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ある is listed in dictionaries as having ラ行五段活用, which would suggest a negative form of あらない. However, that form does not exist. Why not?

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About おっしゃる: once a combination of words has been reanalyzed as a single new word, it can evolve differently than the words it's derived from. – snailplane Aug 27 '13 at 10:17
It is in Osaka! Or あらへん, anyway. – Kaji Jun 3 '14 at 16:54
up vote 16 down vote accepted

In modern Japanese, instead of the conjugation [未然形]{みぜんけい}+[無]{な}い, another word is used to express the plain negative, namely 無い.

This a process called suppletion, supplying a certain conjugational form with a different word. It exists in English as well. You don't say good and gooder, you talk about better, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *bhAd- good. Further examples include bad - worse, and be - is - was.

However, this kind of conjugation exists in Classical Japanese. Here the negative is expressed via 未然形+ず, and ある is no exception: あらず. ず , or perhaps better known in its form ぬ, is the helper verb of negation.


Even in modern Japanese, you can still say あらへん (Kansai dialect).

Lastly, although rare, there are attested instances of the form あらない (see 日本国語大辞典, entry あらない)



There is also あらなくに, but the な here is analyzed as the く-nominalization of ず.

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あらん = あら + む(推量の助動詞), isn't it? – jovanni Aug 27 '13 at 5:26
+1 for あらへん -- never realized it or thought it odd – jmac Aug 27 '13 at 5:27
As in 幸あらん, it is ある+む, but I was thinking about 行かぬ・行かん. And while I'm certain you could find some examples of this usage, googling didn't give me much to justify calling it "used in modern Japanese", so I changed it to あらへん. – blutorange Aug 27 '13 at 5:37
As pointed out above, it is most likely 光があらん(ことを), meaning May/Let the light be with you. It comes from another helper verb む and is unrelated to the negative. – blutorange Aug 27 '13 at 16:20
Hmm. So when was あらず supplanted by なし/ない then, or were they coexistent? なし for sure seems to exist in Classical Japanese, though my Classical Japanese really sucks. What is the difference? – user54609 Aug 27 '13 at 16:39

To my knowledge, this is historically shrouded in mystery, so there is no authoritative answer. (I'd be very interested in hearing one myself.)

This page speculates (in, unfortunately, a very authoritative tone, yet with no citations...) that the negation of ある (あらない) did at one point exist, but was discarded for the antonym of ある (ない). (N.B., we do at least know that another negation of ある (あらず), did exist historically, so the first part of this claim isn't too hard to believe.)

Their reasoning goes something like...

word    negation   antonym
開く     開かない   閉める
大きい  大きくない  小さい
ある   あらない   ない 

In these cases, none of the negations match the antonym ("to not open" != "to close", "not big" != "small") except for ある, and since ない is shorter, the あらない form was discarded.

I don't know if I entirely buy their argument or not. It seems logical but honestly anything could have happened historically for us to end up in our current position, so I'd personally be reluctant to actually subscribe to this theory without any evidence.

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There are a couple instances of あらない here: aozora.gr.jp/cards/000120/files/626_22343.html – snailplane Aug 27 '13 at 5:16
In classical japanese, あらぬ appears at the beginning of the famous [源氏]{げんじ}[物語]{ものがたり}[桐壺]{きりつぼ}, いとやむごとなききはにはあらぬが. – jovanni Aug 27 '13 at 6:42

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