There It Is!: The Japanese Verb Aru(ある) : So, are you ready to be a master of Japanese? Well, after today’s lesson you’ll be one step closer! Today, we’re going to study “Aru(ある)” and learn the ins and outs of one of the most important verbs in the Japanese vernacular.
There It Is!: The Japanese Verb Aru(ある)
There are two verbs that mean “to be” in Japanese. They are aru and iru. Aru(ある) is used for non-living things (plants, objects, ideas, etc.). Iru is used for living, breathing things (people, animals, etc.) and things with a notable life force within them. Today, however, we will only focus on aru and its three main uses: to express existence, possession, and a present state of being.
Aru(ある): To Exist
In its most basic form, Aru(ある) means simply “to be” or “to exist.” Remember, only use aru for non-living things; such as, objects or plants. The dictionary form aru is used in casual situations, and arimasu is used in polite situations.
Hana ga aru.
(There is a flower.)
Terebi ga arimasu.
(There is a TV.)
Hon ga aru.
(There is a book.)
When we want to express that something is not there, we use the negative form of Aru(ある), which is nai. In formal situations, the negative form of arimasu is arimasen.
Ki ga nai.
(There are no trees.)
Tōsutā ga arimasen.
(There is no toaster.)
Sumaho ga nai.
(There is no smartphone.)
When using the past tense, Aru(ある) becomes atta, and arimasu becomes arimashita.
Kasa ga atta.
(There was an umbrella.)
Shorui ga arimashita.
(There was a document.)
Suihanki ga atta.
(There was a rice cooker.)
When using the past tense in the negative form, atta becomes nakatta, and arimashita becomes arimasen deshita.
Rajio ga nakatta.
(There was no radio.)
Ongaku ga arimasen deshita.
(There was no music.)
Oto ga nakatta.
(There was no sound.)
Another common use of Aru(ある) is to state where something is (or isn’t).
Zasshi wa tēburu no ue ni aru.
(The magazine is on the table.)
Nihon wa ajia ni arimasu.
(Japan is in Asia.)
Reizōko no naka ni wa kechappu ga nakatta.
(The ketchup wasn’t in the refrigerator.)
Isu no shita ni wa kyōkasho ga arimasen deshita.
(There was no textbook under the chair.)
BONUS: A common exclamation the Japanese make when they’ve been searching for something (e.g. a missing earring, car keys, etc.) and suddenly find it is, “Atta!” It literally translates to “It was there,” but the meaning is more along the lines of “Here it is!”
A: Kuruma no kī wa doko ni oita no ka wakaranai. (I don’t know where I put those car keys.)
B: Atta! Sofa no kusshon no aida ni atta! (I found them! They were between the sofa cushions!)
Aru(ある): To Possess
Aru(ある) can also be used to express possession. The same rule above applies here as well: aru can only be used when talking about non-living things.
Boku ni wa nagai kami no ke ga aru.
(I have long hair.)
Honda-san ni wa kuruma ga nai.
(Mr. Honda doesn’t have a car.)
Ano bā ni wa bīru no shurui ga ippai arimasu.
(That bar has many kinds of beer.)
Kono onsen ni wa rotenburo ga arimasen.
(This hot spring has no outdoor bath.)
Kare ni wa senshū jugyō ga nakatta.
(He had no classes last week.)
Ano tatemono ni wa jimusho ga takusan arimashita.
(That building had many offices.)
Kafe ni wa kōhī ga nakatta.
(The cafe had no coffee.)
Sono daidokoro ni wa kaden ga amari arimasen deshita.
(That kitchen didn’t have many electrical appliances.)
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-Te Aru(てある): A Present State of Being
When added to the -te form of a verb, Aru(ある) becomes an auxiliary verb that expresses a present state of being that is the result of a previous, deliberate action. Remember, when using the -te aru form, the subject of the sentence must be a nonliving thing and the verb must be transitive (i.e. a verb that needs a direct object.)
Denki ga tsukete aru.
(The lights have been turned on.)
Kagami ni shashin ga hatte arimasu.
(Pictures have been put on the mirror.)
Bunshō ga kokuban ni kaite arimasu.
(The sentence has been written on the chalkboard.)
Sentakumono ga aratte aru.
(The laundry has been washed.)
Now that you’ve learned the three different uses of the verb aru, it’s time to get out there and practice! Tell a Japanese speaker that you have a new iPhone, or that there is a pizza box on the table! Also, try using the -te aru form. Tell someone that the lights have been turned off or that the dishes have been washed! It may sound kind of strange now, but once you get the hang of aru, you will be using it much more than you thought!