Having trouble with じゃありません and がいません

Hi all, apologies as this might just be a basic question, but I’m confused on the two above.

My basic understanding is you have two normal endings for like place/existence/person sorta thing:

  • arimasu = Used for non-moving subjects like objects/plants
  • imasu = Used for moving subjects like humans or animals.

Kay, so far makes sense. Then I get the question:

  • She is not my older sister.
  • 彼女は私のお姉さんじゃありません。
  • Her mother doesn’t have an older sister.
  • 彼女の母はお姉さんがいません。

Now I’m a little confused, seems like the difference here is:

  • じゃありません = Which I’d assume negates arimasu? But it seems like it more negates desu? Like the sentence is “She is my older sister << jya arimasen makes it not that”
  • がいません = So this negates the imasu above? Makes sense in this case that it negates the existence of teh older sister, as in “doesn’t have one”.

Anyone able to help me out, I have a feeling I’m confusing either arimasu and desu and imasu and imasen.
Cheers heaps!

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Yes, the negation of です is ではありません, which can be contracted to じゃありません. The fact that ではありません ends with ありません is not related to the first part you mentioned about あります on its own expressing the existence of inanimate objects. It’s best to just think of ではありません as its own thing.

There are historical and etymological reasons for how all of these came to be this way, but it’s not necessary to dive too deep into that at an early stage.


Whoa okay that helps a LOT! Cheers.
I think I get it, so

If a sentence is/isn’t then:

  • Desu → dewa arimasen / jya arimasen

While if its about existence/place of object of person its:

  • Non-moving: arimasu → arimasen
  • Moving: imasu → imasen

Yup, that’s it.

About those historical/etymological things… here’s a short version that I think is helpful for seeing the link between です and ではありません. I’m pretty sure I learnt this while I was still a beginner. However, if you find it’s too much information, feel free to ignore it:

There are various theories about です, but one is that it’s a short version of であります, which still exists today. であります is maybe slightly more polite, but it’s not very common. As you already know, with negation, you have arimasu → arimasen, and if you apply that to であります, you get でありません. Why can you separate で from the rest? Because であります isn’t one word: で is either a particle or a verb form depending on who you ask. That’s also why you can throw は in after で, because は tends to appear with negations, and so you get ではありません.


  • です is short for であります.
  • で and あります can be separated. Only the あります bit conjugates.
  • Negate であります, you get でありません. Add は to make it natural, and you get ではありません.

Visual summary of the ‘です negation’ transformation sequence:

です → で あります → で ありません → ではありません


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