~がたい vs ~づらい vs ~にくい

~がたい vs ~づらい vs ~にくい

Today’s Question

Can you explain the differences among the following 3?
a. あのおてらにくい
b. あのおてらづらい
c. あのおてらがたい。(a slightly awkward sentence)

Today’s Grammar Point: ~がたい、~づらい、~にくい

All these 3 phrases are usually translated as “difficult to ~” or “hard to ~” but they are not quite interchangeable. I will compare these 3 today below.


[verb stem] + がたい/づらい/にくい
verb stem is the ます form verb without ます


This is the most frequently used one among the three. It can be used both in speech and writing. If it is used with a verb for an willful action, ~にくい means it is difficult to do so but it is not impossible. ~にくい is included in the JLPT N4 list, so read this post also to understand the usage of ~にくい.

This word is hard to say (probably because it’s difficult to pronounce).

Crabs are difficult to eat.

If it is used with a non-volitional verb, it means that does not happen easily.

This shirt is hard to dry.

Plastic doesn’t break easily.


The kanji for ~づらい is 辛い, which means “painful” or “cruel,” ~づらい is most often used when the willful action causes physical or psychological pain and the narrator is reluctant to do so.

This word is hard to say (as it is painful to say it to the other person).

I have pet crabs, so crabs are (psychologically) painful to eat.

Traditionally ~づらい is not used with non-volitional verbs. So most people find the following 2 sentences awkward, or some people may even say they are outright wrong, although I hear more and more people are coming across these sentences these days.

(?) このシャツはかわづらい。(?)

(?) プラスチックはづらい。(?)


~がたい is the least frequently used expression out of these three and it is most often used in a written passage. ~がたい emphasizes the difficulty more than ~にくい and has the nuance of “almost impossible no matter how hard one tries.

この言葉ことばがたい。(a bit awkward sentence)
This word is almost impossible to say (because it is so special that it does not suit the situation).

Crabs are hard to eat (possibly because they are not readily available).

As ~がたい is not used very often, it may be easier to remember the phrases with がたい as set expressions. Try to make note of its usage whenever you come across ~がたい in passages. I will list a few below for you.

Unbelievable reality

an inevitable situation

conduct that cannot be condoned

an excuse almost impossible to understand

a demand that is almost impossible to accept

a much appreciated gift (the literal meaning is “hard to exist/find”)
Note that the word ありがとう (thank you) comes from this ありがたい.

Answer to Today’s question

a. あのおてらにくい means that the temple is located in a place hard to get to but, if you try, it’s not impossible to get there.
b. あのおてらづらい means the narrator is reluctant to go to that temple. The reluctance may be because he/she had a bad experience in the temple before or because his/her visit to the temple may give somebody else a hard time.
c. あのおてらがたい is a rather awkward sentence but it means that the narrator feels it’s almost impossible to go to that temple. That may be because the narrator feels that the temple is too holy for him/her to go to or it may be because the temple is restricting the number of visitors.

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