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The State of Being – だ, です, じゃない and じゃありません

In this exercise, we will explore the equivalent expression of ‘to be’ or ‘not to be’ (that is the question ?… hmmm) in Japanese.  Firstly, we will look at 「だ」 and the similar, but the more formal version of 「だ」 which is 「です」. Then, we will look at the negative state of being 「じゃない 」.

If you like these exercises you may also be interested in our other post about particles such as 「は」、「も」、「よ」 or 「ね」.

In this post, we will be using a fair amount of Hiragana and Katakana to explain simple structures and samples, so if you haven’t already, you should try to learn these symbols too for ease of reading.

Finally, we have provided a list of additional vocabulary from the examples used at the end of this post.

The Use of 「だ」 and 「です」

Strictly speaking, 「だ」 and 「です」 are very similar but not exactly the same. However, for the purposes of this exercise, we will just focus on the informal and formal forms and their similar usage.

Please note the use of 「だ」can be considered a declaration at times, and is used by males to strengthen their statement or tone. Conversely, the use of 「です」 is generally considered more polite and softer than aforementioned 「だ」.

Simple Structure:

マット + だ = マットだ。 (Matto Da) – directly translated means ‘is Matt’.

マット + です = マットです。(Matto Desu) – directly translated, but in more polite terms also means ‘is Matt’.

In both cases, the simple addition of「だ」or「です」adds the simple state of ‘to be’ or ‘is’ to the subject. Let’s have a look at some examples:

Example No. 1:

先生 (せんせい) だ。(Sensei Da) – is Teacher.

友達 (ともだち)です。 (Tomodachi Desu) – is Friend (more polite).

If we wish to explain the state of being in the past tense, we need to conjugate the following terms:


だ -> だった (Datta)

です – > でした (Deshita) this is a more polite variation

Let’s have a look at the following examples:

Example No. 1:

看護師 (かんごし) だった。(Kangoshi Datta) – Was nurse.

弁護士 (べんごし) でした。(Bengoshi Deshita) – Was lawyer (more polite).

The Use of 「じゃない」

To express that something, for example, a noun, is not or in the negative state, we use 「じゃない」or the more polite version 「じゃありません」. While both of these are not as strong in use as the 「だ」to make a declarative statement, they are still used to indicate the negative state of being or ‘is not (something)’.

Sample Structure:

学生 + じゃない = 学生じゃない。(Gakusei Jyanai) – directly translated means ‘is not student’.

学生 + じゃありません = 学生じゃありません。(Gakusei Jyaarimasen) – directly translated, but in more polite terms means ‘is not student’.

In both cases, 「じゃない」and the more polite version 「じゃありません」adds the negative state to the subject. Here are some examples:

元気 (げんき) じゃない。(Genki Jyanai) – Is not well.

友達 (ともだち) じゃありません。(Tomodachi Jyaarimasen) – Is not friend.

To explain the above examples in the past form, we need to make the following conjugations:


じゃない – > じゃなかった (Jyanakatta)

じゃありません -> じゃありませんでした (Jyaarimasen Deshita) this is a more polite variation

We can see these in use by the following examples:

Example No. 1:

きれいじゃなかった。(Kirei Jyanakatta) – Was not beautiful.

親切じゃありませんでした。(Shinsetsu Jyaarimasen Deshita) – Was not kind.

Appendix – Vocabulary

Below is a list of the vocabulary used throughout the exercise:

先生 (せんせい or Sensei) – Teacher

友達 (ともだち or Tomodachi) – Friend

看護師 (かんごし or Kangoshi) – Nurse (usually for females)

弁護士 (べんごし or Bengoshi) – Lawyer/Attorney

学生 (がくせい or Gakusei) – Student

元気 (げんき or Genki) – Fine/Well

きれい (Kirei) – Beautiful/Clean

親切 (しんせつ or Shinsetsu) – Kind/Kindness


2 thoughts on “The State of Being – だ, です, じゃない and じゃありません”

  1. Kouki says:

    I’m really curious about how foreigners who want to improve their Japanese skills study Japanese.

    Come to think of it, it might be difficult for them to differentiate between polite and casual way of speaking.

    I definitely think this article must be helpful to them!

    1. Matty says:

      Yes, definitely one of the most difficult parts of Japanese is distinguishing between casual, polite and honnorific language, and also understanding in which situations it is appropriate to use these. Hopefully this article helps 🙂

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