In saying that something doesn't exist, is it unusual to use the ga particle (が) and a negative verb? For example, would "(Uchi ni) Terebi ga arimasen" be an unusual way to say "There isn't a TV (at my house)"?

The reason I'm wondering is that lesson 8 of Japanese For Busy People, which introduces the ga particle and the existence of people and things, teaches "place ni noun ga arimasu/imasu" to say "The object exists at this location!". (If you were talking about a noun whose existance was already known, and you were just providing additional information, it currently suggests using "wa" and "desu" - eg "terebi wa ookii desu" - "the television is big")

Also, at the start of chapter 9, it teaches "place ni noun ga arimasu ka", and tells you how to do the positive answer "Hai, noun ga arimasu".

However, it doesn't teach "noun ga arimasen/imasen" to say "The object doesn't exist!". The only time it mentions the negative form is with "Nani mo arimasen" and "Dare mo imasen", which is to say that nothing or no-one exists at a specific location.

Since it doesn't teach "noun ga arimasen/imasen", I'm wondering if it's because that's not grammatically correct.

  • Ah, lesson 8 from Japanese for Busy People! How many times I've taught thee.
    – istrasci
    Sep 12, 2011 at 14:52

4 Answers 4


Since it doesn't teach "noun ga arimasen/imasen", I'm wondering if it's because that's not grammatically correct.

It is correct. For example,

どうしてさみしいんですか? (Why are you sad?)  
彼氏がいないので、さみしいんです。 (I'm sad because I don't have a boyfriend)


最近忙しくて、友達に会う時間がない。 (I've been too busy recently to see my mates)

However, very often, when you state your negation, you emphasise your subject/topic. It is therefore common to turn が into は.

家にテレビがありますか? (Do you have a telly at home?)  
いいえ、家にテレビはありません。(A telly? No, I don't have one at home.)
  • 2
    In your first example, I'd argue that the use of が is essentially forced because it is embedded in a subclause, while a は-marked topic is sentence-level. Perhaps it would be better to give an example where the が and negative occur in the main clause?
    – Zhen Lin
    Sep 13, 2011 at 12:09

'Ga' has nothing to do with negation. Your example 'テレビがありません' is completely fine.

The reason you need 'mo' in those examples is because Japanese uses a category of words called indeterminates (which includes 'なに' and 'だれ'), which can be used as a universal quantifier (which translates to English as 'any ...'), existential quantifier (which translates to English as 'some ...') or an interrogative quantifier (which translates to English as 'wh...'). Indeterminates take 'も' to function as a universal quantifier or 'か' to function as an existential quantifier or take neither to function as an interrogative quantifier.

'There is anything.'

'There isn't anything.'

'There is something.'

'What is there?'

  • 1
    That's a nice reply regarding も, but I think he was really asking about doing a negation with が, and why he hasn't seen many…
    – Axioplase
    Sep 13, 2011 at 3:08

I'd say using が particle with negative verbs is not unusual at all especially if it is exhaustive が usage.

Consider if the question was: "I think you said before that your house doesn't have this one electrical appliances I've forgotten which one was it, was it TV, fridge or microwave?" To answer this question, you need to say something that say TV, out of electrical appliances, is the one you don't have at your house: "it is the TV that my house doesn't have" - 僕の家にはテレビがありません. That is to say that you use が to single out the topic from some set of choices or even the whole 'universe', and it works similarly for both positive and negative verbs.

If the topic is not coming from a set of choices, meaning your statement does not imply anything about the rest of the world, you would use は instead: テレビはありません - "There is no TV (and I imply nothing about whether other things exist or not).

  • My usage was like that in the third paragraph. So a different particle is used for saying something doesn't exist to saying that it does?
    – Golden Cuy
    Sep 12, 2011 at 13:26
  • @Andrew: Sorry I don't understand what you meant by "for saying something doesn't exist to saying that it does". But by using "ga" to say TV doesn't exist implies that other things do exist. Conversely using "ga" to say TV does exist implies other things do not exist. OTOH, using "ha" to say TV exists or not does not imply anything about the other things.
    – Lukman
    Sep 12, 2011 at 14:34
  • 1
    Just to note, ga with iru/aru is not necessarily exhaustive (although it can be).
    – jkerian
    Sep 12, 2011 at 14:43
  • @jkerian: What are examples of sentences where ga with iru/aru is not exhaustive?
    – Lukman
    Sep 12, 2011 at 23:35
  • @Lukman: I've expanded my question a bit. Does it help explain what I mean?
    – Golden Cuy
    Sep 12, 2011 at 23:59

To complement other answers, let me state why が is less often used with negation.

One of the roles of が is to introduce a new thing into the universe of discourse, whereas は is used when the thing you are talking about is already in the universe of discourse. It should be understandable that it is rare that one introduces a new subject and the first thing to say about it is what it is not like.

  • Would someone asking "what tv shows do you watch?" be enough to bring "television" into the universe of discourse?
    – Golden Cuy
    Sep 14, 2011 at 3:13
  • 1
    @Andrew: I think that you can consider in both ways. As a result, if someone asks どのテレビ番組が好きですか, an answer can be both うちにテレビはありません and うちにはテレビがありません (but usually not うちにはテレビはありません because it is awkward to repeat は twice). Sep 14, 2011 at 3:21
  • @TsuyoshiIto. Why is there a は in うちにテレビがありません? Is うちにテレビがありません wrong then?
    – Flaw
    Apr 4, 2012 at 0:13
  • @Flaw: I am not sure why, but うちにテレビがありません sounds strange to me as an answer to どのテレビ番組が好きですか. Apr 4, 2012 at 0:19
  • @TsuyoshiIto. But if it were to stand alone as a separate sentence it would be perfectly fine right? Then my guess is that は acts like a discourse "glue" to connect the response to the stimulus.
    – Flaw
    Apr 4, 2012 at 0:29

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