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I fear I may be venturing again into "just because" territory, but this one bugs me.

We all know that you usually use いる (as in not ある) to refer to living things, as in 私は日本にいる(△ある). Yet it is acceptable to use ある in the sense of "some" when the specifics are not important, so it's acceptable to say both ある日, for example, as well as ある人. ある人はそう言った。

Is there a reason for this, or is it just an extension of that usage of ある (in which case why isn't it いる人)?

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    In the right context, 人がある is acceptable. As for ある人, this is 或る rather than 有る・在る. However, etymologically they are the same.
    – Dono
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 1:25
  • For whatever reason multiple definitions of ある didn't even occur to me, much less the different kanji choices.
    – ssb
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 1:32
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    See this answer for an explanation of the usage of ある (with the meaning “to exist”). Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 1:48

2 Answers 2

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Historically I think it was OK to use ある with living things. This is because in Chinese 有 (the origin of あり) does get used with living things.

In the modern Japanese grammar, ある in ある人 is called 連体詞, a word that modifies a noun. At some point in time this evolved from a verb and several other forms of words, but I think a different classification reflects the degree of the divergence the modern form now has from the original verb form.

So I think it's probably more natural to think of ある in ある人 and ある as a verb as two separate words.

Note that いる人 can be OK in some context, for example in 学校にいる人は帰りましょう (those who are still in the school, please head home). Similarly, ある as verb can sometimes be combined with 人 as a subject in some specific forms, such as ここに人あり.

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  • Thank you for this. Actually I finally went ahead and looked up ある in the dictionary and found a separate definition for this 連体形 that specifically includes people in the definition, so I'll consider them two different words. Interesting also to see the other uses of ある with regard to people, which I haven't seen much of.
    – ssb
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 1:35
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    @ssb: Just in case, 或る is a 連体詞, not a 連体形. 連体詞 is a part-of-speech. 連体形 is one of the forms of inflectional words. Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 1:58
  • Thanks. I'm trying to brush up on my grammatical terms in Japanese but.. なかなか・・・
    – ssb
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 2:41
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    I really wouldn't say "this is because in Chinese [...]" because あり does not come from Chinese.
    – Zhen Lin
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 7:54
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    Zhen Lin is right. あり is a single native Japanese word, and kanji was imported after this word was created. This is why it has many different kanji notations. Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 16:18
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i'd like to explain this as a Japanese.( im not sure my english is correct, sorry about that) ある人 means ” a certain person" we dont use ある for people as for existence. ある for things, いる for people. the two ある mentioned above are not the same ある, i think.

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