November 30, 2013
The verb “to be” is a very important verb in English and many other languages. It has special meaning and in some cases special uses. First, the most important point is that it doesn’t mean quite the same in Japanese as it does in English. Look at the following sentences.
(Approximate pronunciation) Ko ray WA hone dess
This means: This is a book.
This would appear to behave just as the verb ‘to be.’ But take a look at this.
(Approximate pronunciation) Odo ree tie kee boon dess
This means: I feel like dancing.
Literally this means, “It is a want to dance feeling.” There is no mention of who wants to dance though. If you add the topic 私は to the sentence, it means,”I want to dance.” In the English sentence though, the verb “to be” isn’t used.
Here’s another example.
(Approximate pronunciation) Watashi WA tano she dess
This means: I’m having fun.
At first glance, this sentence seems to say “I am fun.” But that’s not correct. In order to make it make sense, we have to add quite a bit of creative translation.
As for me, it is fun.
But that’s not even close to a real English sentence.
In Japanese, there are also two other forms of the verb “to be.”
あります (ah ree moss) and います (ee moss)
あります basically means “there is.” It is used for non living things. This includes plants. (Plants are not considered living things in terms of grammar.)
います is used for people and animals. It can mean “there is” or “I have”, such as if you are explains that you have a brother or sister.
(Approximate pronunciation) Wah taw shee wa o toe toe ga ee moss.
This means: I have a younger brother.
A literal translation would be something like: As for me, there is a younger brother.
(Approximate pronunciation) Mown dye ga are ree moss
This means: There is a problem. It can also mean that I have a problem.
These two verbs あります and います basically describe existence. Their use is closer to the verb “to be” than the verb です. However, their use can be quite different than “to be.”