Historically where did all of these different forms arise, and when are they used? I noticed that だ and である both have their place in different 文法形, what is the difference in their meaning? I know that in things like 論文 as well as, apparently, on Wikipedia である is used, but I really don't know why.

  • Related: Where does です come from? Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 1:25
  • To add to the confusion, and to give some perspective, Japanese has accumulated even more copulas over its history, eg なり(=に+あり), たり(と+あり). Today, these sound archaic.
    – blutorange
    Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 4:30

1 Answer 1


だ is a reduced form of である, which is itself a reduction of にてある (the particle で was originally にて). です is a reduced form of であります. As far as we can tell, the copular verb ('to be X') in Japonic has pretty much always been locative particle + ある. In Old Japanese it was なり (a reduction of にあり, back when あり was the 終止形), and in the Ryukyuan languages it tends to be something similar to ya- (probably にあり minus the n instead of the i). Pretty much all of Japanese has since replaced the に with で, but depending on where you are である can be reduced to any of だ, や or じゃ.

である tends to sound more formal and literary than だ/です. My guess is that its usefulness derives from the fact that sounds neither informal (like だ would be) nor deferential (like です would be), and is thus a useful alternative when 'talking to nobody', as it were - you'd use it when writing some sort of impersonal work (non-fiction or maybe third-person-narrator fiction), you'd never use it when speaking.

  • 1
    cool - does this mean でござる/ございます was never involved in the history of the coupla except as a polite alternative?
    – jlptnone
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 18:52
  • 1
    Another difference between である and だ/です that the former retains more of its verbal properties and can be used as a 連体形 . For example, you can say 「ご本人であることの確認書類」, but not *「ご本人(だ・です)ことの確認書類」
    – blutorange
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 21:52
  • 3
    Also, I've seen different theories about the history of です, would anybody have any credible sources (recent papers?) The 日本国語大辞典 considers it a contraction of でさうらふ(候)->でさう or でござります, kojien as well. Daijisen says 「で候」「でおはす」「でございます」「であります」など諸説ある Or I wonder, has it origin been lost in the mist of time, and perhaps all these words contributed to the contraction です?
    – blutorange
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 22:00
  • 2
    There are a number of theories for the origins of です, but we don't know for sure which is correct.
    – user1478
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 22:00
  • 1
    "you'd never use (である) when speaking"?? People do use it in speaking if not in casual chitchat.
    – user4032
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 6:01

You must log in to answer this question.