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One way to say that there are no prices on the menu would be to use the ~てある pattern and say:

メニューに値段が書いてありません。

Presumably, then, the plain equivalent of this sentence would be:

メニューに値段が書いてない。

However, I find that when I hear that, I interpret it as a contraction of:

メニューに値段が書いていない。

There is a part of me that feels that it cannot actually be a contraction of 値段が書いていない, since 書く does not have any intransitive senses. But people really do use it that way. In fact, if you do the following Google searches in quotation marks, here's what you get:

  • 値段が書いてありません - 216K hits
  • 値段が書いてない - 559K hits
  • 値段が書いていない - 852K hits

So if people really are using it that way, with the full 書いていない, then it stands to reason that many (most?) of them might be interpreting 値段が書いてない as a simple contraction, and not as the negative of 書いてある.

So my questions are:

  1. Can the ~てある pattern be used in the negative, as in メニューに値段が書いてありません, at all?

I searched my grammar resources and dictionaries and I don't see a clear answer to this question, but I know I have heard this in use. Is this definitely correct and unremarkable among modern native speakers?

  1. Can 書いてない be taken as the negative of ~てある (the plain equivalent of ~てありません)?

  2. Is 値段が書いていない understood to be grammatical among modern native speakers?

  3. If so, then is 値段が書いてない taken to be the negative of ~てある or a contraction of 書いていない?

Thank you in advance for your thoughts!

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    [V て-form]-ある describes the current state of something while implying someone's intention behind it. When you put it in the negative, you are denying that the state is as described to begin with, and this makes the presence or absence of intention irrelevant. So the distinction between ある and いる becomes not so important. I personally interpret it as a contracted form of いない.
    – aguijonazo
    Sep 10, 2023 at 2:12

1 Answer 1

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The number of hits on Google is far more arbitrary than you might think. When doing this kind of research, you need to use a corpus like BCCWJ. Here are the results.

  • が書いてありません: 11 hits
  • が書いていません: 0 hits
  • が書いてない: 24 hits
  • が書いていない: 7 hits

I was really confused when I started to seriously consider this question, but fortunately, I found a recent article by NHK放送文化研究所 that perfectly discussed this very issue: 「本を置いていない」と「本が置いていない」どちらがよい? The following explanation is largely based on this.

So these are obviously correct:

  • (誰かが)メニューに値段書いている
  • メニューに値段書いてある

What are the negative versions of these? If you apply the basic rules, you get the following:

  • (誰かが)メニューに値段書いていない
  • ❗ メニューに値段書いてない

These are still grammatically correct, but てない is a combination that is usually considered a contracted ていない, so it's often seen as sloppy or overly informal. As a compromise, the following sentence has become acceptable, too!

  • ✅ メニューに値段書いていない。 ← Acceptable!!!

This sentence felt intuitively correct to me, but upon closer examination, it seemed utterly wrong, leaving me quite confused. If it weren't for the NHK article, I would have had no choice but to say "this is just how it is".

The same problem does not happen with polite forms; you can just use ありません without any issue. Therefore, you still cannot say 値段が書いていません, which explains the BCCWJ results above.

  • (誰かが)メニューに値段書いていません
  • ✅ メニューに値段書いてありません
  • ❌ メニューに値段書いていません。 ← Wrong!!!

Lastly, to answer your questions directly:

  1. Can the ~てある pattern be used in the negative, as in メニューに値段が書いてありません, at all? → Yes.
  2. Can 書いてない be taken as the negative of ~てある (the plain equivalent of ~てありません)? → Yes.
  3. Is 値段が書いていない understood to be grammatical among modern native speakers? → Surprisingly, yes! This is an exception.
  4. If so, then is 値段が書いてない taken to be the negative of ~てある or a contraction of 書いていない? → Both. But for the latter, perhaps it's more precise to say 値段が書いていない is an "exceptional expansion of 書いてない".

Note that the acceptability of 値段が書いていない varies from person to person. I personally tend to say either 値段が書かれて(い)ない or 値段書いて(い)ない.

From NHK's article

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    もしかしてこれっぽい用法? japanese.stackexchange.com/a/97428/9831
    – chocolate
    Sep 10, 2023 at 0:08
  • @Chocolate それは否定と関係なく使うのでちょっと違うのかなと
    – naruto
    Sep 10, 2023 at 0:56
  • @naruto Thank you for the fantastic answer! This is everything I was hoping for and more. Sep 11, 2023 at 16:20
  • @Chocolate もう少し詳しく書くと、「受験本が売っている店」と「受験本が売っていない店」の場合は、個人的には言わないにせよ一方だけがダメだとは感じないのに対し、「値段が書いているメニュー」と「値段が書いていないメニュー」の場合、前者だけが非常に不自然に感じられる、ということです。なので個人的にはこれは別の現象なのかなと感じています。でも感じ方に個人差はあるかもなとも思います。
    – naruto
    Sep 12, 2023 at 3:17

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