The “〜くある” (~ku aru) form for Japanese adjectives

By | June 11, 2016

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:

  • 美しくある
  • 美しくはある
  • 美しくあるまい
  • 美しくあるべき
  • 美しくあろう

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:


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5 thoughts on “The “〜くある” (~ku aru) form for Japanese adjectives

  1. Nick

    It’s convenient that you made this post a few days before I started seriously wondering about this.

    One of the first songs I listened to in Japanese was Makihara Noriyuki’s どんなときも. Back then I didn’t know Japanese; it was just a way to get a feel for the sounds of the language, and it was recommended by a Japanese friend as one of his favorite songs.

    Now, about 5 years later, I decided I wanted to go back and see if I can understand the whole song. This line…


    … is rather simple to understand conceptually (“so that I can be like myself”), but the grammar has never come up in my experience with conversation.

    But, I wonder, would ~くあるために also sound strange in regular conversation?

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Didn’t know that song, but you’re right that line is the same form I’m talking about here.

      I’ve never heard ~くあるために in regular conversation, and a google search of that only comes up with a few hits, many of which are that song, so I don’t think it’s the best thing to use in real conversation.

      However, if you are talking about yourself in a deep, philosophical sense, I think it’s fine and the listener might be impressed about using this type of Japanese (:

  2. Nick

    Thanks for the response! The rabbit hole just gets deeper and deeper in the study of Japanese.

  3. Christian Duerig

    I study Japanese for just one year with Misa on YouTube “Japanese for Absolute Beginners” and I am grateful for this article. It helps me a lot to follow the volitional form. Thank you very much ! The rewiring is very hard but logically.
    Question: How did you learn the kanji ?

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the comment! Glad to have helped.

      For Kanji, I first bought a book and learned a few hundred kanji, and made sure to understand the radical meanings and how to write them. I also made flash cards.

      Then I just started reading Japanese novels. At first, I had to look up Kanji very often. But after a few books it got easier (:


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