My textbook says ある can be used for possession, but further on it says 持っている is used for possession. Are both correct? Are there any differences?

When talking with a Japanese friend (in very limited and simple conversations), when I use ある, she usually corrects me with 持っている.

  • You would receive a better answer if you gave us more information. For instance, what have you actually said using ある? How long has your friend been living outside of Japan? I asked the last question because native speakers currently living in Japan OFTEN do use ある to mean "possess". Word choices and other things could really change if one lived abroad for more than a few years.
    – user4032
    Feb 19, 2015 at 11:23
  • She's a native and she's been living all her life in Japan. She speaks very good English (at an advanced level) so we have no problem communicating. I don't remember the specific corrections she made, but it was something along the lines of 私は車があります->私は車を持っている。 My book gives as an example of possession with ある テレビがありません, translated as I don't have a TV, and with 持っている ス-さんはお金をたくさん持っている, translated as Sue has a lot of money.
    – Daniel
    Feb 19, 2015 at 17:44
  • In that case, your book is correct. (I am a native Japanese speaker as well.) Using 持っている everytime you want to say you have or possess something can sound wordy. I would still think that your friend's word choice has something to do with her foreign language ability. Completely monolingual Japanese-speakers would have no trouble using ある for that meaning --- none.
    – user4032
    Feb 21, 2015 at 0:48
  • Yesterday I asked her what the difference was and she told me that they are similar, but もっている would be used with the extra nuance of owning the item. She gave me the following example. A child wouldn't ask another child 君は車を何台持っている?, because obviously they can't own a car. He or she would ask 君の家には車が何台がある? They way I understand it, it's the same as in English. We normally say: I've got a car, but if we want to make clear it's OUR car, we say: I own a car.
    – Daniel
    Feb 21, 2015 at 11:45
  • 1
    The "own" idea seems off to me. There are plenty of times you would translate 持っている to "have" but not "own", for example 能力を持っている "have an ability", 経験を持っている "have experience", or 興味を持っている "have an interest". There must be some other difference between 興味がある and 興味を持っている than the "have-own" distinction.
    – user1478
    Feb 24, 2015 at 13:51

3 Answers 3


'Have' in English has many meanings. When you want a more passive sounding 'have', then 「ある」 is best. When you can change 'have' to 'there is...', then use this. 「ある」 can also mean possession, but this is a more passive way of saying it. 「持っている」 is used more for the meaning of 'I have it with me' or 'right here in my hand'. It draws attention to you HAVING it, where 「ある」 places stress on the item existing in a place (that of course may be at your house or in your bag). There is a lot of gray area between the two where both are fine.

If you can reword the English to accept "There is/are..." instead of "...has...," that means use 「ある」.

One example would be:

The station has a cafe. -> There is a cafe in the station.

So the Japanese would be 「駅にカフェがある。」

You can say:

I have a pen on my desk. -> There is a pen on my desk.

(granted your intended meaning is the same). So the Japanese would be 「テーブルの上にペンがある。」

But saying this in English is strange:

I have a pen. -> ?There is a pen (in my hand?).

So here, you would use 「もっている」. If you used 「ある」, it would sound overly indirect.

(As pointed out in comments) This is only a general rule. Whenever you don't want to stress 'possessing an object,' use 「ある」.

「ペンを持っている。」 I have a pen (stressing possession) 「ペンがある。」 I have a pen (not stressing anything, so it is more like 'the pen exists')

In a question: 「ペンある?」 Do you have a pen? (translation depends on context)(natural way to ask) 「ペンを持っている?」 Do you have a pen?

As this last one stresses possession, it may be asking if you have a pen with you, but not necessarily. eg 「3DS持っている。」 which is 'I own a 3DS.' or 'I have a 3DS right now, in my possession.'

「持つ」also has other meanings/uses (「持っていく」 to bring, for example), but that is outside of your question.

  • 2
    I'm not sure this is very clear. E.g., what about the dialogue: A: ペンある? B: ある、ある。(And B could say this while pulling out a pen in their hand.)
    – Kimball
    Feb 19, 2015 at 1:08
  • Good point. I updated the answer.
    – Norbles
    Feb 19, 2015 at 18:20
  • Cannot disagree more. "「ある」 means 'there is...'. "? ある is very often used to mean "to possess" among native speakers.
    – user4032
    Feb 21, 2015 at 0:50
  • I agree with you (and I thought I was saying the same thing). Let me reword the first section to make it more clear.
    – Norbles
    Feb 24, 2015 at 0:17
  • I alternatively interpret 「持つ」as Hold contextually. 「ペンを持っている。」will be - I hold a pen with me(same meaning with I have a pen). 「持っていく」will be - Hold( the object) and come(same meaning with to bring).
    – sooon
    Mar 3, 2015 at 1:59

Carrying 持っている

exists ある

Rough example: You would not say "I am carrying my arm" but you would say "I am carrying an apple"

鉛筆 がある (enpitsu ga aru) means "There is a pencil" and can also mean "I've got a pencil"


ある generally places the emphasis on the fact that the object exists. If you can casually say that something exists, you might have it, if it's something that you can possess. 持っている places the emphasis on the object's presence with you, especially if it's something you're holding with you or with your belongings.

As a result, ある as the verb "to be" can be used to refer to objects and their existence. (i.e. 駅前はカフェーがある。) It can be used to refer to objects you have (i.e. 僕のかばんの中にいろんなえんぴつがある。)

持っている is definitely used for objects that you possess, but I think the contextual limit for using 持っている is something that is portable or movable, such as a car, or a small possession. But, for example, you could not say 持っている about something fixed like a house. You can't carry a house with you.

The background context is that normally, 持っている implies that you carry it with you. Things you carry with you are generally your possessions. But places are not those kinds of possessions, however they do exist. In those cases, using ある is more contextually correct.

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