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I came across the following sentence at one point.

もともとおかしな話ではあった。

I did some research on ではある, because I wanted to understand this term better. This is what I found.

The answers in the first link indicate that “ではある” is an “X is Y” statement, but it implies that there is a slight possibility that “X is not Y”.

The Weblio entry indicates that the “は” in “ではある” is the “contrastive は”.

Since the above sentence is a comment on a statement that someone made, I think some possible translations are as follows.

It was an odd statement from the first, but maybe it wasn’t.

It might or might not be an odd statement from the first.

I think I have the right idea, but I have to admit nuances can be difficult to translate. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

EDIT:

The context goes something like this:

A club of high school students attack one high school student. But that student beats the stuffing out of them. Emi, the club leader, is the only one among them left standing. Furious, she says to the high school student, 「冷子、あんたタダの漫研じゃないね!?」(“Reiko, you aren’t just CA, are you!?”) Then the narrator says もともとおかしな話ではあった。The narration also explains the context surrounding Emi's statement.

Does this help in answering the question?

  • Can you provide some context? And.. this might be related: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/15455/9831 「おかしな話ではあった。...けれど/でも/それなのに...」とか – Chocolate Feb 3 at 5:48
  • You can forget what's said in the link to 教えてgoo... – naruto Feb 3 at 7:55
  • @naruto: I'm probably going to sound like an idiot asking this, but may I ask why I can forget what the “Tell Me! goo” link says? – Micheal Gignac Feb 3 at 20:33
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After seeing the context I think it means...

"Come to think of it now, there was something fishy/strange about it from the beginning (but we somehow followed the command)."

The は is contrastive. It marks, or limits, the "scope" of であった. (部分的な肯定?) It's like "I must admit that it sounded strange/fishy, at least partially/to some extent, if not totally."

Similar use of this は:

「反対か賛成かと問われれば、賛成である。」(implying "not fully agree")
「免許は、持っています。」(implying "don't drive")
「結婚したいと思っています。」(implying そんなに強く思ってない or でも特に何もしてない)


I don't think the 話 is "statement", but the 話 in phrases like 「ばかげた話だ」、「変な話だ」、「ひどい話だ」 etc.

まったく、ひどい話だ! "That's terrible!"
ばかげた話だ! "That's absurd!" "That's utter nonsense!"

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you for answering! Also, I have made an edit that adds in the context that you requested. Does it help in answering my question? – Micheal Gignac Feb 3 at 17:59
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    @Micheal, Yes, it helps, thank you. Emi:「冷子、あんたタダの漫研じゃないね!?」Narrator: もともとおかしな話ではあった。 <- The 話 doesn't refer to the statement. 同級の鬼塚冷子を下校時に襲えという命令。それも体操部全員でかかれとは... ← この、「(腕力のないはずの、文化系の)漫研1人を、(体育系の)体操部の全員で襲え」なんていう命令が、そもそもおかしかった、って言ってるんです。そのあとの 合点が行かなかったおかしな話だったはだいたい同じ意味です – Chocolate Feb 4 at 6:43
  • Well, Mx. Chocolate, I believe you have answered my question quite well! Oh, and as for your comment, I was able to get the gist of it. So thank you very much for all your help! – Micheal Gignac Feb 4 at 21:31
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There could be multiple ways of understing this. One way to make sense of it (perhaps a bit contrived) is to regard the part ending in で as a single object (a noun clause). The particle は turns that whole object into the topic of the sentence.

For example おかしな話で would mean "the fact of its being a strange statement" (the specific meaning of 話 depends on context so I will adopt your translation as "statement"). The は particle tells us that such fact is the topic of the sentence, and あった tells us something about that fact -- that it existed.

If you include もともと, then もともとあった means that this fact existed in the origin. So the full meaning is "its being a strange statement originally existed", which is certainly a weaker assertion than "it was a stange statement", as would have been であった。

You can think of the standard negative ではありません in the same way. The opposite of your sentence, i.e. おかしな話ではなかった means "its being a strange statement didn't exist." But the negative affords the more direct translation "it wasn't a strange statement", perhaps because of the stronger effect of a negative form.

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  • Thank you for your answer! Also, I have edited my question so that it explains the context surrounding the statement. Does it help? – Micheal Gignac Feb 3 at 20:30
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To answer your question in the simplest way, I'd say "では" is a formal way of answering. ではある literally means "It was / There was" (pointing towards an inanimate / non-existent objects hence, ある, animate objects are described as いる).
i.e. If i wanted to say "my best friend is not an otaku" i'd say, 友人がオタクではないです (いない)

There's one more way translate it if you're using the kanji form 出会った (であった, meeting) but that's simply not the case here

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you for your answer! Also, I have edited my question so that it explains the context surrounding the statement. Does it help? – Micheal Gignac Feb 3 at 20:31

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