In「である」、my previous understanding was that the「で」functions the same way as the "method/means" particle「で」by making everything that came before it attached to「で」and that「ある」is just regular「ある」just like usual.

However, I have been told elsewhere that this「で」is a copula. This begs the question as to why it is before「ある」。 Furthermore, whenever I see a chart of です conjugations, I don't see「で」on it. So, is the「で」functioning as a copula for the preceding portion of its clause? If so, then why is it not「だ」?

I also have a comprehensive Japanese Linguistics book here, but its explanation (while extremely thorough like a legal text) does not describe how it works.

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    Does this answer your question? Etymology of the copula だ Jan 28, 2021 at 19:02
  • @EiríkrÚtlendi While that is useful information, unfortunately it does not describe how it works grammatically. Based upon that, I can only update my understanding to be that the copula「で」functions to create an adverbial or adjectival phrase out of everything that came before it and that「ある」functions as usual. Is this correct? Jan 28, 2021 at 21:29
  • @DeityofAutomation user3856370's second link may actually have more of the type of information you're looking for in its answer here. That said, I think it's going to be hard to get much more than etymology because it's pretty hard to break modern である up into pieces. If you really want a novel answer, it would help to see your source for the idea that is a copula, as opposed to である in its entirety.
    – Mindful
    Jan 29, 2021 at 1:26
  • @Mindful It's a very definitive and comprehensive source, and it has thousands of pages. I might have just not found it yet, so I'll keep searching. Jan 29, 2021 at 6:11

1 Answer 1


Broadly, で is just the conjunctive form of だ・です, as in "[statement 1] is, and [statement 2]". The ある after that, if used to end the sentence, is just the copular ある: "is, am, are, will be" etc. This kind of usage is rather stuffy and formal, and archaic.

In most cases in modern Japanese, you'll see である not at the end of a sentence, but in cases where the "is-ness" of whatever came before is used attributively to modify something else. 犬【いぬ】だ "[it] is a dog" → 犬【いぬ】[で]{●}[あ]{●}[る]{●}動物【どうぶつ】 "the animal that is a dog". So one way of thinking about である is as the 連体形【れんたいけい】 or attributive form of だ・です.


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