LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Expressing state-of-being

Posted by Tae Kim

Declaring something is so and so using 「だ」

Vocabulary

  1. 人 【ひと】 - person
  2. 学生 【がく・せい】 - student
  3. 元気 【げん・き】 - healthy; lively
    *Used as a greeting to indicate whether one is well

One of the trickiest part of Japanese is that there is no verb for the state-of-being like the verb "to be" in English. You can, however, declare what something is by attaching the Hiragana character 「だ」 to a noun or na-adjective only. (We will learn about na-adjectives in the section on adjectives later.)

Declaring that something is so using 「だ」
  • Attach 「だ」 to the noun or na-adjective
    Example: +だ=

Examples


  1. Is person.
  2. 学生
    Is student.
  3. 元気
    Is well.

Seems easy enough. Here's the real kicker though.

A state-of-being can be implied without using 「だ」!

You can say you're doing well or someone is a student without using 「だ」 at all. For example, below is an example of a very typical greeting among friends. Also notice how the subject isn't even specified when it's obvious from the context.

Typical casual greeting

A:元気?
A: (Are you) well?

B:元気。
B: (I'm) well.

So you may be wondering, "What's the point of using 「だ」?" Well, the main difference is that a declarative statement makes the sentence sound more emphatic and forceful in order to make it more... well declarative. Therefore, it is more common to hear men use 「だ」 at the end of sentences.

The declarative 「だ」 is also needed in various grammatical structures where a state-of-being must be explicitly declared. There are also times when you cannot attach it. It's all quite a pain in the butt really but you don't have to worry about it yet.

Conjugating to the negative state-of-being

Vocabulary

  1. 学生 【がく・せい】 - student
  2. 友達 【とも・だち】 - friend
  3. 元気 【げん・き】 - healthy; lively
    *Used as a greeting to indicate whether one is well

In Japanese, negative and past tense are all expressed by conjugation. We can conjugate a noun or adjective to either its negative or past tense to say that something is not [X] or that something was [X]. This may be a bit hard to grasp at first but none of these state-of-being conjugations make anything declarative like 「だ」 does. We'll learn how to make these tenses declarative by attaching 「だ」 to the end of the sentence in a later lesson.

First, for the negative, attach 「じゃない」 to the noun or na-adjective.

Conjugation rules for the negative state-of-being
  • Attach 「じゃない」 to the noun or na-adjective
    Example: 学生+じゃない=学生じゃない

Examples

  1. 学生じゃない
    Is not student.
  2. 友達じゃない
    Is not friend.
  3. 元気じゃない
    Is not well.

Conjugating to the past state-of-being

Vocabulary

  1. 学生 【がく・せい】 - student
  2. 友達 【とも・だち】 - friend
  3. 元気 【げん・き】 - healthy; lively
    *Used as a greeting to indicate whether one is well

We will now learn the past tense of the state-of-being. To say something was something, attach 「だった」 to the noun or na-adjective.

In order to say the negative past (was not), conjugate the negative to the negative past tense by dropping the 「い」 from 「じゃない」 and adding 「かった」.

Conjugation rules for the past state-of-being
  1. Past state-of-being: Attach 「だった」 to the noun or na-adjective

    Example: 友達だった友達だった

  2. Negative past state-of-being: Conjugate the noun or na-adjective to the negative first and then replace the 「い」 of 「じゃな」 with 「かった」
    Example: 友達じゃな友達じゃなかった友達じゃなかった

Examples

  1. 学生だった
    Was student.
  2. 友達じゃなかった
    Was not friend.
  3. 元気じゃなかった
    Was not well.

Conjugation summary

We've now learned how to express state-of-being in all four tenses. Next we will learn some particles, which will allow us assign roles to words. Here is a summary chart of the conjugations we learned in this section.

Summary of state-of-being
Positive Negative
Non-Past 学生(だ) Is student 学生じゃない Is not student
Past 学生だった Was student 学生じゃなかった Was not student