Sunday, March 24, 2019

aru ある, 有る, 在る

WIP : this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, aru ある means either "to exist" or "to have." It's also spelled aru 有る and aru 在る, one meaning only "to have" and the other only "to exist."

Sometimes, aru can be translated as "to be," "is," "are," and so on, too, because something that "exists" somewhere could also be said "to be" there. It can also be translated as "there is" or "there are" in some phrases.

Note that this article is mostly about phrases that end in ga aru がある. If you're looking for de aru である, go check the article about Desu です instead.

Let's start with the existential meaning:
  • kanousei ga aru
    A possibility exists.
    • There is a possibility.
  • kanousei ga atta
    A possibility existed.
    • There was a possibility.

Well, that was easy. Worked just like expected.

Now, the "to have" meaning. This one is a bit tricky, because aru doesn't literally mean "to have." What it actually means is that something "exists in [someone's] possession."

That may sound like a roundabout way to say "to have" but it isn't, because grammatically it means "to be had." The important thing is the the subject of the sentence, marked by ga が, is the thing possessed, to the person possessing.
  • kane ga aru
    Money exists in possession.
    • I have money.
  • kibou ga aru
    I have hope.
  • yume ga aru
    I have a dream.

The verb that would work like "to have" in English would be motsu 持つ instead. With the verb motsu, the object of the sentence, marked by wo を, is that which is being "held:" the thing you have.
  • ore ga sore wo motteiru
    I'm holding that.
    • IN MY HANDS!!!
    • In my possession!
    • I have that.

Note that in a relative clause the wo を of wo motteiru would remain wo, but ga of ga aru can turn into no aru instead. (see: Ga が Becoming No の in a Relative Clause.)
  • yume wo motteiru hito
    A person [who] is holding a dream.
    A person [who] has a dream.
  • yume ga aru hito 夢がある人
    yume no aru hito 夢のある人
    A person [to which] a dream exists in possession.
    A person [who] has a dream.

In the examples above, we have seen the verb aru in both "to exist" and "to have" meanings. In case you haven't noticed, aru ある was written with hiragana every time. This is the normal way to write it.

However, aru can also be written with kanji, in not one, but two different ways: aru 在る and aru 有る. The meaning of the word changes according to the kanji. The word aru 在る always means "to exist," and aru 有る always means "to have."

You probably won't have trouble with that, but take note of the following words if you ever have trouble:
  • sonzai
  • shoyuu

In either case, the antonym of aru ある is nai 無い, an i-adjective which means "nonexistent." Like aru, the word nai is also normally spelled with hiragana, as nai ない. Furthermore, nai is an auxiliary that's part of the negative inflections of verbs and adjectives. But let's go step by step.

First, it sounds weird that nai, an adjective, is the antonym of aru, which is a verb. Get used to it. Japanese is full of stuff that doesn't make any sense. The good thing is you can just replace aru by nai to get the opposite meaning of a phrase, which is as easy as it sounds:
  • houhou ga aru
    A way exists.
    There's a way.
  • houhou ga nai
    A way is nonexistent.
    A way doesn't exist.
    There's no way.
  • pasokon ga aru
    A computer exists in possession.
    I have a computer.
  • posokon ga nai
    A computer is nonexistent.
    A computer doesn't exist [in possession].
    I don't have a computer.

An example in the past forms:
  • henji ga atta
    A response existed.
    There was a response.
    They responded to my email!
  • henji ga nakatta
    A response was nonexistent.
    There was no response.
    They didn't response to my email...

Now, if you know the second thing about Japanese grammar, you know that verbs and adjectives have negative forms, in which they end up ending with nai. For example:
  • pasokon wo motenai
    To not have a computer.
    To not possess a computer.
    I don't have a PC.

So, obviously, if all verbs have a negative form, then aru ある, which is a verb, must have a negative form too, right?

Well, yes. the negative conjugation of aru ある would be aranai あらない, "to not exist." However, in modern Japanese, nobody says that. People just use nai instead. That's how the Japanese grammar works now.

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