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Formal Expressions

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What do you mean by formal expressions?

So far we have learned casual, polite, and honorific/humble types of languages. So what do I mean by formal expressions? I think we are all aware of the type of language I am talking about. We hear it in speeches, read it in reports, and see it on documentaries. While discussing good writing style is beyond the scope of this guide, we will go over some of the grammar that you will commonly find in this type of language. Which is not to say that it won't appear in regular everyday speech. (Because it does.)

Using 「である」 to state that something is so in an authoritative tone

We have already learned how to speak with your friends in casual speech, your superiors in polite speech, and your customers in honorific / humble speech. We've learned 「だ」、「です」、and 「でございます」 to express a state of being for these different levels of politeness. There is one more type of state of being that is primarily used to state facts in a neutral, official sounding manner - 「である」. Just like the others, you tack 「である」 on to the adjective or noun that represents the state.


(1) 吾輩は猫である - I am a cat. (This is the title of a famous novel by 夏目漱石)

Since I'm too lazy to look up facts, let's trot on over to the Japanese version of Wikipedia and look at some random articles by clicking on 「おまかせ表示」.
(2) 混合物(こんごうぶつ, mixture)とは、2種類以上の純物質が混じりあっている物質である。(Wikipedia - 混合物, July 2004)
- An amalgam is a mixture of two or more pure substances.

To give you an idea of how changing the 「である」 changes the tone, I've included some fake content around that sentence.

  1. 混合物は
  2. 混合物は何ですか
  3. 混合物は何でしょうか
  4. 混合物とは

Newspaper articles are different in that the main objective is to convey current events as succinctly and quickly as possible. For this reason, 「である」 is not normally used in newspaper articles favoring 「だ」 or nothing at all. Though, in general, since newspaper articles detail events that took place or quotations, almost all sentences end in plain dictionary-form verbs anyway.

(1) 国土交通省は2年後に利用率を70%まで引き上げる考えで、買い替え時に利用する気になるかどうかがカギになりそう。 (朝日新聞, 2004/8/16)
-With the idea of raising percentage of usage to 70% in two years, it seems likely that the key will become whether the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport will employ [it] when it buys replacements.

Negative of 「である」

Because the negative of 「ある」 is 「ない」, you might expect the opposite of 「である」 to be 「でない」. However, for some reason I'm not aware of, you need to insert the topic particle before 「ない」 to get 「ではない」.


(1) これは不公平ではないでしょうか。- Wouldn't you consider this to be unfair?
(2) 言語は簡単にマスターできることではない。- Language is not something that can be mastered easily.
Using 「である」 to sound official
  • Attach 「である」 to the verb or adjective that the state of being applies to.
  • 例) 学生 → 学生である
  • For the negative, attach 「ではない」 to the verb or adjective that the state of being applies to.
  • 例) 学生 → 学生ではない
  • For the past tense state of being, apply the regular past tenses of 「ある」
Complete conjugation chart for 「である」
学生であるis student学生ではないis not student
学生であったwas student学生ではなかったwas not student

Sequential subordinate clauses in formal language

In the Compound Sentence lesson, we learned how to use the te-form of verbs to express multiples sequential actions in one sentence. This practice, however, is used only in regular everyday speech. Formal speeches, narration, and written publications employ plain verb stems instead of the te-form to describe sequential actions. Particularly, newspaper articles, in the interest of brevity, always prefer verb stems to the te-form.


(1) 花火(はなび)は、火薬と金属の粉末を混ぜたものに火を付け、燃焼時の火花を楽しむためのもの。 (Wikipedia - 花火, August 2004)
-Fireworks are for the enjoyment of sparks created from combustion created by lighting up a mixture of gunpowder and metal powder.
(2) 企業内の顧客データを利用、彼の行方を調べることが出来た。- Was able to investigate his whereabouts using the company's internal customer data.

For the ~ている forms, the stem becomes 「~てい」 but because that doesn't fit very well into the middle of a sentence, it is common to use the humble form of 「いる」 which you will remember is 「おる」. This is simply so you can employ 「おり」 to connect subordinate clauses instead of just 「い」. It has nothing to do with the humble aspect of 「おる」
(3) この旅館は、様々な新しい設備が備えており、とても快適だった。- This Japanese inn having been equipped with various new facilities, was very comfortable.

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