I was reading a novel titled "Spice & Wolf" when I found this sentence.

In other words, he thinks he can't but loose an arrow without hitting a deer.

You can see the context here.

enter image description here

What does it mean? As far as I know, 'can't but' means 'it's inevitable' or 'doesn't have any other choice' but then the meaning of the sentence will become, "It's inevitable that he'll miss the deer," and I'm not quite sure about it.

And then, about the next paragraph,

While the hardships of retainers who had to hunt with the duke would be hidden, it would mean good work for the hunters in the region who hunted and killed the duke's prey ahead of time.

I fail to understand what it means. Can someone explain it to me?

3 Answers 3


It means that the duke believes his skill with a bow is so high that he hits a deer every time he shoots ('looses') an arrow.

"Can't but" is used here to say that this is a sure and definite thing. When he shoots an arrow it can't do anything else other than hit a deer.

It's worth noting that this phrase is not common in modern English.

  • What confuse me actually the following words, "loose an arrow without hitting a deer." If 'can't but' means 'definite thing', won't the sentence mean, "It's a definite thing that he'll miss (without hitting)."? Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 23:35
  • Also, could you also answer the second question? Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 23:35
  • 1
    @AragakiAya - I know it's confusing, but that's not what it means. You are reading it too literally. It's almost as if you have to parse it like this: [He can't help but loose an arrow] [without hitting a deer], which means: [Any time he shoots an arrow] [he'll hit a deer]. The first part doesn't negate the second. It's an odd construct, and an excellent question.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 14:41
  • @J.R. Somehow I get it. But if the first part doesn't negate the second, why [without hitting a deer] becomes [he'll hit a deer]? It's odd and confusing, indeed. Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 0:26
  • @AragakiAya Yeah it is very confusing. I'm afraid this is just one of those unique things you pick up after a while. This phrase is very 'old English'. You'd find very, very few people use it today (if any at all). I'm guessing the novel is set in medieval times which is why the author is using it here, trying to give the book an authentic feel.
    – MeltingDog
    Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 22:13

It is an idiomatic expression:

Cannot but:

You use cannot but, could not but, and cannot help but, when you want to emphasize that you believe something must be true and that there is no possibility of anything else being the case. [formal, emphasis]:

  • The pistol was positioned where I couldn't help but see it. She could not but congratulate him.

(Collins Dictionary)

  • Then what about 'without hitting a deer?" Won't the meaning of the sentence become, "It must be true that he'll shoot without hitting a deer?" Or am I translating it wrong? And I also need help with the second question at the bottom of the question. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 23:38
  • @AragakiAya Think of it this way: he can't loose an arrow without hitting a deer, i.e., he must hit a deer.
    – stangdon
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 15:31

I think there is a mixture of two idiomatic usages here, which causes the confusion:

He can't loose an arrow without hitting a deer.

This means every time he shoots, he will hit a deer.

When he looses an arow, he can't but hit a deer.

This practically means the same thing.

The mixture of "can't but" and "without" in the text is sort of a double negation, and is arguably bad phrasing. Since this is quoted speech, the meaning may be understood from the context. The author may have had some intention of using casual speech, or was just mistaken. Anyway, your confusion is understandable.

  • This novel was translated from Japanese and if I recall it right, it's kind of the author's style of writing. So the translators were just following that style, I think. Ah, I'm glad to hear that. Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 5:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .