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Learn the Proper Use of the Verbs Aru and Iru in Japanese

By Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch

When speaking, we say "there is" or "there are" for both inanimate and animate objects. In Japanese, different verbs exist to express that phrase. Learn how to use ある (aru) and いる (iru) in Japanese sentences, and when it is appropriate to use each form.

In English, we have the phrases “there is” or “there are” to refer to items, whether inanimate or animate objects. In Japanese, however, we have separate verbs: ある (aru) is used for inanimate objects, while いる (iru) is used for animate objects. ある and いる are useful verbs in describing where things are or identifying objects.

ある (aru) — For Inanimate Objects

あるis used when we are talking about non-living things, such as a building, a possession or an event that is going to take place. Unlike other Japanese verbs, ある uses the particle instead ofto indicate location. Let's look at the sentence formation when using ある:

(place ) thing が ある

The place + is optional: sometimes we may use a ある sentence and we do not have a specific location. For example:

えんぴつ が あります (enpitsu ga arimasu) There is a pencil (this can also mean I have a pencil).

If we want to specify a location, it goes before:

あそこ に えんぴつ が あります (asoko ni enpitsu ga arimasu) There is a pencil over there.

The conjugation of ある works like other regular Japanese verbs. Let's go over how to form the positive and negative in present tense and past tense:

Present Tense, Affirmative: あります

Present Tense, Negative: ありません

Past Tense, Affirmative: ありました

Past Tense, Negative: ありませんでした

So let's go over each of the different sentences where ある can be used:

An item in a certain location: おおさか に おいしい たべもの が あります。

(Oosaka ni oishii tabemono ga arimasu) In Osaka, there is delicious food.

Item you own: コンピューター が あります

(Conpyuutaa ga arimasu) I have a computer.

Event that will take place: あした は コンサート が あります

(Ashita wa consaato ga arimasu) Tomorrow there will be a concert.

いる (iru) — For Animate Objects

Now, if we have an animate object, such as a person, we use the verb いる instead. We use the same sentence pattern that we use for ある:

(place ) person る ← just make sure you use a person, not a thing as the object!

Conjugation also works similar to other regular Japanese verbs:

Present Tense, Affirmative: います

Present Tense, Negative: いません

Past Tense, Affirmative: いました

Past Tense, Negative: いませんでした

Let's look at an example with いる:

あそこ に りゅうがくせい が います (asoko ni ryuugakusei ga imasu)

There is an international student over there.

Just remember: ある and いる are used to describe existence and location; if we want to describe an attribute, we use です instead.

Additional Reading

For additional reading on location, see these articles:

Demonstratives in Japanese

How to Use Japanese Demonstratives When You Know What You are Locating


Banno, E., Ohno, Y., Sakane, Y. and Shinagawa, C. An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese. The Japan Times, 1999