I was looking for a colloquial Cantonese translation of 'It can't be helped' or 'We can't do anything about this (situation)'. The context is we are left to resign to the fact that we are helpless about a particular situation. Is there a go-to phrase Cantonese speakers use in this case?

The Japanese use 'shoganai' or 'shikattanai'. What is its equivalent in Cantonese?

  • 1
    Interest only: That caught my eye as being the classic Japanese 'Shikata ga nai'. Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 22:05
  • Shouldn't these questions be asked and answered at the Cantonese Forum? Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 3:18
  • can you define what constitutes questions that can be or cannot be asked in this forum?
    – cgo
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 9:53
  • @cgo I should have phrased my question better. In answer to your question on what can or cannot be asked, I believe a moderator is well placed to answer that. In any case, I did not say you or anyone else could not ask such questions. I merely asked the question "Shouldn't these questions be asked and answered at the Cantonese Forum?", it being a question asking for a direct translation of an English phrase to a Cantonese one which in a Cantonese Forum would naturally garner a wider audience and perhaps a more knowledgeable crop of contributors as it is strictly a Cantonese subject matter. Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 3:03
  • Thats alright. This stack site is named Chinese, which I suppose encompasses all Chinese (major, minor, big or small).
    – cgo
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 7:24

2 Answers 2

  1. (件事/佢)冇得救: (the thing/he) cannot be salvaged (literally 'rescued')

  2. (我)想幫都幫唔到: even if I want to help, I cannot

  3. (我)冇計/冇辦法: literally, I do not have any tricks for / solutions to a problem

  4. 我都愛莫能助: 愛莫能助 is an idiom and can be used colloquially, meaning not being able to help despite having sympathy for the person affected

  5. Common final particles to go with the above phrases: -啦 (laa1), -㗎啦 (gaa3 laa1/3), and -喎 (wo3)

    • 冇計喎: it connotes a sense of expectation. It seems that the speaker hopes the listener would expect that nothing can be done.

    • 冇計啦: a livelier way of saying 冇計; perhaps it also connotes the present, i.e., there is nothing that can be done now.

    • 冇計㗎啦: used to "assert or assess a fact on current situation" (see here). A fairly disengaging/cold expression.


For something that can't be helped due to nature's decision -- for example, 人終有一死 (people will eventually die)

人終有一死,係噉架啦 (It is what it is)

人終有一死,冇辨法架啦 (there's nothing you can do)

人終有一死,唔到你架 (It is not up to you)

or more specific: 唔到你(~)架

(~) can be (決定 - decide)、(話事 -to make the call) or (去改變 -to change that)

For something that can't be helped due to human authority's decision -- for example, 政府決定咗 (The government decided)

政府決定咗,你冇佢符架啦 (you can't fight it)

政府決定咗,冇計架啦 (there's nothing you can do)

政府決定咗,冇辨法架啦 (there's nothing you can do)

冇辨法啦 (there's nothing you can do),政府決定咗

For something that can't be helped due to a person's decision -- for example, 個仔係都唔肯 (the son won't do it no matter what) -

個仔係都唔肯,你冇佢符架啦 (you can't force it)

冇計啦 (there's nothing you can do),個仔係都唔肯

冇辨法啦/冇法啦 (there's nothing you can do),個仔係都唔肯


Different final particles express different emotions or tones

架/架啦 --> 'emphasis, strengthen the tone, resignation'

個喎/個噃 --> 'emphasis' soften the tone, to remind/ announce'

嘅哩 --> 'emphasis' soften the tone, to strongly remind/ announce'

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