I am curious about a bit of academic pedantry of trivial importance.

If I wanted to put kanji in 日本人ではありません, would I use 有りません? This looks weird to me because 有 has some connotations of possession as opposed to 居る, for example.


3 Answers 3


There are two kanji for verb ある that are commonly used: 有る and 在る. But neither is natural in your sentence: 日本人では有りません and 日本人では在りません.

Note that this is not because of the negation. 日本人で有る and 日本人で在る also look weird.

In modern Japanese, words with little semantic value are usually written in hiragana. ある in 日本人である is used as a copula in combination with で. Although ある is a verb, it works almost as a function word in these sentences, and therefore it is usually written in hiragana.

Here are some other examples:




If you were determined to write it in Kanji では在りません would be the correct choice in your example. However, as @Tsuyoshi_Ito points out, it's not natural and is generally not written in Kanji.

  • Why? There was a discussion this week on how learners over use kanji - this being a good example.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 9:48
  • Why? Why be determined to write it in Kanji? Is that rhetorical? I think this is a good answer. It says it's not normally written in kanji but on the rare occasions when it is you want to recognize it. Maybe you're determined to write in a mock foreigner kanji-overusing style. Maybe you're determined to write in an old-fashioned style from before writing in hiragana became the norm. Maybe you're curious about a bit of academic pedantry of trivial importance. Who cares why somebody would want to learn a rare usage as long as we teach them how to do it right. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 10:03
  • 1
    @hippietrail Why is a good question. If you want to write it the way people historically did, then there's a question--was である ever written with kanji historically, and if so, which one? If you want to know which way is technically correct today and the answer is "neither, no matter how much you want to write it in kanji", then knowing why helps us know if that answer is appropriate.
    – user1478
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 10:44
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    Just for the record, I'm not convinced yet that で在る is better than で有る, and this answer includes no explanation as to why it might be the case.
    – user1478
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 12:05
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    @Snailboat understood me correctly (thank you for expanding my question). I read all posts with the presumption they seek to be constructive. I have not cast my vote but even with an explanation it is hard to improve on the Jan 13 answer, which I had not seen before.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 3:28

ではありません in your example sentence is a form of copula (である) and as such it is written using hiragana in modern Japanese. Words that are used in auxiliary way in the structure of the sentence are pretty much always written only using hiragana.

There's also quite a lot of other words, including verbs, that are normally written using hiragana. "To be" verbs ある and いる belong to this category.

In addition to great explanation in Tsuyoshi Ito's answer, please also note that ない, the negative form of ある, is sometimes written using a different kanji: 無い. This kanji has a meaning of non-existence. I understand it's used rather in set phrases than commonly for all situations. There are words/expressions which combine both kanji for positive (有) and negative (無) aspect of ある, for example:

  • 有{あ}ること無{な}いこと - mixture of facts and fiction
  • 有{あ}るか無{な}きか - so slight as to be all but non-existent
  • I am not familiar with those phrases but if that is how they are normally written then I would say those 漢字 are used not just for idiomatic or customary reason but because of their semantic value. Their use is consistent with the use/non-use of 置 and 事 in Tsuyoshi Ito's answer and, to take another example, the use of 越、こと and ない in the set phrase 〜に越したことはない as it is usually written.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 7:28

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