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I've read somewhere that to say you are not good at something say for example Japanese language, you use:

日本語は上手ではありません

but can I also use:

日本語は上手じゃありません

Is there anything wrong with this? What is the difference between the two?

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じゃ is the contraction of では. It's a contraction, because じゃ is one mora (one unit length) and では is two moras long.

じゃ is frequently used as contraction of では, especially in じゃない < ではない. As pointed out before by one of our native speakers on this site (@l'électeur), じゃありません is at risk of being overused by learners. Presumably, because the uncontracted では is a more natural choice to go with the polite/formal form of ある (which is あります, of course).

(The converse doesn't hold, though: ではない is also extremely common.)

Here are the numbers from the Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese

ではない 66121 results
じゃない 39664 results

ではありません 9910 results
じゃありません 1743 results

(Of course, these numbers are only for written Japanese.)

In any case, there is no difference in meaning between the two phrases. A remark about your choice of particle, though: You can only say 日本語上手ではありません when you use は as the "contrast particle", i.e. when you intend to compare your Japanese skill to something else. The natural choice for a standalone statement would be が, as in

日本語上手ではありません / 日本語上手じゃありません

  • I agree that じゃ tends to be overused, and like the use of figures. But, I'm still under the impression that these figures, at least the 2nd set with 〜ありません rather than 〜ない, get some skew because of the differences between spoken and written Japanese. Not a complaint about your argument, which I agree with, but I'm uncomfortable taking the figures themselves too literally as ratios. – sqrtbottle Aug 12 '15 at 11:12
  • I thought it and didn't write it. Let me make that remark in the post. – Earthliŋ Aug 12 '15 at 11:16
  • IMO "Politeness" isn't quite the right concept to explain why じゃ usually clashes with ありません; I think じゃ is perfectly polite. When you use ありません rather than ないです in the first place, you're either in a formal context (requiring では instead of じゃ), or trying to be particularly sharp or curt with what you're saying (making it more likely to use では since that also has the same effect). – Darius Jahandarie Aug 12 '15 at 23:21
  • I was hoping not to get into a discussion of polite vs. formal, because I don't think anyone can sum up the differences in a short paragraph and any short set of "rules"/guidelines usually has shortcomings. Luckily, there are other questions which deal with this: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/2574 japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/12846 japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/4790 – Earthliŋ Aug 13 '15 at 0:15

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