This is the sentence:


Watashi wa kangokujin de wa arimasen.

I'm not Korean.

I was expecting something like:


Watashi wa kangokujin arimasen.

Why is the では necessary? And what does it mean?

2 Answers 2


ではありません should be treated as a single word (for now, at least). It is the negative form of です, so it means 'is not', 'am not', 'are not' etc.

You may have already seen the contracted form of the plain speech version じゃない. In this form じゃ is a contraction of では, and ない is the plain speech form of the polite ありません.

On its own ありません is the negative form of あります which is the polite form of ある. This means 'to have', 'to exist' etc. So your sentence 私は韓国人ありません is ungrammatical and doesn't make much sense. 私は韓国人ありません would mean "I don't have a Korean person" which sounds pretty odd to me.

  • I've spent quite some time searching the web for a satisfactory explanation of では, and have not found one. This response doesn’t provide one either. It’s tempting to conclude that there is no satisfactory explanation.
    – justerman
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 8:58
  • @justerman It may be worth asking another question about this. It's too deep for me to give an answer though. Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 6:15
  • @justerman Have you seen japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1077 ? Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 3:36
  • @Karl Knechtel: I hadn't seen that. Thank you. It was useful.
    – justerman
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 7:36

It seems to be a double negative for emphasis as in Spanish. Hard to get used to if your native language uses a single negative as in logic.

  • There is no double negative here. Commented Oct 3, 2020 at 19:53

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