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2. です, the Copula

Oni's picture

です is a copula (a word used to link the subject of a sentence with a predicate). It shows that something is or isn't something else. It is one of the very few irregular forms in Japanese. です can act like the English "to be" (you know; is, am, are...) in the sense that です is used to explain who or what something or someone is. It is also used when equating one thing with another.

Let's take a look.

ゾウ は 大きい です

Romaji: zou wa ookii desu.
Literal: elephants (topic particle) big are
Natural: Elephants are large.

これ は ねこ です

Romaji: kore wa neko desu.
Literal: this (topic particle) cat is
Natural: This is a cat.

Most of the time you want to use the "to be" verb you will use です. Later we will learn other forms to show existence.

Main Points
  • is, are, am
  • always at the end
  • it doesn't change like its English cousin (is, are, am) in the present tense
  • usually pronounced like "dess"

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The sentence structure in Japanese sounds like Yoda from Star Wars is saying it :D

Flash Trauma's picture

Beginner's Advice.........?

I heard that "arimasen" is the opposite of "desu".

Freedom is the depression caused by the awareness of reality.

Arimasen is not the opposite

Arimasen is not the opposite of desu. The true opposite of desu is dewa arimasen, however it's not used too frequently in spoken Japanese. There's a multitude of ways to express the copula used in Japanese with varying levels of politeness.

Desu is in fact a contraction of de arimasu, so the negative becomes dewa arimasen. The same is true for deshita which is a contraction of de arimashita, its negative becomes dewa arimasen deshita. Note that deshita is always used in dewa arimasen deshita because dewa arimasen de arimashita would just be too long, hence it's not used at all.

Here are the most common forms of Japanese copula in degree of politeness starting from the least polite going to the most polite.
Present positive - da - de aru - desu - de arimasu
Present negative - janai - dewa nai - janai desu - dewa arimasen
Past positive - datta - de atta - deshita - de arimashita
Past negative - janakatta - dewa nakatta - janakatta desu - dewa arimasen deshita

Dewa can be replaced with ja in any of these cases, but since that's a contraction it is slightly less polite, or at least a bit less constrained or so to speak.

micahcowan's picture

More on de wa arimasen

Might as well add that you can substitute "gozaimasu" for "arimasu" in all of the above too, for even more formality.

As LordOfTheFlies said, "ja" can be substituted for "de wa", and may technically be less formal (I'd use "de wa arimasen" in circumstances that are considerably formal, but not quite formal enough to warrant "gozaimasen" instead of "arimasen"); but in practice "ja arimasen" is extremely common in spoken Japanese; probably more so than "de wa arimasen". In most cases, I'd pair "desu" with "ja arimasen" as opposed to "de wa arimasen", but of course the former is just a contraction of the latter, which is more precise language.

Flash Trauma's picture



Freedom is the depression caused by the awareness of reality.

Have to make sure.

Please explain to me how Desu is used in this sentence.

O sushi wa suki desu ka?

It would seem that in this case Desu = Do you
However I'm not sure and would like to clarify so I can hold a better understanding. Thanx.

Oh wow... 1 min after writing this and I think I understand it already....lol.

Reply to "Have to make sure"

Keep in mind that some ideas that are expressed in English via verbs are realized in Japanese as adjectives (or in this case, a noun, or more specifically, an "adjectival noun").

I LIKE sushi = watashi ha sushi ga SUKI DESU.

Here, "SUKI" is an adjectival noun that carries the same meaning as the verb "TO LIKE," and "desu" is the copular verb linking the subject "sushi" and its complement "suki," just like in the English sentence "the cat IS an animal," the copular verb "to be" (conjugated here as "is") links the subject "the cat" and its complement "an animal."

So the word "desu" here would be improperly translated as "do you________?" and more properly as "is__________?". Only because that would make for some weird English on the surface would it be alright to insert the "do you" as a tool for creating natural English, so long as you understand what's really going on under the hood :)

Another way

Another way to think about this, for those who may find it confusing that "to like" is an adjective, is to think of 好き (suki) as desirable or likeable.

Re: ha / wa

The は when used as a particle is a rare exception of pronunciation for the hiragana. If you come across は when it's part of a word such as おはよう good morning ( casual ) it's ha, but if used as a particle such as わたし は then it will be pronounced wa.

Don't worry, it'll get more obvious as time goes on :)



I've just come over from

I've just come over from learning the hiragana and i'm confused by the use of は for wa, sorry if this seems arbitary but could someone explain please?

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