I want to say "I am not your dad" in Japanese. Google Translate say that it would be

(Watashi wa anata no otōsande wanai)

But why is it Watashi wa anata no otōsande arimasen


I think I'll split this answer into two parts. From the comments there are obviously technical aspects of grammar that I seem to be glossing over too readily. So, the first part of the answer will be just a general overview and the second part will flesh out the particulars in a manner less glib about grammatical distinctions.

[under reconstruction]

First ではない and ではありません only differ by their level of politeness.

In English we have one verb "to be" which you wish to translate into Japanese. When doing so there are various distinctions made in Japanese that are rather less apparent in English: levels of formality and distinctions between the literary and spoken language.

Part I:

The English verb "to be" is translated into Japanese variously as だ (informal), です (formal), or である (informal, but literary). Since in Japanese, negative requires inflected forms, the negative forms of each is as follows

だ (postive) -> ではない (negative) じゃない (negative, spoken form)
である (positive) -> ではない (negative)
です (positive) -> ではありません (negative)

So you can translate, "I am not your father" variously as

私はあなたのお父さんじゃない。 (spoken)
私はあなたのお父さんではない。 (informal)

Part II:

In English, the verb "to be", which is definitely a verb from the perspective of English grammar, exhibits a high degree of suppletion in its inflected forms: I am, you are, it is, I was, etc. (another common example of such a verb in English is "to go" whose past tense is "went"). I bring this up because perhaps that can help understand the fluidity with which a native speaker can switch between such forms without any thought about it. It's done so unconsciously that native speakers sometimes even must be taught this.

In Japanese the situation is complicated by matters of formality. The forms だ, です, and である are not strictly speaking considered verbs. Instead, だ and です are termed 助動詞{じょどし} (auxiliary verbs) and である is termed 連語{れんご} (compound word) composed of で+ある, hence the ability to insert は into the inflected form for negation.

I think that for someone who's starting off in their studies of Japanese, at least for an English speaker, these finer details can either be helpful or a hindrance. It depends on your inclinations for distinctions of grammar.

Final point regarding thinking about は:

Also, は, though pronounced "wa", is here functioning like the contrastive particle は, but in this context it's almost a fused form. I'm uncertain whether anyone says "でない" (though that would actually be easily confused with 出{で}ない "isn't poking out/isn't leaving". But regardless, in this context the informal verb isn't "わない" as your title would seem to suggest.

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  • I will accept this when the timelimit allows me thanks – johnny 5 Jul 21 '17 at 23:24
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    だ and である aren't technically verbs. Also, である is two words, which is why you can put は in between them. – snailplane Jul 21 '17 at 23:55
  • @snailplane They aren't verbs? Does that mean that "to be" isn't a verb in English? I'm confused. Could you explain? Thank you. :-) – A.Ellett Jul 21 '17 at 23:57
  • 「だ」「です」は、動詞ではなく助動詞ですね。「である」は、連語ですね。 – Chocolate Jul 22 '17 at 0:55
  • @Chocolate I see what you're saying, but in English, doesn't verb cover both 動詞 and 助動詞. Clearly "to be" can't be 動詞, but in English does that distinction still hold over? Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate your explanation of snailplane's point. – A.Ellett Jul 22 '17 at 1:00

This has to do with keigo, or polite speech. ーありません is the polite way of ending that sentence, whereas ーはない would be more informal.

Both are valid, but it depends on how polite you want to be. Sans context, it's tough to say which would be appropriate.

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    It needs to be はない and not わない. – l'électeur Jul 22 '17 at 0:44
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    @l'électeur: Thanks. I've corrected that. – Makoto Jul 22 '17 at 0:46

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