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I was studying てあります and ています in the context of 他動詞 and 自動詞 with my Japanese teacher. I had to choose between 止める and 止まる in the following sentence:

学生:こんにちは。先生、お迎えに来ました。家の前に私の車が____。どうぞお乗りください。

Being a good (sic) student, I noticed the が particle, and went for the 自動詞; 止まっています. It didn't feel odd to me: You could easily say "The car is stopped (parked) in front of the house" and that would make sense. Note also that the explanations accompanying my exercices didn't make mention of any exceptions.

My teacher told me it was wrong, and that it should be 止めてあります。She explained that even though it wasn't specified, the student probably meant that they purposefully parked the car in front of the house, thus explaining why the 他動詞 form was picked.

But then, why use が? If it's insinuated that the student stopped the car, the car is obviously an object, not the subject of the sentence, and thus would need を. There are scenarios where the object is marked with が, but in my experience, those are all related to ability (e.g. ができる) or wants (e.g. が欲しい).

Am I missing something? Is this just a very niche case of "This is correct because that is how Japanese people speak"? Is there a grammar rule I'm not aware of?

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  • (Responding to the title that imples を would be wrong here) 家の前に私の車を止めてあります and 家の前に私の車が止めてあります are both grammatical, and have no pratical difference in this case. Nov 21, 2023 at 11:56
  • @YusukeMatsubara my bad, I edited the title to make it more specific, originally it only included が. Thanks for your clarification!
    – jarmanso7
    Nov 21, 2023 at 17:08

3 Answers 3

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Is there a grammar rule I'm not aware of?

Yes. 他動詞 + ある is a fairly common grammar pattern. It takes the particle が, and it is used to signal that an action has been taken deliberately by someone and as a result, you have the current state.

Compare:

窓が開いています。 The window is open.

窓が開けてあります。 [Someone] left the window open [possibly with a particular purpose in mind].

In the context of your example, 車が止めてあります means that someone, in this case the student, parked the car on purpose, and it remains in this state (i.e. parked).

But then, why use が?

Since the action is deliberate, it takes a transitive verb 他動詞, but it requires が instead of を because you are indicating a state of things.

For reference, see てある and ておく – Expressing verbs with intent and preparation.

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  • I have no idea why I couldn't understand that in my lesson a few hours ago. And I was already aware of what you just explained. I don't know what happened. Should I delete my post? It feels dumb in retrospect haha
    – Vissen
    Nov 21, 2023 at 10:48
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    No, it's okay if you leave the post as it is. It might be helpful to others, and besides, asking questions can earn you reputation as well if they get upvoted. Don't worry, it happens to me all the time, too. I am supposed to know X rule and I inconveniently forget it during an actual conversation.
    – jarmanso7
    Nov 21, 2023 at 10:53
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    Dunno if this helps anyone to remember this grammar point -- it was suggested to me a while back that the ある・あります is analyzable as the "main" verb in this construction, and ある・あります takes が instead of を. Not sure if that's how strict grammarians view this. 😄 Nov 21, 2023 at 22:16
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    @Eiríkr That would be my intuitive way of thinking of it, too: 車が[止めて]あります seems structurally quite logical to me. Nov 22, 2023 at 14:09
  • @EiríkrÚtlendi That's the basis of my analysis, which in turn comes from how I was taught the conjugation (I still call it that, as it is still fundamentally an inflection of a verb even if it appears to replace the "main" verb) system. It does appear there are exceptions, though. Nov 23, 2023 at 3:01
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You could easily say "The car is stopped (parked) in front of the house" and that would make sense.

Yes, but this phrasing loses nuance.

The plain form of います is いる, which is used for animate things. It pairs with the te-form of 自動詞 because something has to be animate in order to be responsible for its own change in state.

But then, why use が? If it's insinuated that the student stopped the car, the car is obviously an object, not the subject of the sentence

The car is the still a grammatical subject. It just isn't an agent. In English, if "I tan in the sun", "I" am still the subject, even though it's the sun which causes my skin's pigmentation to change - I am not consciously choosing to change it while merely incidentally sitting in full sunlight.

The 自動詞/他動詞 distinction is slightly different from transitive/intransitive as we understand it in English.

In the (abbreviated) example 車が止めてあります, the main verb is ある (あります), not 止める. While it's convenient to think of the pattern of putting something in te-form and then adding いる・ある as a "conjugation" (i.e. inflection of a verb), and in a sense it is indeed that - we accomplish it by making いる・ある the main verb, to which we have prefixed some modifier. (Similar reasoning applies to 〜ていく, 〜てくる etc.)

In a more pedantic English translation - not really proper English, but written to expose the distinctions made in Japanese - the car being-stopped-ly unconsciously-exists. It wasn't itself responsible for stopping, and its current state is the result of someone or something else (i.e., the student) acting to stop it. But the car is the thing which we are saying exists, not the student. "To exist" is intransitive (actually intransitive, not simply 自動詞), and it's something the car does. So it's the grammatical subject, so 車 is marked with が.

Saying 車が止まっています is in a sense a valid structure, but it means that the car having-stopped-ly consciously-exists. The implication is that the car took some deliberate action to stop, and is now in a motionless state as the aftermath of stopping.

(If you're thinking that this sounds a lot like perfective form in English - that it's notable that the translations use the past participle "stopped" - you may find this Q&A interesting. I think I've seen other variations on this theme around the site as well.)

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  • Possible typo in your second-to-last paragraph. Given the 止まって, shouldn't that be "Saying 車が止まっています is in a sense a valid structure, but it means that the car having-stopped-ly unconsciously-exists"? Nov 21, 2023 at 22:19
  • @EiríkrÚtlendi since it uses います, I think OP used "consciously" to contrast with あります.
    – muru
    Nov 22, 2023 at 3:48
  • @muru Yes, exactly. The structure is internally consistent, but inappropriate for a car, which is inanimate. Nov 22, 2023 at 4:03
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    Is animate/inanimate really the deciding factor for ている for 自動詞 verbs? In cases like 窓が開いている, the subject is clearly inanimate and not responsible for its own change in state, and thus not agentive, but いる is still used. Nov 22, 2023 at 14:23
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I just came back to this thread and I had the same question. You can also have 雨が降っている, which is also inanimate, so at first glance this explanation doesn't seem to be correct.
    – Vissen
    Mar 14 at 2:20
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One can use either “〜が” or “〜を” actually, but they have different meanings.

We first have to analyse the “〜てある” form of transitive verbs. This form means that some state has been achieved well in advance by someone.

  • “窓が開けてある” [“The window is left open”]
  • “この本に書いてある文章” [“The text written down in this book”]

The interesting aspect of this form is that it can both be used transitively and intransitively itself, both “〜が〜を〜てある” and “〜が〜てある” occur. In the former case, the subject maps to what was the object in the original verb. In the latter case, both remain the same, such that:

  • “私が窓を開けてある” [“The window is left open by me.”]
  • “窓が開けてある” [“The window is left open.”]

can both be used.

So. “家に私の車を止めてある” is correct, but it means “[I] parked my car in front of my house.” opposed to “My car was parked in front of my house.”. In any case, while the transitive form of this pattern can be used, it is far rarer than the intransitive form and really only used in cases when one wants to be explicit about specifying an agent. Which is why “車が止めてある” is far more natural, but “私が車を止めてある” is certainly not ungrammatical either.

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