Day Thirteen: Iru and Aru
To be or not to be…
Have you ever wondered how to say something ‘is’ or ‘isn’t’? Or, in other words, how to say something exists or doesn’t exist? While we’ve covered particular aspects of the English ‘is’ through the basic sentence structure of desu on day 3, desu doesn’t cover the concept of existence as ‘is’ does in English. So, in order to understand the grammar that conveys existence in Japanese, we’re going to focus our study today on the existence verbs iru/いる and aru/ある.
Let’s start with the most fundamental difference between these two verbs and go from there. The first, いる, is an existence verb that is used for something that is living or animate. This means that when we are referring to the presence or absence of humans, dogs, girlfriends, and even spiders, we would use the いる verb. On the other hand, ある, is used when referencing inanimate objects such as a car, an experience, or even an insurance policy. So remember, the main difference between いる and ある is that いる is used for animate objects and ある is used for inanimate objects.
Now, let’s look at the basics of forming a sentence using いる and ある. It’s important to note that が is almost always used in conjunction with the verbs いる and ある – you’ll seldom see は or を right before いる or ある with this particular sentence formation. The most common formation is (living thing)がいる or (non-living thing)がある.
I have a girlfriend.
I have a car.
One thing that can be difficult for students of Japanese is いる and ある’s similarity to the English ‘is‘. ‘Is’ can be translated into a few different things such as だ, いる, and ある, so it’s important to compare those other verbs for better understanding. いる (iru) and ある (aru) both mean ‘is’ but they can also be translated as ‘to have’ or ‘to exist’ which we believe is a more appropriate translation.
Note: いる, ある, and です all have different meanings. です is a predicate, meaning that it is similar to a verb but it simply confirms the existence of something, like “the sky is blue” or “the cat is small” the ‘is’ being the predicate. いる and ある are verbs that say something exists, like “Ben the intern doesn’t have a girlfriend” or “Ben the intern is in Salt Lake City.”
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One of the coolest things about the Japanese language is the how the written language matches up with the words. Japanese kanji is the writing system that acts alongside hiragana and katakana as the Japanese written language. If you take a look at a lot of kanji, you can see resemblances to the word that the kanji stands for. Lets take a look at a few kanji characters from this week’s vocab.
Let’s look at a basic kanji, mouth, or くち (in hiragana). The kanji for mouth is 口(くち). 口 resembles a mouth or an opening, you can kind of see it if you look at it with two circles by it like 0口0 – the zero’s alongside are eyes (not kanji) and the middle box (real kanji) is the kanji for くち is a mouth.
Looking at a few other vocab words, we can see some clear resemblances in the kanji characters.
- Mouth – くち – 口- the box being an opening for a mouth.
- Body – からだ – 体 – the 本 looks like a person holding a shovel or staff イ.
- Leg – あし – 足 – the box on top looking like a head on top of his body and arm, the bottom two lines acting as legs.
- Eye – め – 目 – looks like an eye with a pupil in between the whites of the eyes.
- Tree – き – 木 – has a straight line going up like a tree trunk with branches shooting out and vines falling off.
Don’t get too ahead of yourself by jumping into kanji right off the bat, but if you come across kanji they are easier to remember if you can find the pictures inside.