What is doing てある in 文字を紙に書いてある? I have thought of 書いてある and 書かれている as basically the same, but in 文字が紙に書かれている it is clear that 文字 is doing ている while it isn't clear what is doing てある in 文字を紙に書いてある.

  • Something seems slightly off in the word order to me... but it might help if you also gave how you think the sentence would translate. generally, I see 〜てある as being roughly like es gibt or there is in terms of subjects.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 3:56
  • 1
    The sentence would translate to "the letters are written on the paper."
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 4:06
  • The を there in the example sentence seems odd to me... Can you provide more context?
    – sazarando
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 5:05
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    「~が~てある」と「~を~てある」はどう違う? alc.co.jp/jpn/article/faq/03/67.html, 「~ている」と「~てある」はどう違う? alc.co.jp/jpn/article/faq/03/131.html Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 5:08
  • The example sentence isn't much different than 自動車を門の外に待たせてある from classic.jisho.org/sentences?jap=wo+tearu&eng=.
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 5:35

2 Answers 2


As someone commented, I think the meaning of this is clear: "The letter are written on the paper".

The link pointed out by broccoli forest about 〜てある mentions the following:


So here we can see the difference between 〜てある and 〜ている is that the former is used only with transitive verbs, and the を+〜てある form can represent a change of state of position of the object which resulted from some action (that is represented by a verb).

However, ultimately I don't think there is much difference between using が and を with the 〜てある form, and I think "文字が紙に書いてある" would have pretty much the same meaning. The way I think of "?を書いてある" is that "(someone) wrote ? and it exists in that state".

As for the "subject" of the original sentence (with を), I don't think there is much point in trying to distinguish to what is the "subject" and what is the "object". Whether someone "wrote" the letters on a paper (as an action) or whether they just "exist", the result is the same. However, if you really wanted an answer, I would say this original sentence has no subject.

  • I don't think it makes sense for a sentence to have no subject.
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 23:10
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    @Joe Why not? Semantically, many predicates don't require subjects. English requires overt grammatical subjects, so when we use predicates like is raining, we have to insert a dummy (meaningless) subject for grammatical purposes: It's raining. But not every language has that sort of requirement.
    – user1478
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 23:36
  • Good point, snailplane. Also, think of Japanese words like 寒い, which though they have a dummy subject in English (it is cold), clearly have no one performing the action.
    – Locksleyu
    Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 2:42

In 文字を紙に書いてある, the actor (subject) that performed the writing is some unspecified human, but that's not your question.


 「テ形」に続くものの代表は「V-ている」です。これは動詞のテ形に動詞「いる」がついた形ですが、こ の「いる」はふつうの存在の意味を表す「いる」とは違います。本来の「存在」という意味を失って、助動詞のような働きをしています。


     .   .   .  .   .    .   .   .  .   .  

     置いてある   開けてある   調べてある 

I think... in all these ( 書いてある, 置いてある, 開けてある, 調べてある) there is no subject (of the kind you're looking for).

Just as in

Marseille se trouve dans le sud de la France. ( マルセイユはフランス南部にあります. )

Marseille is found in the south of France.

there is no "subject" who/which finds Marseille.

My French is quite modest, but [ Marseille se trouve dans le sud de la France. ] sounds like [Marseille finds itself in the south of France.]

( anthropomorphism )

But in the Japanese ( 書いてある, 置いてある, 開けてある, 調べてある), i don't get this sense of some object being anthropomorphized.

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