Actually, this has been lingering for sometime in my mind about how Japanese convey a sentence which has both the living and non-living things. Will Japanese use いる or ある? or whichever comes first? or both are acceptable? or Japanese will prefer to use いる instead of ある when both are combined? Since the concept of living/non-living things in Japanese language is different compared to its English counterparts. They make it distinctive which is which. So, if the concept is combined, which is preferred?

For example:

Once upon a time, there was a man, a woman, a tree. They were all doing fine.
昔々、男、女、木があった。or 昔々、男、女、木がいました。
彼らはすべてうまくいっていた。 or 彼らはすべてうまくいっていました。

My question:

  1. Which one is the most natural Japanese? (aka 'considered correct by natives?')
  2. If we combine 'they' as one concept which consist of living things and non-living things, which is used more often? The living part or the non-living part? (彼ら?彼女ら?彼ら? or with たち? or それら/あれら?

This brings me another question i.e.:

  1. If they both consist of male and female-types mixed with(combined with) living and non-living things, which 'pronoun' will be preferred? or is/are there any 'neutral' type(s) which cover(s)g both male/female and living/non-living things?

Any thoughts, comments and answers are greatly appreciated! (You may post your own example to elaborate your answer!) ありがとうございます。

  • 1
    To 3. I felt "みんな" would be fine. みんな上手くやっていました。
    – user25382
    Aug 22, 2017 at 12:04

2 Answers 2


Note: I had left my answer halfway because I needed to do something else and when I came back at it Naruto had already given an answer. Although the answer is very similar I will post it anyway as maybe reading it written in different ways might give better insight (and deleting it would be quite a waste of typing too :p).

It's an interesting question so I asked a Japanese and the answer to "if we combine living an non-living things which prevails, いる or ある?" was quite surprising: none. Or, from a different point of view, both!

Which means that basically none of the examples you provided would actually work. You would have to rephrase your "man-woman-tree" example in some other way.

For instance, you could say:


Although the above might sound weird, it's just a way to show that you should use both いる and ある.

If you want to say 木がいました, there is nothing wrong with that provided that you are giving the tree a sort of personification, meaning that it would make the reader think that that tree has emotions.

Another example the person I was speaking with provided to show this difference in use is the following:


Which means "Next to the table there are a a plant pot and an Italian man". As you can see, the sentence is structured in order to use both いる and ある although in English the plant and the man are "grouped together".

I am not sure I understand your second point about grouping plural object. Contrarily to other languages Japanese words do not have a gender "per se", so saying something like これら、それら etc referred to a group containing both "male" and "females" should not really be a problem. After all when you refer to a group of people you generally use 彼ら and the gender of the people making up that group doesn't really matter I guess. Besides, in Japanese such pronouns are really not as commonly used as in English so you probably would/could construct the sentence in a different way anyway.


If you want to personify 木 (say, it's a tree that can talk and walk), feel free to use いる and 彼ら.

  • 昔々、おしゃべりな木と、男と女がいました。彼らはとても仲良しでした。

Otherwise, both sentences using いる and ある are unnatural, and you have to rephrase them in some way or another.

  • 昔々、大きな木の近くに、男と女が住んでいました。
  • 昔々、大きな木がありました。その根元には、男と女が住んでいました。

I'm not sure when you have to treat living things and nonliving things as one group. Words like 彼ら or それら are far less common than English they/them, and you can usually construct a sentence without using those pronouns at all. If you absolutely need a pronoun, something like それらの人と物 (literally "those people and things") should work. But this somehow depends on the context. For example, if you're playing a strategy game where tanks and infantry are treated in the same way, それら(のユニット) may work just fine. そいつら is another pronoun which can refer to both living and nonliving things, but this can be derogatory if used inappropriately.

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