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でいる can be analyzed as "stays (in the temporary state) as something", as per here. For example:

元気でいます

I'm doing well (recently).

But notice that the subject of this sentence is an animate object (the speaker).

Question: Can でいる be used with inanimate things?

For example, I recently came across

成績も今までどおりトップでいることも大切だ

which seems to suggest that a student's grades (成績) are currently "sitting in the state of being in the top" (トップでいる). But grades are inanimate objects, and I thought いる wasn't supposed to be used with inanimate objects?

Possibilities:

  1. でいる is meant to be used with animate objects, but 成績 is being "elevated" to having animate status here (for hyperbole or something)?
  2. The sense of いる being used here ("sitting") is completely different from the normal いる ("existence for animate objects"), and so the normal "いる can only be used for animate objects" rule doesn't apply?
  3. The subject of 成績も今までどおりトップでいる isn't actually 成績, but the speaker (who is an animate object). E.g. "Even with respect to my grades, I -- as usual -- am sitting at the top"?
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    I also think it's #3
    – chocolate
    Sep 29, 2023 at 13:59

2 Answers 2

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Your third assumption is right. You can interpret it as 自分が成績がトップでいる.

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“〜でいる” is simply the “〜ている” form of “〜だ” and the same rules apply and so it can very much be used with inanimate subjects, which I assume you mean here. For instance “建物は建っている。" for “The building has been built.” is completely fine.

The “〜ている” form of a verb has three main uses:

  • progressive action of an action with no clear end to it “食べている” means “is eating” in practice, it can also mean “has eaten” in some select contexts but this is rarer.
  • perfect resulting state of an action with a clear end to it. “結婚している” means “to be married” opposed to “結婚する” which means “to get married”; it can really never mean “to be getting married.” since to marry is an action with a clear defined endpoint that can't go on forever.
  • “continuing to" or “keeping at”; this sense is with verbs that are already stative and the one you're looking at here. “〜だ” is not an action and “〜でいる” means something like “keep being”. In this case, the sentence means “It is also important that [your/my/his/etc] marks remain at the top too as they have been up till now.”, the “as they have been up till now” being the “今までどおり” part.

And yes, the line does suggest that they currently are at the top, but the use of the “〜ている” form here more so speaks to that it should remain this way. Again this form is completely agnostic to the animacy of the subject.

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    “〜でいる” is simply the “〜ている” form of “〜だ” -- んん…?「今日は快晴だ。」「1号線は通行止めだ。」「コスモスがきれいだ。」が「~ている形」になって「今は快晴でいる。」「今、1号線は通行止めでいる。」「コスモスがきれいでいる。」になったりしませんよね
    – chocolate
    Sep 29, 2023 at 14:05
  • @chocolate: Zorf's explanation makes a lot of sense to me. Are you doubting that it's true? Now that I think about it, ~ている is used all of the time with inanimate objects, so it'd make sense it'd be the same with 〜でいる? I'm not sure if this is idiomatic, but maybe an example would be 車は赤でいる ("the car is in a state of being red") for talking about an old car that you are thinking about restoring & painting a different color (e.g. green). Would that sound weird to say, since a car is an inanimate object?
    – George
    Sep 29, 2023 at 18:10
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    @George Actually, yes, I doubt it, I'm afraid. 車は赤でいる sounds strange and incorrect. 今日は快晴でいる、1号線は通行止めでいる、コスモスがきれいでいる are all strange and incorrect, as I said in my comment above. (車は赤でる、今日は快晴でる、1号線は通行止めでる、コスモスがきれいでる would be fine, but these just mean 車は赤だ、今日は快晴だ、1号線は通行止めだ、コスモスはきれいだ. You know である means だ.)
    – chocolate
    Sep 29, 2023 at 23:54
  • @chocolate I'm actually inclined to agree with you but I don't think it's strict animacy either perhaps. I was always taught that “〜でいる” is simply the “〜ている” form of “〜だ” and it on first glance seems to hold merit but the more I think about it and scan corpora for citations, the more it's not. I did find many citations with inanimate subjects such as “分かりやすく、丁寧な教え方が好評でいる” which might again be used because it refers to the teaching method of a person. But it's not the normal ある/いる distinction either where we would use for instance “あなたには帰る家がある” even though the house belongs to a person.
    – Zorf
    Sep 30, 2023 at 4:34

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