〜て + ある (~tearu): saying something exists in a certain state

By | March 12, 2014

“~て+ある” is one of those expressions that doesn’t really have a directly translation in English, but once you grasp what it used for you may find what it can express quite useful.

It is made using the て form (“食べて”、”歩いて”、”話して”、etc.) plus the word “ある” which means for something to physically exist, or be in a certain place. A few quick review sentences of ある for those who are new to studying Japanese:

  • 床にリンゴがある
  • There is an apple on the floor.
  • 車がある
  • There is a car.

Now, back to the expression that is the focus of this post. “~て+ある” is used to express that something happened to an object to put it in a certain state, and now the object is physically present in that state. I’ll show you two sentences and then how I can combine them using this pattern.

  • 彼が本を捨てた。
  • He threw the book away.
  • 本がある
  • There is a book.
  • 本が捨ててある
  • The book was thrown away and is sitting there.

My English translation of the last sentence is arguably not the most natural sounding, but it conveys the meaning of 捨ててある。You could also say 捨てられてある to get closer to the literal English, but this expression is used less commonly than 捨ててある。

For another example, if you wanted to say “A message was written” in Japanese your first instinct might be to say the following:

  • メッセージが書かれた
  • A message was written.

This would be grammatically correct, and quite passable Japanese. However you can use the 〜て+ある form to express this more simply.

  • メッセージが書いてある
  • A message was written.

While the English translations in these two are the same, the nuance in Japanese is a little different. In the first case there is emphasis that the message was written by someone, but in the second case the message is just written there.

This reminds me of a phrase I use quite frequently:

  • なんて書いてある?
  • “What does it say?” (lit: “What is written?”)

This short phrase is useful when you want to ask someone about what they are reading about.

Here is another common usage of 〜て+ある using the verb 置く, which means “to place”

  • 携帯(けいたい)がテーブルに置いてあります
  • The cellphone is on the table.

In all the above examples I have used が before the object, but を can also be used. For example, both of these mean “the seat is reserved”.

  • 予約してある。
  • 予約してある。

At this point some of you may wondering what the difference between ~て+ある and ~て+いる, since the latter also can express a state. Let’s look at two example sentences, both of which are correct and natural Japanese.

  • 準備をしてある  (static state (状態))
  • 準備をしている(continuation (継続))

In both cases something is being prepared, but when ~て+ある is used the emphasis is more on a static state, whereas the 〜て+いる sentence emphasizes more a continuation of an action, as in the preparation is actively being done. Also, if the person doing the preparation is important (as in ”僕は準備をしてる”, then ~て+いる is a more appropriate choice.

References

http://kotobakai.seesaa.net/article/8180162.html

https://www.jpf.go.jp/j/japanese/survey/tsushin/grammar/pdf/NK51_16-17.pdf

http://home.alc.co.jp/db/owa/jpn_npa?sn=131

http://home.alc.co.jp/db/owa/jpn_npa?sn=67

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4 thoughts on “〜て + ある (~tearu): saying something exists in a certain state

  1. Ben

    I was taught that てある was for something done with a specific purpose or that was intentional e.g. 日本語を勉強するため、新しい教科書を買ってある. I am aware of the static state usage, but it must also imply an action done with intent or purpose to create that state. For example, if a book is on the table then you are emphasising it was put there by some intentional action, rather than saying it’s simply on the table.

    Hope I made sense. Thanks in advance for your help!

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Ben, thanks for the comment. My description about てある describing state came from the following page:

      http://www.alc.co.jp/jpn/article/faq/03/131.html

      I agree that this pattern is commonly used when something was put there by intent, as you say. However, strictly speaking, I am not sure if this necessary. It isn’t in the above description, and also here is an example where something wasn’t put there intentionally:

      ”入り口にはでっかい木が立ってある”

      http://ameblo.jp/akaikurepasu/entry-11790345297.html

      Here, it is pretty clear that nobody put the tree there “intentionally”

      Reply

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