Akemi's Anime World

Existence Verbs Japanese Lesson

Now that we've got some experience with adjectives and questions, it's high time we learned a verb other than "desu". Let's start nice and gentle-like with the rather useful concept of existence. We'll be working up to more general verbs pretty quickly in a future lesson.

Here, There, and Everywhere

Before we get going, let's learn a new set of those ko-so-a-do words to go with places:

"koko" = here (place where the speaker is)
"soko" = there (place where the listener is)
"asoko" = over there (place near neither the speaker or listener)
"doko" = where

These words follow the same pattern as all the other ko-so-a-do words, and have nice useful English equivalents.

Only one little issue: using them isn't quite so simple. You'd think that, since "desu" is used in sentences with meanings like "I am supremely cool.", that it can be used to say something like "I am here." But no, we're going to need a whole new "to be" verb for that. Enter "imasu".

Being There

Your first non-desu verb: "imasu". Check out this sentence:

"Watashi wa koko ni imasu." ("I am here.")

Woah, that's longer that you'd think. Breaking it down, we've got the subject at the beginning, marked by the trusty particle "wa", then the location where the existing is done in the middle, marked by the new (to you) particle "ni", and a verb at the end, "imasu".

"Imasu" is a general-purpose "to be" verb, meaning "am" or "is" as they relate to the existence of something. That is, "I am.", as opposed to "I am cool."--the first one declares existence, while the second one declares some property of the person. It's a subtle difference, but you'll get the hang of it.

With some color coding, we thus have:

Watashi wa koko ni imasu. = I am here.

The Knights Who Say "ni"

Convenient Monty Python reference aside, "ni" is a particle that shows up all over the place. It gets used a few ways, but for the most part marks a location or direction that applies to the verb in the sentence. It covers some of the same ground as "in" and "at" in English, but keep in mind that is also required in places where you're not used to seeing either.

"Watashi wa koko ni imasu." ("I am here.")
"Watashi wa uchuu ni imasu." ("I am in space.")
"Watashi wa gakkou ni imasu." ("I am at school.")


The first step in making this more confusing is a second new particle, "ga". In general terms, it's the same as "wa"--it marks the subject of a sentence. Sometimes they're interchangeable, but in certain sentences you just gotta have "ga", such as this one:

"Nyan-chan ga imasu!" ("It's a kitty!")

This is a simple sentence declaring (literally speaking) that a cat exists. This comes out more like pointing out the existence of a particular cat, hence the more accurate English meaning of "It's a kitty." "Nyan-chan", if you didn't guess, combines "nyan", the sound Japanese cats make, and the affectionate "chan", to get the baby-talk word for "cat".

So how come "ga" in this case? Sadly, when exactly to use "wa" and when to use "ga" is a tricky proposition (more than you even want to think about), but in this case it's because the emphasis is on the existence of the thing, rather than its location. For the time being, just remember that "ga" is the particle of choice when you're pointing out the existence (as opposed to location) of something.

Being There and Being There

Confusion time. There are actually two words to describe the existence of something: "arimasu", which is used only with inanimate objects like TNT, trees, and stars, and "imasu", which is used for living, active things, like people, kittens, and 15-foot sharp-clawed demons. For those wondering about robots, that's your call, depending in part how close to alive the robot is.

Examples make everything clearer:

Neko ga imasu." ("There is a cat.")
Omocha ga arimasu." ("There is a toy.")
Neko no omocha ga arimasu." ("There is a cat's toy.")
Kyodai na bakemono ga Toukyo ni imasu." ("There is a giant monster in Tokyo.")
Tokorode, bakudan ga anata no kuruma no naka ni arimasu." ("By the way, there is a bomb in your car.")

As you can see, cats and giant monsters are living things, and hence need "imasu". Also note the na-adjective in there--"kyodai" ("giant"), which is modifying "bakemono" ("monster").

The other three are all inanimate objects, so must be paired with "arimasu"; "omocha" ("toy"), "neko no omocha" ("cat's toy"--recognize the possessive "no"?), and "bakudan" ("bomb"). The last two sentences also include locations, "Toukyou" (the proper way to pronounce Tokyo) getting visited by a giant monster, and "anata no kuruma no naka", which involves both another possessive phrase, "your car" and the specific location "naka" ("inside"), which we won't get into in detail until a bit later.

