Recently I saw a post on Japanese Language Stack Exchange about the 〜くある (~ku aru) form of adjectives (ex: 美しくある), and there was no good answer so I did some research. By the time I was ready to post, the question had been deleted, so will make a make a post here with my findings.
To review, let’s look at example of the basic usage of adjectives in Japanese. We’ll use the word 美しい (utsukushii), “beautiful”.
- 美しい [beautiful]
- 美しくない [not beautiful]
I think that this (along with the noun form, i.e. 美しさ) covers 90-95% of how adjectives are used in Japanese. (Notice I am excluding “na” adjectives like 立派 (rippa) here)
However, let’s look at a few other ways to used an adjective which you may be less familiar with:
So the question is which of these is correct grammar, and what meanings do they have? Let’s look at them one at a time.
The ”〜くある” form by itself is almost never used in Japanese, and the above phrase would be considered incorrect grammar as-is. So if you said something like “その犬は可愛くあるよ” you would probably get funny looks.
However, I was told by a Japanese native that this expression conceptually means “美しい状態で存在する”, which translates to “existing in a beautiful state”.
To understand this phrase, let’s look at one of the usages of the particle は:
- お金はあるけど、忙しくて時間が全然ない。 [I do have money, but I’m busy and don’t have any time.]
Here, the は particle gives the feeling that what follows will apply to “money”, but there may be something else which doesn’t apply. Similarly, saying “チョコレートは好きだけど。。。” has the nuance of “I like chocolate, but….[I don’t like XXX]”.
The main reason for using “〜くはある” is when you want to apply the same feeling to an adjective.
- このデザイン、美しくはあるが、機能的ではない。 [This design is beautiful but not functional.]
Just as the phrase “あるまい” means “ない”, “美しくあるまい” is another way to say “美しくない” (not beautiful).
“べき” is generally used when you want to express something “should” happen, like “〜するべき” which means “should do ~”.
Here, “〜くあるべき” means something should exist in a certain state. For example:
- 女性は美しくあるべき。 [Women should be beautiful.]
Here, あろう is the volitional form of ある, just like 食べよう is the volitional form of 食べる. It’s roughly equivalent to “Let’s ~” in English, though it doesn’t always have to involve another person (it can be more inward facing, showing the intention of someone).
So “美しくあろう” means “Let’s try to stay beautiful”. Here is a page which uses this phrase.
This is a post I made to verify that 美しくある is not commonly used on it’s own:
This is a post which similarly explains how “〜くある” is not natural by itself: