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For example, are

先週の金曜日に試験があります。

5月5日に難しい試験があります.

来週の木曜日に友達と約束があります。

correct sentences? In the early chapters of the textbook I use, the pattern 'Noun は (Time phrase) です' is used. But now this seems odd to me. Surely, this would be saying 'The exam is Friday' as in the exam is not on Friday but literally IS Friday. As if they are one in the same. Thank you for any help!

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Yes, these are correct and perfectly natural. However, this is not to possessive sense of あります, but the existential sense. Refer to aru Kanji confusion for additional explanation.

先週の金曜日に試験がありました。 → Last (week on) Friday there was/existed a test.

And contrary to @Zeyuan's answer, you do not need to use ~には. You can use either of ~に or ~には. The former is simply neutral while the latter puts emphasis on the time.

As far as the ~は~です pattern, remember that the particles and copula are as flexible as they are in English. 試験は金曜日です is fine to say "The exam is Friday", and just as in English, it doesn't mean "The test equals Friday" or that it literally is Friday as you say.

  • [幸子]{さち・こ}: [雅人]{まさ・と}君どこ出身ですか? → Masato, where is your hometown?
  • 雅人: 名古屋です。幸子さんは? → I'm from Nagoya. What about you, Sachiko?
  • 幸子: 私は大阪です。 → I am Osaka (As for me) It's Osaka

You wouldn't equate Sachiko to literally being the same thing as Osaka. Remember that は is "simply" the topic marker.

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  • I understand there is a different Kanji for each meaning of ある, but I'd say the division between the concepts of existence and possesion itself is blurred sometimes. For example, in English "I have a car" / "I own a car" (OK), "I have a problem" / "I own a problem" (NOK). I researched a bit and the usage of the same word to mean both existence and possession seems to be a thing on its own right in several languages, according to this article about the existential clause where they point out this duality in the Serbian Language as an example.
    – jarmanso7
    Apr 12 '20 at 20:54
  • Surely either 先週...ありました or 来週...あります? Apr 13 '20 at 7:46
  • @user3856370: Of course. I guess I was just stuck on the 来週 from the last example.
    – istrasci
    Apr 13 '20 at 14:58
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Your example sentences are understandable but not completely correct. You could say 先週の金曜日に試験があります

Answer to this question has an example sentence "彼女にはたくさんの経験があります", and contains more in-depth analysis so I wouldnt repeat here

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