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I've come across this sentence in Jisho.org. In many English grammar books, it's said that で is used instead に when ある marks the location of an event, as in こんばんジムの家でパーティーがあります. Why is it に used here then?

東京にいつ激しい地震があるか誰にもわからない

You can find examples with で though.

午前3時30分ごろ関東地方で地震がありました。

From a similar thread,

イラクで戦争がある。≒ イラクで戦争が起こる。

The ある means 起{お}こる, 発生{はっせい}する, 行{おこな}われる (meaning #12 in goo辞書)
Compare:

イラクにXXがある。(= There's XX in Iraq.)
イラクでXXがある。(= XX occurs/takes place/will be held in Iraq.)

3 Answers 3

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The following two sentences are both fine, but focus is slightly different.

東京いつ激しい地震があるか誰にもわからない。

東京いつ激しい地震があるか誰にもわからない。

The first sentence with で focuses on the possible occurrence of a strong earthquake in a particular place, which in this case is assumed to be Tokyo.

The second sentence with に focuses more on the exact location where this might happen. A strong earthquake might strike Tokyo, as opposed to other places. This に also carries a slight sense of directionality and/or suffering. It is kind of like saying:

No one knows when a strong earthquake might fall on Tokyo.

Here, Tokyo is the receiving end of this undesirable event.

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  • I thought ある was always paired with に. Are you sure で is grammatical here?
    – andrewb
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 7:09
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    @andrewb - Yes, definitely. Compare 横浜にスタジアムがある and 横浜で試合がある. The former says something exists in a particular place. It is static. The latter is saying some event happens in a particular place. Swapping the particles would make both sentences ungrammatical.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 7:16
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いつ東京地震があるかわからない/いつ東京地震があるわからない are both equally fine to me. These may be understood as don't know when an earthquake happens to/in Tokyo.

This usage of に should be similar to the following, indicating that something happens to or affects something.

  • 彼の家に不幸があった (idiomatic expression for saying someone passed away in his family.)
  • あなたにいいことがありますように : I wish you happiness (happiness happens to you).
  • あの政治家にスキャンダルがあった : The politician had a scandal.

But it is not entirely clear when に can be used. Possibly affecting is a factor (preceding nouns tend to be animate).

  • 彼の家にパーティーがあった is unnatural.
  • The plain sentence 東京に地震があった is slightly odd.

My impression is that (for ある meaning to happen) Location+に+Nがある is natural mostly when it is embedded and N is a natural disaster kind of thing over which one doesn't have control. (E.g. いつ東京に大雨があるかわからない sounds a bit odd to me. 大雨 may be too common or possibly it is just semantic.)

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  • Thank you for your insightful answer. I have two questions. Is あなたにいいことがあってほしい rather explicit compared to just あなたにいいことがありますように? Does 東京に激しい地震があった sound natural?
    – Nameless
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 2:50
  • @Nameless Basically yes to the first question, but ありますように for I wish you kind of expression is more like a set phrase, あってほしい sounds less idiomatic. As for the second, that's good point. Possibly it is better, but (to me) not as completely natural as (e.g.) 東京に激しい地震があった場合. FYI Not directly relevant but there was a similar chiebukuro question.
    – sundowner
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 6:58
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Your sentence translates to "No one knows when a severe earthquake will happen in Tokyo." 「に」is used here to show that the earthquake is in Tokyo. 「で」would also technically be correct, but 「に」fits better here - if you were to use 「で」, 「起{お}こる」instead of 「ある」would make more sense.

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    How would this interplay with the explanation given on grammar books - “ it's said that で is used instead に when ある marks the location of an event, as in こんばんジムの家でパーティーがあります.”?
    – L. F.
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 21:30
  • Perhaps it's a matter of emphasis.
    – Nameless
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 22:13

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