Genki Grammar Confusion

I’m currently working through chapter 4 of Genki 1 and encountered some slight confusion with how Genki is describing a particular usage of ある/いる vs です.

The book has the sentence あそこにマクドナルドがあります。(There’s a McDonald’s over there.) and it also has the sentence…マクドナルドはあそこです。(McDonald’s is over there.) andマクドナルドはあのデパートの前です。(McDonald’s is in front of that department store.) I have no issue with understanding what the sentences mean but the book says ある/いる are used for descriptions of existence and location while です is for descriptions of an attribute of a person or thing. I guess I’m confused since to me all these sentences are discussing the location of McDonald’s so I’m not sure what is distinguishing the first sentence as being location related and the other two as being based on an attribute unless the attribute is location which still doesn’t really help :upside_down_face:. I’m sure there is some nuance here that explains it and maybe the book’s explanation is just not detailed enough? If anyone has some tips I’d greatly appreciate it!


です and だ are copulas, which you can think of as a connecting verb.

In English, we use “to be” or “am/is/are/was/were” as both a copula and an existence verb. Japanese splits them up.

I am here.

“Am” as a copula. “I” and “here” are connected.

Here I am.

“Am” as an existence verb. “Here” I exist.

It’s kind of hard to give examples since copula/existence are so intrinsically linked in English. That first example could easily be thought of as denoting existence as well.

For Japanese, a copula can connect a thing and a location


and a thing can also exist at a location

あそこにマクドナルドが あります

Don’t get too hung up on the attribute thing. Copulas are used far more extensively than that. Just remember that the copulas connects things.


Okay I think I kind of get it. It is kind of hard to grasp because you’re right there isn’t this kind of distinction in English so it’s a bit hard to visualize. It’ll probably take just a lot more exposure to sentences to develop a natural feel of which to use. I notice that the あります sentence has the location word (あそこ) first while the です sentence has the noun/ thing being described first so maybe if I think about it as with ある the location is first and being emphasized and with です the noun is first and being emphasized and the location word is just describing something about the noun it might help. Thanks for your reply!

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Another pair of examples that might help illustrate the difference:

Given appropriate context, the following sentence can be translated as follows:
Are you two siblings?
The copula です is sort of like an = sign [you two = siblings]

On the other hand, if we replace です with います (polite form of iru):
Do you have siblings?
The verb いる is asking about existence [siblings exist?]


My best explanation:

In English the word is/be can be seen as a statement of equivalency (or maybe that’s not the right word):

  • He is a sailor → he = sailor
  • The culprit is me → the culprit = me

It so happens that it’s a verb in English (unlike in Japanese).

The most straightforward way to do this “equals” thing in Japanese is through だ/です.

  • 私は人間です。 I = human
  • マクドナルドはあそこです。-> (the) McDonalds = over there.

You can also use ある which is a verb of existence.
あそこにマクドナルドがあります。-> McDonalds exists over there.

It so happens that when you translate them into English, they both can be stated as “McDonalds is over there” because the verb “is” fulfils both those functions.

Regardless of how you phrase it in Japanese, the same basic information is conveyed (there is a McDonalds, and it is there). There’s no difference in phrasing when translated into English but there is a difference in phrasing in Japanese.


Yeah this makes total sense its similar to an example of having a tv (ある)versus it is a tv (です) I think it’s really just the location usage that’s tripping me up since the actual english translations are essentially the same. :upside_down_face: But I do think this is a great additional example, so I’m going to add it to my notes. Thanks!!

Your explanation makes a lot of sense. I probably shouldn’t get too hung up on it because in the end when it comes to location you can convey the same meaning with either. It’s a bit more distinct with the other usages. Since both ways to say it are correct I guess I’ll just pay attention when I use native material to see which way is more common. I probably got too focused on the note in the book making a point to say how they are used differently and got confused when they provided examples of them roughly being used for the same meaning. :sweat_smile: Is there a certain preference you have or have seen for one over the other?

I’d say that です is the most direct way of speaking. For instance, if you asked me where McDonalds was, I’d just say: (マクドナルドは) あそこです。

ある is kind of roundabout, and I would probably expect there to be some kind of implicit meaning in you choosing to phrase it that way, considering that you could’ve phrased it more directly.

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In this case you can translate あります as ‘there is’. There’s a McDonald’s over there.

And です as ‘it is’. As for McDonald’s, it’s over there. McDonald’s is over there.


Gotcha! This helps a lot thanks!

This is really helpful and just a small enough distinction that I think I grasp it better now. So if I was asking is there a McDonald’s over there (like if I was uncertain) I could use ある to ask if one exist over there whereas if I knew that there was a McDonald’s somewhere nearby I would use です to ask about it. Thanks so much!


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