Does a virus take いる or ある?

Viruses are not even close to alive, unlike bacterium

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I don’t think Saida thinks viruses are alive. (at least that sentence doesn’t suggest it anyway)

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I just inferred it, as he brought up plants being alive. You are probably right, but many people lump bacteria and viruses together as living things :frowning:

They may not be alive, but they’re certainly life-adjacent, and certainly “vital members of the web of life.”
-I got that last bit from a Scientific American article: Are Viruses Alive? | Scientific American

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Not sure how you could blame anyone for wondering about the semantics of this, considering that verbiage like “can survive on ____ surfaces for up to three days” is in regular use, and we tend to not use “survive” for, like, rocks.

Maybe not so much scientifically (now), but viruses are certainly in a place to challenge how we divide life/not life linguistically.

Also, while the answer is ある, it was a savvy question in regards to Japanese, where the ある/いる divide tends to not be very scientific in the first place.


good question haha. The past week I have heard both at work. Makes me worried everytime I have to say it haha.


Addendum: Confusingly, much like with English, while viruses usually take ある in Japanese, they can also be paired with 生きられる for “survive/live on” sentences. Cursory google searches show this verbiage come up in articles talking about the novel coronavirus’ propensity to survive on hard surfaces.

They are not alive, and not treated in the same way animals are, but they can also “live,” linguistically. I don’t think you can scientifically define that kind of verbiage out of use, either, because it makes perfect sense in context and we don’t have a word for biological packets that can expire and reproduce with assistance but also don’t meet the standards for life.


But plants too are living things, can be paired with 生きられる, and yet use ある。ある can be used for non-living things but also for living things that don’t have power of motion. So I wonder, when japanese use ある for virus, is it because of the non-living or the non-moving part ?


That’s also true.

I suppose it’s just because いる is somewhat animating, in a subjective sense, whereas 生きる has a more concrete “this is alive in the sense that it can be either that or dead” meaning.

Which still isn’t quite right for viruses, but we have the same problem in English. If it can “die,” and “survive,” what are we to call it in some circumstances but “alive,” even if it isn’t technically life? We don’t have the language to talk about viruses accurately in everyday speech.


The dictionary keeps it pretty simple. いる’s first definition in Japanese is 人・動物がその場所に存在する. There’s no waffling about what counts as alive or moving etc.


Yeah, I added that line because OP seemed to base their いる/ある distiction based on whether something is alive or not. So I thought I’d comment on definitely alive plants also being ある, to make it clear that aliveness is not necessarily the deciding factor.


You use いる for venus fly traps. I don`t know why, but Japanese people I asked said that. Trees are ある. It seems the difference has less to do with being alive and more to do with being animated.


How about something along the lines of:


“Corona Virus is inside her body.”

It’s kind of a roundabout way of saying someone has the virus, but it wouldn’t be wrong, right?

It’s literally something that could be said. It’s just unlikely to be said.


I could probably picture this being used to explain it to a younger child, but there aren’t really a lot of instances where I’d picture いる / ある being used for an illness.

Except maybe to state the countries the virus is in?

Mainly that kind of sentence would come up while describing the existence of certain types of viruses academically. You can find instances in virology Wikipedia entries, etc.

Pretty rare to use it in the “here, right now” sense.

For talking about spread to and within different areas, usually 感染者 (literally “infected person,” but practically corresponds to “cases”) is used instead.

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An explanation to a child in natural Japanese would probably be more likely to use 体に入っている or something, but it’s not really that important.


I feel like I might’ve derailed the topic a bit, but thanks for the explanations.

didn’t expect that. cool to know

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