Take the 2-minute tour ×
Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Do viruses あります or います?

Currently, I'm under the impression that animals and humans use います (though see this question), while plants and inanimate objects use あります. Do viruses fall under the latter category?

share|improve this question
Computer virus or biological virus? –  Flaw Apr 1 '12 at 11:13
@Flaw biological. My work involves bioinformatics analysis of virus DNA sequences. –  Andrew Grimm Apr 1 '12 at 11:43

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I personally think both existing answers should be sufficient for this question, but since they cannot seem to gather consensus, allow me to give it my own try:

The short answer is that both いる and ある forms can be used in a scientific (biological) context. Simple as that.

  1. A quick poll of available colleagues gave out that some preferred いる, some preferred ある, but neither form was particularly shocking to their ears.

  2. Google Scholar gives 16 papers with いる and 70 with ある. There is clearly a preference for the latter, but not so significant that the former could be considered improper.

  3. There is just no way to derive a logical/grammatical (prescriptivist) rule as to which form should be used, considering there is no universal biological consensus as to whether viruses are "alive" (and even less so as to whether they are "animate" or "inanimate" objects). The best you will ever get is a descriptivist rule based on usage.

share|improve this answer
I agree with your third point and this is elaboration. Academic consensus is irrelevant. That takes us back to the notorious view on the meaning developed by the American structural linguist Bloomfield who claimed that the meaning of salt was not to be established until science discovered its chemical formula is NaCl. Very ridiculous. –  user458 Apr 2 '12 at 4:11
Actually, it does not matter how it is considered academically. What matters is how the ordinary native speakers perceive it. If the English speakers consider rice as a tiny continuous substance rather than dicontinuous grain, then, rice is an uncountable noun. Likewise, if Japanese native speakers perceive or believe that ウイルス is animate, then it is syntactically animate, whether or not it is academically so. –  user458 Apr 2 '12 at 4:12
@sawa: I think the truth (as often) lies somewhere in between. For viruses, salt and many other words, you can neither ignore the layman definition nor the scientific one. A good example, imho, is the multiple definitions of words like 'fruit'. Depending on context (and whether you are looking at science or everyday life), a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable... No "right" or "wrong" here, merely context. –  Dave Apr 2 '12 at 5:26

I usually say ウイルスがいます/いるよ, not ウイルスがあります/あるよ.

Edit: So I just found that います may be used more in daily conversations than scientific articles or theses.

share|improve this answer
Chocolate, you should write what you commented to another answer as part of your answer. It is suggestive. –  user458 Apr 1 '12 at 15:43
With all due respect, what you usually say may not be technically correct or even representative of a large segment of the population. –  Ian Apr 1 '12 at 21:03
@Ian-san 「what you usually say may not be technically correct」って言われましても、このスレに関して言えば、私がこの回答を投稿したときにはまだAndrew Grimmさんが 「biological. My work involves bioinformatics analysis of virus DNA sequences」って書いていませんでしたので、私は「日常会話」における用法のみに関して答えたんですけどいけなかったのですか・・・。それから、会話で「水ぶくれ‌​のなかに/空気中に/シャーレに」と来て「ウイルスが"あります"/"ありません"」って表現が、ホントにa large segment of the populationによって使われてると思われてるのですか・・・?(~_~;) –  user1016 Apr 1 '12 at 23:22

Search on google:

http://goo.gl/W8hjk ⇐ います gets less than 10000 results.

http://goo.gl/ajJq2 ⇐ あります gets 3.3M retuls.

Enough said ?

share|improve this answer
But this may not be very accurate.. –  Pacerier Apr 1 '12 at 12:57
Ah! So it's the context. When you talk about whether there are any viruses in a blister, air in a room or on a petri dish, you say 'この水ぶくれの中には/この部屋の空気中には/このシャーレには、ウイルスがいます/いません', and when you talk about existence of different kinds of viruses on earth or talk about what kind of viruses there are, you say '~~といった/~~という/~~などのウイルスがあります' etc. –  user1016 Apr 1 '12 at 13:34
But how come this answer is downvoted while my post, which shows no grounds or sources, is upvoted... –  user1016 Apr 1 '12 at 13:37
@Ian If you insist that 病毒 and ウイルス sound equivalent to you, I have to say the the Japanese that you acquired is different from the one I acquired. Chinese is irrelevant. –  user458 Apr 1 '12 at 22:41
@sawa It would probably be more constructive if you read the information provided by wikipedia rather than insisting on repeating your own personal opinion. –  Ian Apr 1 '12 at 23:34

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.