Here's a short conversation that, when you skim over the stuff we haven't covered yet, involves both "imasu" and "arimasu":

Mirai: "Ashita paati ga arimasu." ("There will be a party tomorrow.")
Ken: "Dare ga kimasu ka?" ("Who will be there?")
Mirai: "Watashi no tomodachi. Kawaii onnanoko ga ippai imasu yo!" ("My friends. There will be a lot of cute girls!")
Ken: "Yatta!" ("Score!")

Focusing on what Mirai is saying, she first comments that a party (which is not a living thing despite appearances) will be existing, so "arimasu" is required. "Ashita" ("tomorrow") is tacked on to the beginning to identify the time more specifically.

Mirai then points out that among her friends exist many cute girls, who, being living creatures, require "imasu". "Onna no ko" (literally "woman child") means "girl" (in the same sense as in English, so it covers both kids and young women if you're not being technical), "ippai" is a useful word meaning "lots"/"a lot", and you'd better know "kawaii" by now. This is a subtly different use of "imasu"--it isn't just pointing out that Mirai has cute friends (in which case she would have said it differently, perhaps using something along the lines of "Watashi no tomodachi wa kawaii desu.", which you can figure out if you remember the previous lesson). Rather, within the group of her friends, specifically, many cute girls exist. We don't say it like that in English, of course, but that's the way it goes.

If you're wondering about Ken, in his question you will see a different verb, which we'll be covering in lesson 4, and in his final comment you'll see the popular phrase "yatta", an all purpose expression of success made famous by Chun Li of Street Fighter fame.

Putting It All Together

Existence of living things:

"Watashi wa koko ni imasu." ("I am here.")
"Watashi wa [location] ni imasu." ("I am (in/at) [location].")
"[Living thing] wa [location] ni imasu." ("[Living thing] is (in/at) [location].")
"[Living thing] ga imasu." ("There is (a) [living thing].")

Existence of inanimate objects:

"[Thing] wa [location] ni arimasu." ("[Thing] is (in/at) [location].")
"[Thing] ga arimasu." ("There is (a) [thing].")

Have a shot at this sentence:

"Anata no kuruma wa Roshia ni arimasu."

If you've forgotten, "kuruma" means "car", and you can probably figure "Roshia" out if you say it out loud--"Russia". This means, therefore, "Your car is in Russia."

Let's try one that's a little more challenging:

"Ore no hiru-gohan wa soko ni imasu."

"Hiru-gohan" is a new word meaning simply "lunch" (literally, "afternoon-meal"), and "ore" is a masculine term for "me". As a result, the sentence in English means "My lunch is right there." ...but did you catch the subtle hint? Notice that the word "imasu" is used instead of "arimasu". This would imply that lunch is still alive and kicking, so the speaker either is getting ready to turn that "imasu" into an "arimasu", or likes his food lively. Plus, since "soko" was used, it's even possible that the lunch in question is the person being spoken to.

More Examples

Have a look at a few more existence-related sentences:

  1. "Watashi wa jigoku ni imasu." ("I am in hell.")
  2. "Kare wa atsui tokoro ni imasu." ("He is in a hot place.")
  3. "Miyazaki Hayao wa Nihon ni imasu." ("Hayao Miyazaki is in Japan.")
  4. "Watashi no boushi wa uchuu ni arimasu." ("My hat is in space.")
  5. "Aho! Deguchi wa koko ni aru yo!" ("Moron! The exit is right here!")

Only a few new words in here; in number 1, "jigoku" of course means "hell". Number 2 involves an i-adjective, "atsui" ("hot") modifying "tokoro" ("place"). Number 3 uses today's pattern to describe the location of the famous animator. Number four describes a rather odd situation, but if you know that "boushi" means "hat", should be easy enough to figure out.

The final sentence is a bit more complicated, involving both an insult, the word "deguchi" ("exit"), and the plain form of "arimasu", "aru". We'll go into plain forms in more detail eventually, but suffice it to say that if you're being blunt, very informal, or insulting, using the plain form is very common. The "yo" is, as usual, just for added emphasis.

In Closing...

In part 4, we'll learn another use for arimasu and imasu, as well as some relative location words and how to ask questions.