The Japanese Verb Iru(いる) : So, you want to be a master of Japanese? Well, after today’s lesson you’ll be one step closer! Today, we’re going to study “Iru(いる) ” and learn the ins and outs of one of the most important verbs in the Japanese vernacular.

ASK any questions about Japanese!

The Japanese Verb Iru(いる)

Japanese Common Phrases- There is ~ a person | Japanese language lesson

There are two verbs that mean “to be” in Japanese, and they are iru and aru. Iru is used for living, breathing things (people, animals, etc.) and things with a notable life force within them. Aru is used for non-living things (plants, chairs, etc.). Today, however, we’re just focusing on iru and its three main uses: to express existence, possession, and the present progressive tense.

Iru(いる) : To Exist

In its most basic form, Iru(いる)  means simply “to be” or “to exist.” Remember, when used in this sense, only use iru for living things; such as, people or animals. The dictionary form iru is used in casual situations, and imasu is used in polite situations.

Inu ga iru. 
(There is a dog.)
Otoko ga imasu. 
(There is a man.)

When we want to express that someone or something is not present, we use the negative form of Iru(いる) , which is inai. In formal situations, the negative form of imasu is imasen.

Neko ga inai. 
(There is no cat.)
Onna ga imasen. 
(There is no woman.)

When using the past tense, Iru(いる)  becomes ita, and imasu becomes imashita.

Uma ga ita. 
(There was a horse.)
Shōnen ga imashita. 
(There was a boy.)

When using the past tense in the negative form, ita becomes inakatta, and imashita becomes imasen deshita.

Ushi ga inakatta. 
(There was no cow.)
Onna no ko ga imasen deshita. 
(There was no girl.)

Iru(いる) : To Possess

Iru(いる)  can also be used to express possession. The same rule as above applies here as well: iru can only be used when talking about living, breathing things.

Boku ni wa musume ga futatsu iru. 
(I have two daughters.)
Honda-san ni wa kodomo ga inai. 
(Ms. Honda has no children.)
Ano bā ni wa ryokōsha ga ōzei imasu. 
(That bar has many travelers.)
Kono bijinesu hoteru ni wa bijinesu man ga imasen. 
(This business hotel has no business men.)
Kare ni wa itoko ga gojūnana-nin ita. 
(He had 57 cousins.)
Ano kōjō ni wa gokiburi ga takusan imashita. 
(That factory had many cockroaches.)
Kōen ni wa tora ga inakatta. 
(The park had no tigers.)
Kono dōbutsuen ni wa saru ga amari imasen deshita. 
(This zoo didn’t have many monkeys.)
 -Present tense / PositivePresent tense / NegativePast tense / PositivePast tense / Negative
CasualIru(いる) inaiitainakatta
Formalimasuimasenimashitaimasen deshita

-Te Iru(いる) : Present Progressive Tense

When added to the -te form of a verb, Iru(いる)  becomes an auxiliary verb that expresses the present progressive tense (e.g. I am eating, He is drinking). When using the -te iru form, the subject does not have to be a living thing like it had to be above. It can be either living or nonliving.

Watashi wa piza wo tabete iru. 
(I am eating pizza.)
Kare wa C.C. Remon wo nonde imasu. 
(He is drinking C.C. Lemon.)
Honda-san wa sakka bōru wo kette imashita. 
(Mr. Honda was kicking a ball.)
Mari wa terebi gēmu wo shite inakatta. 
(Mari wasn’t playing a video game.)

-Te Iru(いる)  is also used in special cases to express a regular or habitual action that takes place over a period of time. Examples of this are “living” or “working” somewhere, or even “knowing” or “remembering” something.

Yamada-san wa Tōkyō ni sunde imasu. 
(Mr. Yamada lives in Tokyo. [Lit. “Mr. Yamada is living in Tokyo.”])
Chichi wa Google de hataraite iru. 
(My father works at Google. [Lit. “My father is working at Google.”])
Maffin man wo shitte inai. 
(I don’t know the Muffin Man. [Lit. “I am not knowing the Muffin Man.])
Watashi wa jibun no namae wo oboete imasen! 
(I don’t remember my own name! [Lit. “I am not remembering my own name!”])

-Te Iru(いる)  can also express something/someone’s present state of being.

Doa ga aite imasu. 
(The door is open. [Lit. “The door is [in the present state of being] open.”])
Asoko ni kuruma ga tomatte iru. 
(The car is stopped over there. [Lit. “The car is [in the present state of being] stopped over there.”])
Yūbinhaitatsunin wa mada kite inai. 
(The mailman hasn’t come yet. [Lit. “The mailman is in the present state of having not come yet.”])
Higaisha wa ao no shātsu wo kite imasen deshita. 
(The victim wasn’t wearing a blue shirt. [Lit. “[At that time] the victim wasn’t [in the state of] wearing a blue shirt.”])

Now that you’ve learned the three different uses of the verb Iru(いる) , it’s time to get out there and practice! Tell a Japanese speaker that you have a new smartphone, or that there is a cup over there! Also, try using the -te iru form to express the present progressive. Tell someone where you live and where you work or go to school.

The only way to be a true Japanese master is to get out there and practice what you’ve learned. So, get out there and practice, practice, practice!

Learn Japanese particles with BondLingo

Study in Japan?



How to conjugate plain form Japanese verbs into the negative and past negative forms
Japanese verb conjugation chart