Whenever I go to the Life supermarket near my house, they ask me at the check out:

ライフカードを持っていますか? (Do you have a Life [members] card?)

I always respond with something like:


持っていません (motteimasenn) means I don't have it, but I think more precisely it means I am not carrying it on me. As in, I have a member's card, but not with me right now.

It seems like the right way to answer, with the negative form of the verb they used in the question. And the person at the check out always seems to understand what I mean.

However, I'm thinking it would be more accurate to answer:


Which means "no, [I] don't have [a members card]." I think saying ありません means that it's not just that I don't have one with me, I don't have one at all - which is the case.

So, which is the more accurate way to respond? 持っていません or ありません?

  • 2
    持ってないっす ........ – YOU Jun 24 '11 at 16:30
  • 3
    'ないっす.......... – Dave Jun 25 '11 at 2:28
  • the verb for not actually having on your person at this time is 持ち合わせる though it's usage might be confined to certain objects like your wallet or money. – Mark Hosang Jun 29 '11 at 3:23
  • I think it's the same in any language. Take English for example: what would you answer to "Are you good at maths?" (a) "No I am not." (b) "No I don't."? No need to think in order to reply! – Axioplase Jun 29 '11 at 5:16
  • (b) would sound strange (maybe even incorrect) as a response to "Are you good at maths?" – Stack0verflow Jan 9 '18 at 22:49

Short answer: 持っていません is the more appropriate. Because under this context, it says what needs to be said in the least surprising way.

To my understanding, the cashier only wants to know if you have the card right now and here:

ライフカードを持っていますか? Do you have a Life [members] card with you? (So you can earn points now?)

In this case, just saying 持っていません or ありません automatically becomes a shorthand for "No, I don't have it with me":

いいえ、[今は]持っていません。 No, I don't have it right now.

いいえ、[今はここには]ありません。 No, it's not here right now.

Since the cashier used the verb 持つ in her question, returning the same verb is the most natural answer here.

If you want to emphasize that you don't even possess a Life card, you need a special marker to widen the context from "here and now." Even then, it would sound awkward or angry to bring it up since it wasn't asked for.

もともと持っていません[し、毎回聞かれてうんざりです]1。 I don't have it in the first place[, so don't bug me about that every time].

[1] It's not logically implied, but some may interpret it this way.

As for ありません, I can't think of a natural way to express "No, I don't possess a members card" with it.

ある/ありません needs to be used in conjunction with certain categories of things and/or within certain contexts to mean possession. To list a few correct examples,

私には夢がある。 I have a dream. (From the famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.)

もしも私にハンマーがあれば、 If I had a hammer, ("If I had a hammer" by Peter, Paul and Mary)

私には夫はありません。 I have no husband. (John 4:17)

私にはカードはありませんが、埋め込みチップならあります。 I don't have a card, but I do have an embedded microchip. (made-up example)

I won't go into details here partly because it'll be out of scope for this question and partly because I don't have a clear answer. If it interests you, here's a lengthy study by someone about the usage of ある.

  • 私には夫はありません is incorrect. ある is not used to refer to people. – Amanda S Jun 29 '11 at 18:57
  • 1
    According to Daijirin's definition (3)-2, it can be used to refer to people when ある人が、家族・親戚・友人などをもっている (when saying someone "has" a family member, relative or friend). 私には夫はありません is actually from a bible verse. Adding sources to the quotes.. – ento Jun 30 '11 at 1:58
  • 1
    I think I might have gone too far in saying there is no way for ありません to mean "I have no membership card." I'm feeling a bit of a Gestaltzerfall now from replaying the phrase too much in my head, like when you've stared at a kanji for too long and it begins to lose coherence.. – ento Jun 30 '11 at 2:01
  • 2
    Ah, sorry, and thanks for the correction. My Japanese professors drilled into us that it was always 主人はいます and never 主人はあります, but clearly they were not telling the whole story. – Amanda S Jun 30 '11 at 3:09
  • 1
    @Amanda いえいえ. I should add that your professors are still correct about 主人はあります under normal circumstances. You say 私には主人があります only when you want to emphasize the binding tie that exists between you and your husband. ref: 日本語Q&A – ento Jun 30 '11 at 13:18

ありません is informal, but we use it often. 持っていません means "you don't HAVE (= carry ) it"

ありません actually means it doesn't exist, but no one actually cares :p

And additional comments: if you are saying ありません then you don't have to say いいえ. Same thing with the opposite, if you say いいえ then you don't to say ありません.

In japanese, the answer doesn't have to be accurate, I don't even pronounce a word to answer and people can understand.

  • btw is it rude if we simply say ない ? – Pacerier Jun 30 '11 at 4:04
  • i believe it is common to say ないです。If you just dont care and want to say ない then just say it =) – Gerard Sexton Jul 19 '11 at 14:05

In the exact case you said (i.e. a checkout line), I think "持っていません" is better. If you say ありません, the clerk will usually say お作りしても宜しいでしょうか, further delaying your checkout process :).


I think the more grammatically correct answer between 持っていません and ありません is 持っていません.

The reason is because the question is "ライフカードを持っていますか?". Answering with 持っていません implies "【ライフカードを】持っていません", but with ありません it becomes "【ライフカードを】ありません" in which case the を particle seems out of place. To not say the 持って verb explicitly, you can say いません, which would imply "【ライフカードを持って】いません" although IMO it sounds a bit curt. Answering with ない or ないです, however, should still be grammatically correct since it implies "【ライフカードを持って】ないです".

  • "To not say the 持って verb explicitly, you can say いません"...do you mean ありません? I thought いる was only for animate objects. – Louis Waweru Jun 28 '11 at 21:50
  • @Louis nope, I mean いません which came from omitting 持って from 持っていません. Also, since 持っていません can be said/written as 持ってはいません, you can think of the いません as what would be left after the usual habit of omitting anything before and は particle if it's already in the context. – Lukman Jun 28 '11 at 22:01
  • Okay, thanks. I thought you meant what you said. Just had to be sure :) – Louis Waweru Jun 28 '11 at 22:02
  • You cannot reply to もっていますか with いません. – dainichi Feb 28 '12 at 11:07

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