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I have learned in school that じゃ ありましん is the "non-past negative" conjugation of です.



"I am not Japanese."

I have noticed that じゃ ありません contains the pronunciation of the negative form of あります.

From a strictly grammatical point of view, does じゃ ありません say that something doesn't exist? If so, what is the grammatical purpose of attaching じゃ to the proceeding word?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Firstly, じゃ is a contraction of では, where は is the topic particle. The construct ではありません is then seen to be the negative form of であります with a は inserted, and であります is a formal version of です.

So perhaps the real question is, what is the purpose of で? It carries most of the semantic load: there a few other constructions meaning "to be" of the pattern で + (verb of existence), e.g. である, でございます, でござる. So you could say that で means "to be", with the caveat that it is not itself a verb. Of course, by "to be" here I only mean the sense of the linking verb and not the existential verb.

My own preference is to say that で means something like "as". Then 〜である etc. translate as "to exist as ...", or in short, "to be ...".

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