~

After work = 仕事の後・しごとのあと


“I have to take medicine after a meal” (inf.)





If you want to sound even more formal, doctors would say:




毎・まい = prefix for every (like in 毎日 and 毎晩)

食・しょく = comes from the word 食事

毎食 まいしょく = formal way to say “every meal”

後・ご = more formal than の後・のあと

Note: Actual doctors would probably say this in the request form:


What about “I have to take out the trash?”

For “take out” we use the verb 出す・だす

This verb can mean SO MANY things.

But the most common meaning is that you are taking something out of something else

E.G. To take money out of a wallet



But お金を出す can also mean “to pay” like 払う・はらう

You can say:



To serve sweets




To serve tea

Now, for “take out the trash”, we use this same verb 出す and for trash/garbage/rubbish we say ごみ

To take out the trash = ごみを出す

For the verb “to throw away”, we can say 捨てる・すてる

You can say ごみを捨てる in this instance but for our example we’ll use 出す

ごみを出す・だす (take out trash) ―> ごみを出さない (not take out trash)

―> ごみを出さなきゃ (have to take out trash – inf.)

Formally: ごみを出さなければいけません

What about the verb “to wait”?

待つ・まつ (to wait) ―> またない (not wait) ―> 待たなきゃ (have to wait)

Have to wait a bit = ちょっと待たなきゃ or 少し待たなきゃ

Have to wait a bit more/longer = もうちょっと待たなきゃ or もう少し待たなきゃ

What about “to be patient?”

我慢する・がまんする (to be patient) ―> 我慢しない (not be patient) ―> 我慢しなきゃ (have to be patient)

Formally: 我慢しなければいけません

What about Japanese people’s favourite word, “to do one’s best”?

頑張る・がんばる (to do one’s best) ―> 頑張らない (not do one’s best) ―> 頑張らなきゃ (must do one’s best)

Formally: 頑張らなければいけません

What about “to study”?

勉強する・べんきょうする (to study) ―> 勉強しない (not study) ―> 勉強しなきゃ (have to study)

I have to study more = もっと勉強しなきゃ

Formally = もっと勉強しなければいけません

What about “to read”?

読む・よむ (to read) ―> 読まない (not read) ―> 読まなきゃ (have to read)

I have to read this book (inf.) = この本を読まなきゃ

Formally = この本を読まなければいけません

What about “to ask”? It’s the same verb as “to listen”.

聞く・きく (to ask/listen) ―> 聞かない (don’t listen/ask) ―> 聞かなきゃ (must listen/ask)

To say “I listen to <something>” we say <something> を聞く

But to say “I ask <someone> <something>” we say <something> を <someone> に聞く

“I have to ask my teacher”



“I have to ask my parents”




Parents = 親・おや

If you want to imply that it’s both parents = 両親・りょうしん

This is advanced, but you could make a sentence like this:

“I have to ask my parents whether I may go or not”



ってもいい as we already learnt means “may/be allowed to do something”

So: 行ってもいい = “can go”

The か in this instance is like “whether or not”. Whenever there is a question inside a main sentence (e.g. 行ってもいい = question), then か shows that’s the question.

But don’t worry about this yet. We’ll learn more about this in later lessons.

And this is how to say 聞かなきゃ formally:


If you want to say “I have to listen to music” informally, you would say:



And formally:


What about “to exercise”?

運動する・うんどうする (to exercise) ―> 運動しない (not exercise) ―> 運動しなきゃ (have to exercise – inf.)

“I exercise every day to stay fit (lit. for my health)


“I have to exercise every day for my health”





Health = 健康・けんこう

For health = 健康のために・けんこうのために

Noun のために = for the sake of <noun>

What about “to take a shower”?

シャワーを浴びる・しゃわーをあびる (to take a shower) ―> シャワーを浴びない (not take a shower) ―> シャワーを浴びなきゃ (have to take a shower)

Formally: シャワーを浴びなければいけません

What about “I have to wash my hair”?

Hair = 髪・かみ

洗う・あらう (to wash) ―> 洗わない (not wash) ―> 洗わなきゃ (have to wash)

I have to wash my hair





What about “to call”?

There are 2 ways:

1. 電話をする・でんわをする

2. 電話をかける・でんわをかける

Have to call = 電話をしなきゃ  or  電話をかけなきゃ

Someone に電話をかける

I have to call my mum


What about “to talk”?

話す・はなす (to talk) ―> 話さない (not talk) ―> 話さなきゃ (have to talk)

I have to speak Japanese = 日本語を話さなきゃ

You can also say 日本語で話さなきゃ  but that’s more like “I have to talk IN Japanese”

I have to speak Japanese more = もっと日本語を話さなきゃ

What about “to clean”?

掃除する・そうじする (to clean) ―> 掃除しない (not clean) ―> 掃除しなきゃ (have to clean)

I have to clean my room





What about “to review”?

復習する・ふくしゅうする (to review) ―> 復習しない (not review) ―> 復習しなきゃ (have to review)

What about “to enjoy/to have fun”?

楽しむ・たのしむ (to enjoy) ―> 楽しまない (not enjoy) ―> 楽しまなきゃ (have to enjoy)

日本語を楽しまなきゃ = You must enjoy Japanese.



Studying is important but having fun is also important.

Maybe this lesson was a bit hard. But hopefully after reviewing several times, you will get it!

Translator / Linguist / Japanese Teacher / Happy World Traveler/ manga, anime, comedy lover. Speaks Japanese, English, Russian and German.


  1. please change the hiragana writing to romaji so i can understand all :) i always read your article because i want to speak fluent japanese. thank you ^_^

  2. Hi Misa – This was a really helpful lesson, thank you. I got a bit lost the first time through and thought it was too advanced but I have been through it a few times now and it all makes sense :)

    Please keep making your videos, they really give a lot more insight than you can get from just a text book.


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