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I am curious about a bit of academic pedantry of trivial importance.

If I wanted to put kanji in 日本人ではありません, would I use 有りません? This looks weird to me because 有 has some connotations of possession as opposed to 居る, for example.

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Well I guess I'm alone in reading this as you wanting to know which kanji is correct to use when you know it's normally written in kana but still want to use kanji for some effect. Perhaps you should explain in more detail what you want. – hippietrail Apr 5 '14 at 6:41

There are two kanji for verb ある that are commonly used: 有る and 在る. But neither is natural in your sentence: 日本人では有りません and 日本人では在りません.

Note that this is not because of the negation. 日本人で有る and 日本人で在る also look weird.

In modern Japanese, words with little semantic value are usually written in hiragana. ある in 日本人である is used as a copula in combination with で. Although ある is a verb, it works almost as a function word in these sentences, and therefore it is usually written in hiragana.

Here are some other examples:



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I don't think this answer is in the spirit very clearly expressed by the OP by saying "curious about a bit of academic pedantry of trivial importance". Learners over-using kanji. Teachers over-answering curiosity... – hippietrail Apr 4 '14 at 10:09

If you were determined to write it in Kanji では在りません would be the correct choice in your example. However, as @Tsuyoshi_Ito points out, it's not natural and is generally not written in Kanji.

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Why? There was a discussion this week on how learners over use kanji - this being a good example. – Tim Apr 4 '14 at 9:48
Why? Why be determined to write it in Kanji? Is that rhetorical? I think this is a good answer. It says it's not normally written in kanji but on the rare occasions when it is you want to recognize it. Maybe you're determined to write in a mock foreigner kanji-overusing style. Maybe you're determined to write in an old-fashioned style from before writing in hiragana became the norm. Maybe you're curious about a bit of academic pedantry of trivial importance. Who cares why somebody would want to learn a rare usage as long as we teach them how to do it right. – hippietrail Apr 4 '14 at 10:03
@hippietrail Why is a good question. If you want to write it the way people historically did, then there's a question--was である ever written with kanji historically, and if so, which one? If you want to know which way is technically correct today and the answer is "neither, no matter how much you want to write it in kanji", then knowing why helps us know if that answer is appropriate. – snailplane Apr 4 '14 at 10:44
Just for the record, I'm not convinced yet that で在る is better than で有る, and this answer includes no explanation as to why it might be the case. – snailplane Apr 4 '14 at 12:05
@Snailboat understood me correctly (thank you for expanding my question). I read all posts with the presumption they seek to be constructive. I have not cast my vote but even with an explanation it is hard to improve on the Jan 13 answer, which I had not seen before. – Tim Apr 5 '14 at 3:28

ではありません in your example sentence is a form of copula (である) and as such it is written using hiragana in modern Japanese. Words that are used in auxiliary way in the structure of the sentence are pretty much always written only using hiragana.

There's also quite a lot of other words, including verbs, that are normally written using hiragana. "To be" verbs ある and いる belong to this category.

In addition to great explanation in Tsuyoshi Ito's answer, please also note that ない, the negative form of ある, is sometimes written using a different kanji: 無い. This kanji has a meaning of non-existence. I understand it's used rather in set phrases than commonly for all situations. There are words/expressions which combine both kanji for positive (有) and negative (無) aspect of ある, for example:

  • 有{あ}ること無{な}いこと - mixture of facts and fiction
  • 有{あ}るか無{な}きか - so slight as to be all but non-existent
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I am not familiar with those phrases but if that is how they are normally written then I would say those 漢字 are used not just for idiomatic or customary reason but because of their semantic value. Their use is consistent with the use/non-use of 置 and 事 in Tsuyoshi Ito's answer and, to take another example, the use of 越、こと and ない in the set phrase 〜に越したことはない as it is usually written. – Tim Apr 5 '14 at 7:28

I understand your question:

On google if you search for a sentence using "" around the phrase it will search for exactly that (include kanji and such).

"では有りません" gets 25 million results

"では在りません" gets less than 1 million

However, because this is talking about the existence of a person, its going to be 在りません.

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Across languages the concepts "to exist" and "to have/possess" often overlap in interesting ways. In Mandarin Chinese 有 is "to have" and 在 is "to exist" but also "in, at". I'm guessing it was similar in the old version of Chinese back when Japanese borrowed these characters. They have different sounds in Chinese but they are homophonous in Japanese which seems to have chosen at one point to distinguish in writing what is not distinguished in speech. Interesting stuff! – hippietrail Apr 4 '14 at 19:11
Just for the record, Google search counts are flawed. It is much better to search a corpus, for example the BCCWJ, which is linked on our resources page. – Earthliŋ Apr 5 '14 at 0:53
Yes Google hits can give some useful hints to help steer your research, but very often it's not enough on its own to draw a final conclusion. There's more than one reason one query might be more common than another. – hippietrail Apr 5 '14 at 6:43
Yea of course, I just wanted to mention this in the case of other examples he might be coming up with. In terms of corpus though a good suggestion is tatoeba.org .Also I'd like to mention that 居る is いる, not ある. I hope the original poster isn't making that mistake thats all! – Worthy7 Apr 5 '14 at 12:09

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