Japanese Grammar

Existence and Possession: ある and いる


Last time, you learned present progressive tense: “ごはんをべている (I’m eating a meal),” and resultant states: “かばんをっている (I have a bag).” As you notice, the concept of Japanese tense and aspect are different from English. In this lesson, we would like to focus on how to express existence and possession.

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How ある and いる Work When Expressing Existence and Possession

Table of Contents
How to Express Existence
How to Express Possession

Basic Idea of ある and いる

  Plain Negative
To be (inanimate things) ある / あります ない / ありません
To be (animate things) いる / います いない / いません

The basic usage is that ある can only be used for inanimate things, while いる can only be used for animate things. Both ある and いる indicate constant attributes which won’t change regardless of whether it is in the past or the future. Therefore, they don’t have the te-form. Be careful; as we mentioned in the previous lesson, the negative form of ある is an exception.

How to Express Existence

ねこ いる / います
Subject (animate) Verb
There is a cat.
しょかん ある / あります
Subject (inanimate) Verb
There is a library.

That’s very simple. The only thing you have to keep in mind is if the subject is an animate thing or an inanimate thing. The definition sometimes confuses learners. Animals and insects are categorized into animate things without doubt. However, something like robots and germs depend on person’s opinion.

うさぎが(いる / います)。
There is a rabbit.
おばけは(いない / いません)。
Ghosts don’t exist.
びょういんが(ある / あります)。
There is a hospital.
ロボットが(いない / いません)。
There is not a robot.

The Particle に: Location of Existence

公園こうえん ども いる / います
Location of Existence Subject (animate) Verb
There is a child in the park.

Here is a new function of the particle に, which indicates locations of existence. When it comes to expressing existence, the に part is usually (but not always) placed at the beginning. Here are some examples.

あそこにむしが(いる / います)。
Insects are over there.
ちゅうしゃじょうくるまが(ある / あります)。
There are cars in the parking area.
先生せんせいいまいえに(いる / います)よ。
The teacher is in [his/her] house now.
ほんほんしょかんに(ある / あります)よ。
As for Japanese books, [they] are in the library.

The particle に can be used with other verbs if they indicate existence. Don’t be confused with the particle で, which indicates locations of actions. It’s the key whether or not you take a specific action.

ほんむ / みます)。
[I will] live in Japan.
友達ともだちいえまって(いる / います)。
[I’m] staying at my friend’s house.
ほんはたらく / はたらきます)。
[I will] work in Japan.
友達ともだちいえ勉強べんきょうして(いる / います)。
[I’m] studying in my friend’s house.

How to Express Possession

  Animated Thing Abstract Attribute Numerical Attribute Part of Body Other
には…がいる Suitable        
には…がある   Suitable     Acceptable
は…がある   Acceptable Suitable    
は…をしている       Suitable  
は…をっている   Acceptable   Acceptable Suitable

Proper expressions will vary depending on objects. In English you can just use “have,” e.g. you have a sister, a dream, a fever of 38°C (100°F), good eyes, a car, etc. However, you have to use different expressions in Japanese. Let’s check each usage one by one.

Animated Thing: には…がいる

[ぼくには] てき彼女かのじょ いる / います
[Topic] Subject Verb: Possession
[As for me], [I] have a wonderful girlfriend.

When you express that you have animate things, you use には…がいる. You may wonder about the function of the particle に, however, we think you should just memorize this as a set phrase without logic.

とうさんにはども3人さんにん(いる / います)。
Sato-san has three children.
ぼくには可愛かわいいペットが(いる / います)。
I have a cute pet.

The particle に is sometimes omitted especially when the particle は indicates contrast in context. 

とうさんども3人さんにん(いる / います)。
ぼく可愛かわいいペットが(いる / います)。

Abstract Attribute: には…がある

わたしには ゆめ ある / あります
Topic Subject Verb: Possession
As for me, [I] have a dream.

When you express that you have an abstract attribute such as a dream or talent, you use には…がある. Like the above, you should just memorize this phrase. In this context, “っている: to have” is also acceptable, but not recommended.

井上いのうえさんにはうた才能さいのうが(ある / あります)。
Inoue-san has a talent to sing.
携帯けいたいでんには録音ろくおんをするのうが(ある / あります)。
Cell phones have a function to record.

Numerical Attribute: は…がある

[わたしは] 38さんじゅうはちねつ ある / あります
Topic Subject Verb: Possession
As for me, [I] have a fever of 38°C.

When you express that you have numerical attributes, you use は…がある. Be careful because the particle に disappears here. When it comes to fevers, people are often concerned about whether you have a fever or a normal temperature. Thus, numerals can be omitted (only in this case).

近藤こんどうさんはしんちょう170ひゃくななじゅっcmセンチ(ある / あります)。
As for Kondo-san, he is 170cm (5.57ft) tall.
きたさんはたいじゅう60ろくじゅっkgキロ(ある / あります)。
As for Kitano-san, his weight is 60kg (132lb).
[わたしは] ねつが(ある / あります)。
[I] have a fever.

Part of Body: は…をしている

ビートルズは いいこえ して(いる / います)
Topic / Subject Direct Object Verb: Possession
The Beatles have a nice voice.

When you express that you have a remarkable part of your body, you use は…をしている. You cannot use this sentence pattern without adjectives or adverbs. If you say “The Beatles have a voice,” that sounds strange in Japanese because everyone has a voice. している is the te-form + いる of する, but you should just memorize this as a set phrase without logic, either.

なかさんはきれいなをして(いる / います)。
Tanaka-san has beautiful eyes.
むらさんはかっこいい髪型かみがたをして(いる / います)。
Nomura-san has a cool hairstyle.

Other: は…をっている

[わたしは] ノートパソコンを って(いる / います)
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb
[I] have a laptop.

Apart from the cases above, you simply use “っている: to have.” As you learned already, the te-form + いる indicates resultant states while the plain form: つ indicates a momentary action like “to hold.”

くるまって(いる / います)。
[I] have a car.
ほんしょって(いる / います)。
[I] have a Japanese dictionary.


  1. ある can be used for inanimate things while いる can be used for animate things.
  2. The particle に indicate locations of existence.
  3. Expressions for possession will vary depending on objects.

In this lessons, you have learned how to express existence and possession by using constant attributes (ある・いる) and resultant states (っている). This is one of the cases where the concept is totally different from English. Thus, try to learn the patterns as it is. Next, you will learn how to express past tense with the ta-form.

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