The verbs aru and iru in Japanese

Know more details about the verbs aru and iru in Japanese!

The verbs ある and いる are two verbs in Japanese that have the same meaning and can be used in the same way.

The basic difference between these two verbs is that いる is used when the subject of the sentence is a person or animal (animated object :D), and ある is used when the subject of the sentence is something lifeless or inanimate object.

The verbs aru and iru in Japanese

Keep this difference in mind, as it is very important to know the difference between these two verbs in the Japanese language.

Since I haven't mentioned anything about the use of Japanese verbs, including their conjugations and sentence placement, I'm going to use this article to introduce some concepts and issues that are yet to come.

Summarizing the use of verbs in Japanese

According to Japanese grammar, Japanese verbs always appear at the end of sentences, giving them a basic structure of subject+object or predicate+verb. Which is very different from our Portuguese language, where we have subject+verb+predicate.

For example, in Portuguese we would have:

I write a letter. (Subject + verb + predicate or object)

In Japanese, the same sentence would be:

私は手紙を書く (Subject + predicate or object + verb)

Note that each element of the Japanese sentence is linked by a particle, informing who is the subject of the sentence, the object (direct or indirect) and where the verb is. Keep this structure well in mind as it is used in virtually every sentence in Japanese.

In previous articles, I've written two topics mentioning the basic use of particles. If it is of interest to you, I suggest reading the articles below:

Basic particles in Japanese

Particles for the end of sentences in Japanese

About Japanese Verb Conjugations

In the Japanese language, there are only three tenses: present, past, negative present, and negative past. The future tense is usually performed with a special sentence structure, usually using tense adverbs. But that's the theme for the Intermediate Japanese course, which will be available soon.

Another good news about Japanese verbs is that they are invariant. That is, they do not change shape according to number (plural), gender (female or masculine) and neither person (first person singular, plural, etc. pronouns). The verbs will work similarly to the the nouns in japanese.

The bad news is that the Japanese language has levels of formality. This means that for each tense, we will have two conjugations: one in formal mode and one in informal mode. This means that each verb in Japanese has a minimum of eight conjugations and some special forms like the mashou form, the shape you and a few more.

Don't worry, although it's a little scary, Japanese verbs are simpler than most people think.

The informal way of aru and iru

The informal way of verbs in Japanese is known as dictionary form. It is known as such because it is the official form of verbs used in Japanese dictionaries.

Briefly, the conjugation of verbs ある and いる in the form of the dictionary will be presented in the table below:

Conjugations of the verb Aru and Iru in dictionary form
tenseConjugation of the Aru verbConjugation of the verb Iru
Affirmative presentあるいる
Affirmative pastあったいった
negative presentないいない
negative pastなかったいなかった

This type of conjugation is very reminiscent of the conjugation of adjectives in japanese. It is not?

The formal way of aru and iru

The formal mode of verbs in Japanese is known as masu shape. It got this name because all verbs conjugated in this tense gain the ending ますin your writing.

Briefly, the conjugation of verbs ある and いる in masu form will be presented in the table below:

Conjugations of the verb Aru and Iru in the form masu
tenseConjugation of the Aru verbConjugation of the verb Iru
Affirmative presentありますいます
Affirmative pastありましたいました
negative presentありませんいません
negative pastありませんでしたいませんでした


How to use aru and iru in Japanese sentences

Before starting to show some examples of the use of verbs ある and いる in Japanese, it is worth remembering that these two verbs are often used with the demonstrative pronouns in Japanese. So I recommend a review of this article as well.

Like ある and いる can have different meanings depending on the context of the sentence, I will try to use examples for the most common meanings of these two verbs.

aru and iru verbs with meaning to exist

when we use ある and いる with meaning to exist, we can make use of a very simple sentence pattern from the Japanese language: demonstrative pronoun +  + subject +  + iru/aru.



In the sentences above, we use the verb いる once  it is a living being. In the second sentence, we use the formal mode of ある, given that ペン it has no life.

aru and iru verbs with meaning of being

To use ある and いる with a sense of being, indicating location, we can use another different sentence pattern: subject +  + place/place adverb +  + aru/iru.



Verbs aru and iru meaning to have or to possess

Although not a very “correct” way to use ある and いる, it is common to find phrases that follow this model: subject  object or predicate  aru/iru. In these cases, ある and いる they come to possess the meaning of having something.



Although it is common to find phrases like the ones in the examples above, the best would be to use the verbs 持つ for objects and 飼う for animals instead of using ある and いる.


when to use verbs ある and いる, always pay close attention to the meaning of the sentence. It is very common for Japanese students to use these verbs only according to the subject and forget the meaning of the sentence. I've been wrong a lot like that too.

For example:



The difference between the two sentences is in the sense and not the words. There are dead fish for consumption in the fish market and live fish swimming in the sea. That's why we use ある in a sentence and いる on the other.

Kanji calligraphy exercise

Below are the Japanese ideographic symbols used in this article. Selecting the desired kanji, copy and paste them into Worksheet for Kana and Kanji Practice , a new window will open where you can view the printable file and practice Japanese calligraphy by covering the gray symbols and then trying to write yourself. Just print and practice.