Mu (む): Meaning of Muri 無理 (むり) in Japanese

What is 無理 (Muri)?
無 (Mu) as a Prefix
Other uses of 無 (Mu)


What is the meaning of 無理 (Muri)?

Muri, put simply, can be translated into English as “Impossible 無理 (mu-ri)”. The typical antonym for Muri would typically be “Infinite possibilities 無限大の可能性 (mu-gendai-no-kanousei)”
Have you ever heard someone say “that’s impossible 無理です (mu-ri desu)?”
For example,
“Why not try making a presentation in Japanese?”
“Ah, that’s still impossible for me!” まだ無理ですよ (mada mu-ri desu yo)
“Have you thought about running the Tokyo Marathon?”
“Eh? Impossible, impossible!” 無理、無理 (mu-ri, mu-ri)
“Try eating this.”
“Eh? What’s this? That’s seriously impossible for me.” マジで無理 (maji de mu-ri)


無 (Mu) as a Prefix

Many words come with prefixes like 無 (mu) “im”, as well as “in” and “un.”
These prefixes 無 (mu) also carry the meaning of “There is no _____.”
Some examples include Impossible 無理 (mu-ri), indifferent 無関心 (mu-kanshin), inactive 無気力 (mu-kiryoku), insensitive 無神経 (mu-shinkei), unplanned 無計画(mu-keikaku), undependable 無責任 (mu-sekinin), inhumane 無慈悲 (mu-jihi)…
Aren’t there a lot of negative words!?
But there are also many words without negative connotations, such as innocent無邪気 (mu-jyaki), invincible 無敵 (mu-teki), unselfish 無欲 (mu-yoku), and undefeated 無敗 (mu-hai).


Other uses of 無 (Mu)

There’s just so many other words out there beyond just “impossible 無理 (mu-ri),” aren’t there?
Among these words that use the prefix comes another word, and that is “infinite 無限 (mu-gen).”
Perhaps you have thought “I want to try that, but I’m worried about whether I can do it. It might be impossible 無理かも (mu-ri kamo)?”
For example:
I want to start a new job/learn to play the guitar/run a full marathon/challenge myself to the N1 examination.
Is it really impossible?
When you think “it might be impossible”, it makes it difficult for you to take the first step.
You might end up giving up while you are putting it off.
If you do not try and do it, you will never know whether you can.
If you are hesitating, why not try using the word “infinite 無限 (mu-gen)” instead of “impossible 無理 (mu-ri)?”
Tell yourself that you possess infinite possibilities and challenge yourself to the task.
Even if it does not go well, it is sure to be a good experience and learning opportunity. Ah, there is one last good word that uses “un 無 (mu)!”
“Unpaid 無料 (mu-ryou)” – free 😀
There is an expression that says “Nothing costs more than something that’s free ただより高いものはな (tada yori takai mono wa nai),” but I have never had a bad experience getting something for free.
How about you?
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