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In any previous language I have studied (mostly European languages), the verb "to have" is always one of the top 5 most common verbs alongside others like to be, to go, to come, etc. In Japanese, this doesn't seem to be the case, judging from word frequency and suggested lists of "most important verbs." Apparently motsu is simply not as common in Japanese as to have is in English, or avoir in French, and so on.

This is very counterintuitive for me. How do people phrase simple common things such as "Do you have five dollars?"

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    Surely いる/ある are high up on your list? When it comes to Japanese you can pretty much forget all the intuition you've got from European languages. Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 8:17
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    Yeah... maybe you're just noticing the fact that the role played by that word in other languages is divided between several verbs in Japanese. It's not like the concept is less common.
    – Leebo
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 8:31
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    How do people phrase simple common things such as "Do you have five dollars?" -- 「5ドルある?」「5ドルない?」とか・・・
    – chocolate
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 1:59

2 Answers 2

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Do you have 5 dollars?
Yes, thanks for asking.

Not really what you meant to ask. I don't know how a Japanese person would actually respond if you asked:

5ドル持っていますか

But I'm sure it would be more polite to ask:

Will you lend me five dollars?
5ドル貸してもらえますか (Can I receive the benefit of you lending me 5 dollars)

Not really sure what your question is. But 'have' can have many different meanings, and there is no reason that all the meanings should map to the same word in Japanese. I assume that いる/ある are pretty high on your list of common verbs though.

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  • Like if you're telling a visiting friend (who is not from your area) that a subway ticket will cost $3, then say "Do you have $3?" (to pay for the subway). Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 10:33
  • I think chocolate's comment on your question (using ある) does the job in that instance. Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 21:11
  • But that means "to be"....clearly I have a lot to learn. Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 2:25
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    @Aerovistae ある doesn't really mean 'to be'; that role is played by だ/です. The verb ある indicates existence. You can think of it as the verb 'to be located' and by extension 'to possess/have'. Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 18:49
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Apparently motsu is simply not as common in Japanese as to have is in English, or avoir in French, and so on.

This is to be expected, because it simply doesn't cover the same range of meaning. In English, "have" commonly means "engage in" or "participate in", and it can mean "experience" or "consume". Other European languages have similar uses for "have", and they all (including English) use "have" as a helper verb in conjugations (for various sorts of past or perfective constructions). Additionally in English it is spelled the same way (but pronounced differently as the verb in "to have to" (an incomplete verb that is suppleted with "must" - sort of; it's really weird, honestly).

On the other hand, of the ways "have" is used in English, Japanese [持]{も}つ only covers the sense of "possess/own". (Even then this is a slight metaphorical extension to the primary sense, "hold/carry".) So of course it won't be used as often.

Similarly, the English "to be" is used as a copula, as part of a variety of fancy verb conjugations, and as a synonym for "to exist". In Japanese, です (which has many variant forms) is a rough approximation to the copula, but "exist" is split between いる (for animate things) and ある (for inanimate things) (and other options that persist in expressions left over from older forms of Japanese). These do get used in some verb conjugations as well, of course, but also none of these is necessary to use an い-adjective predicatively.

On the flip side, Japanese has a whole different set of "light" verbs from English - verbs that carry a lot of different senses if one is trying to be precise, or when one needs to translate between languages. For example, there is [置]{お}く which is sort of like English "set", but different. And then there is 付く which, well, good luck explaining to an English speaker how these meanings are related.

So, yes, of course the "most frequent verb" list for Japanese will look different than that of European languages. The grammar of the language works fundamentally differently, and word-senses are partitioned very differently.

How do people phrase simple common things such as "Do you have five dollars?"

Well, why are you asking? It will be different if you are seeking to borrow that money, versus if you want to make sure the other person can pay a cover charge at a club later, versus if you are wondering just how destitute that homeless person on the corner is. You should instead ask yourself why you think this is a simple thing, or a common thing, or indeed one thing.

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