It might sound like a silly question, but I am just asking for interests sake... I already understand how to use them in which situation.

If you were to say 田中さんは先生でいます, it would mean that Tanaka exists "by means of" a or the teacher(sensei), ie. "as a teacher." Thereby, it is 田中 doing the existing.

So I wonder.. who or what is doing the ある'ing in であります?

Is it sort of like 感じがする, where it is not the person that is feeling something, but rather the feeling that is doing something?

In other words and to rephrase my question, is it like as if Tanaka's reality exists in a way that he is a teacher(sensei)?

Is there some sort of historical story that gave way to the difference between いる and ある?

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    Remember that there are two 「ある」s: existence (「在る」) and possession (「有る」). They sound the same, but are distinct. Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 9:09
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    I think it is important to mention that kanji usage says nothing about their etymological relationship or similarity in meaning. Some words may sound the same, but they are completely unrelated etymologically (或る・荒る, I think ?). Some words may have been derived from each other, but have developed two quite different meanings (離す・話す). And some words may have different nuances or shades and if it were not for the kanji usage, they might be considered the same word (撮る・獲る or かえる). And of course, there are grey-zones, and I think ある(或る人・有する・存在する) is in one.
    – blutorange
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


Formerly, ある could with persons or living beings as well.

「昔、男ありけり」 (from 伊勢物語5; 全訳古語辞典 gives the meaning 昔、ある男がいたという).

It can even be used with persons today.


A paper on ある vs. いる in (modern) Japanese, where I also took the above sentence from.

There have been many copulas throughout Japan's history, such as なり(に+あり), たり(と+あり) and で+ある as well as で+ございます. Note how they are all made up of particle+ある and could be interpreted as "to exist as".

(彼は)先生である, by established usage, means "He is a teacher", a native speaker would not interpret it literally. Has a sentence with a copula such as "A is B" got a subject? The grammatical (or syntactical) subject is "A", of course, but there is no real action going on here, and so there is no semantic (meaning-wise) subject.

You can of course talk about its etymology "He exists as a teacher.", and here he is doing the existing, as a teacher.

で居る, on the other hand, is not a standard copula, and is interpreted literally.

「笑顔で居ると幸せな気持ちになれる」 (lit. "You will/can feel happy when you exist with a smiling face", ie "Smile and you will feel happy.")

Before I get to 先生でいる, the 広辞苑 gives this helpful insight on 居る:


It once meant 座る, とまる or 住む as well.

先生である focuses as something (or someone) being (defined as) a teacher. On the other hand,


focuses on acting as or like a teacher.

As for 感じがする, it is again important to distinguish between syntactical and semantic subject. It might prove to be of interest to inquire the etymology of this idiom, what the people were originally thinking (about) when they said this. I can imagine that, as a metaphor, they really ascribed an active role to their feelings, similar to English "my emotions are over-whelming me."

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