Japanese learners often get confused with the use of Japanese verbs, iru and aru, because situations in which Japanese native speakers use them are very similar. However, their difference is easy to understand. I will focus on these two verbs one by one and then their difference. Let’s get started!
- Explanation of iru meaning
- Explanation of aru meaning
- Iru meaning in comparison with aru
- Wrap-up of iru meaning and that of aru
Explanation of iru meaningBelow is iru meaning.
- Iru – いる : a verb to express presence of living things. In a way, it is similar to English be verbs or verbs like “to exist”.
As you can see above, iru expresses presence of living things, like dogs, cats, and of course, human beings. The most important point here is that iru expresses presence of living things only.
Example 1: iruBelow is an example.
Watashi wa ie ni iru– 私は家にいる (わたしはいえにいる)
I’m at home.
Let me explain other words than iru.
- watashi – 私 (わたし) : a pronoun to mean “I”.
- wa – は : a binding particle to work as a case maker after a noun. In the example, it helps the noun, watashi, to become the subject.
- ie – 家 (いえ) : a noun to mean “a house/houses”or “home”. For detailed explanations of Japanese singular and plural, please refer to another blog post.
- ni – に : a case particle to indicate a place where something or someone is.
Explanation of aru meaningThen, let’s take a closer look at the other one, aru.
- Aru – ある : a verb to express presence or existence of not only living things but inanimate things as well. Like the other one, iru, it shows a similarity to an English be verbs or a verb “to exist”.
Example 2: aruBelow is an example.
Watashi no ie ga aru– 私の家がある (わたしのいえがある)
There is my home.
Below are new words used here.
- no – の : a case particle to change a noun to its possessive case. Here, it is put after the pronoun, watashi, to make its possessive case, watashi no. While watashi means “I”, watashi no corresponds well to “my”.
- ga – が : a case particle to work as a case maker. In the example, this is put after the noun, ie 家 (いえ), to help it to become the subject in a sentence.
Nevertheless, the actual use of these words today in Japan is not exactly the same as explained grammatically. In the next chapter, I will explain this point in detail.
Iru meaning in comparison with aruAgain let me point out the big difference between iru and aru.
Aru can express presence or existence of both living things and inanimate things while iru can be used for living things only. If I were learning Japanese, I would try to use aru only based on this grammatical explanation. Aru would fit with more situations than the other. Most probably the other Japanese learners would do the same thing too. Unfortunately, however, languages are not as simple as we expect sometimes. The attempt to use aru only will not work well.
Aru can express presence or existence of both living things and inanimate things. This is grammatically correct. Nevertheless, today, Japanese native speakers do not use it for living things. They use it only for inanimate things. Only in old Japanese novels or literature, we can see it used for living things including a person, people and so on. In a way, the use of aru for living things is out of dated.
Therefore, I recommend that Japanese learners should use aru for inanimate things only. This would be very helpful to avoid any possible confusion to Japanese native speakers.
Example 3: aru for living thingsI know one example is worth a hundred lines of explanations. Let me show you an example where aru is used for a living thing.
Watashi wa ie ni aru – 私は家にある (わたしはいえにある)
I’m at home.
It could be acceptable. From the grammatical point of view, this usage is not wrong at all. However, it sounds weird to Japanese native speakers. Today, they don’t use it for living things in daily conversation. This is the fact.
So, again, I strongly recommend that Japanese learners should use aru for inanimate things only. Perhaps they don’t accept the necessity to differentiate one from the other because they don’t have to do so based on the grammatical definition. Plus most probably they don’t have a weird feeling with it. Yet, for living things, the use of iru is much much better. Sometimes actual use doesn’t meet theoretical explanations in languages.
Wrap-up of iru meaning and that of aruBelow is the summary of iru meaning and also that of aru.
- iru – いる : a verb to express presence of living things only. It is similar to English be verbs or verbs like “to exist”. It has its kanji expression as well which is used to stress presence. Yet, it gives us an old fashioned impression.
- aru – ある : a verb to express presence or existence of both living things and inanimate things, but its use for living things is out of dated. So I strongly recommend that Japanese leaners should use it only for inanimate things. This would be helpful to avoid any confusion with native speakers. It also has its kanji expression which is a bit old fashioned.