I am reading the book 『君たちはどう生きるか』 by 吉野源三郎。 I have questions about the following two sentences:



Why did the author use 「ない」for 「お父さん」 and 「ある」for 「僕たちを眺めてる人」? I learned that for animals, we should use 「いる」for the affirmative and 「いない」for the negative sentences.

  • 2
    With some nuances, you can still use ある for animate subjects (including humans). In some older stages of Japanese, ある was standard existential verb for both inanimate and animate subjects, while いる (previously ゐる (wiru)) was not used as existential verb, but had meaning "to sit". See also japanese.stackexchange.com/q/6474 and japanese.stackexchange.com/q/63078.
    – Arfrever
    Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 16:51
  • 1
    To me those ある・ない sounds dated. You can forget about them as far as modern conversations are concerned.
    – sundowner
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 2:57
  • @Arfrever I assume this is related to the "to sit" meaning of ござる as well? It actually makes sense to me, though; what could be a clearer expression of passive existence than just sitting down and not moving? Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 23:38
  • @KarlKnechtel Maybe clarify what information you want... Regarding that verb, Frellesvig (2010, pages 291-292) mentions: "Some SJ words originate not in borrowing from J-Ch or SJ, or from coinage of elements borrowed from J-Ch or SJ, but rather from applying SJ readings ('on-readings') to character combinations which were originally used as a logographic representation ('kun-writing') of native words." And next table includes earlier word "early EMJ owas- and owasimas- 'exist.RESP'", kun-writing 御座 and on-reading "goza (early LMJ), used in goza-ar- > NJ gozar- 'be.POL'".
    – Arfrever
    Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 0:16
  • @KarlKnechtel By the way, development of いる as existential verb was apparently much more complicated than simply change of meaning...
    – Arfrever
    Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 0:56

1 Answer 1


ある with an animate subject like people was not uncommon in literature up until early Showa. Genzaburō Yoshino was born in 1899. I think in the last several decades it became really uncommon.

Another example: https://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000329/files/18376_12100.html


Also, I think it's still more acceptable in literature including novels and poems, especially ones written in 文語, than in spoken conversation.

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