What Is Imasu In Japanese?

The word that we are going to cover today is one of the most commonly used in the Japanese language. You’ve probably already encountered it in one of its many forms before, but perhaps you’re still wondering what is imasu in Japanese?

I’ll go over its different potential meanings in the first section (there’s three of them) and spend a little bit of time going over the different forms of the word (the various spellings).

Then I’ve got a more in depth section devoted to each of imasu’s meanings. Check each one of them out to learn more about it.

What Is Imasu?

First of all, the Japanese word imasu is almost always spelled in hiragana as います. Because of this, I will use this spelling throughout the article.

Let’s take a look at each of its potential meanings now:

  1. to be (of animate objects); to exist
  2. to stay
  3. to be …-ing; to have been …-ing

The reason I say “potential” meanings is because you really have to pay attention to the context of the sentence that います appears in to know which meaning is being used.

If this sounds a little hard at first, then there’s no need to worry. You should naturally begin to get a feel for which one is correct after you’ve received enough exposure to it.

At any rate, let’s take a look at some of this word’s different forms in case you run into them.

Like I mentioned before, the most common way to see this word written is います but as it turns out, there is actually a kanji that can be used for this word as well. When that happens, the spelling changes to 居ます (imasu).

Also of note is the fact that います is written in the polite form of the verb. However, it is also pretty common to see it written in the dictionary form, which makes it more casual.

If people are talking to friends or family they will probably say いる (iru) which means the same thing, but is less formal. Don’t forget that we can use the kanji for this form too: 居る (iru)!

Imasu’s First Meaning

The first and most common meaning of います is “to be; to exist” which sounds pretty simple. However, this word can actually only be used with animate objects. To keep it as simple as possible, that means humans and animals.

If you were going to talk about a car or a book, then you would actually use the Japanese word arimasu instead.

Sometimes people like to distinguish the differences by saying that います gets used with “living things” which is correct except for one type of life: plant-life!

Things like trees, fruits, grains, and the like would all use あります (arimasu) the same way that inanimate objects would.

Alright, getting back to our word of the day. Let’s look at some examples:

  • 猫がいます。
  • neko ga imasu.
  • There is a cat.

Anytime you want to say (or ask) about the presence of an animal, or a person, then you can use this word.

In certain cases as well, this word can be understood to mean “have” in the case of having a girlfriend, having a husband, or having kids.

What you are literally saying is “does a boyfriend exist (for you?)” in Japanese, but it’s really just a linguistic difference in how we express the same idea.

  • 彼氏がいますか?
  • kareshi ga imasu ka?
  • Do you have a boyfriend?

Imasu’s Second Meaning

The next way that you can understand this word is “stay” which is very similar to the first one of “be” except for a slight difference in nuance.

In the first case, when we say that a person or animal is at a place we are really only talking about in that moment.

However, when we say that they are “staying” in a location it indicates that they are not only there right now, but that they will remain there for the foreseeable future.

  • 家にいるの?
  • ie ni iru no?
  • Are (you) staying at home?

Imasu’s Third Meaning

This last meaning is one that will be very useful to know. It basically functions like the -ing suffix in English verbs.

For example, we have the word eat in English and we can change it to eating which means that we are in the midst of performing the action.

That’s basically how います can be used in combination with other verbs. The one thing you have to do is first put the verb into its te-form and then add on います to the end of it.

So, in Japanese we can take 食べる (taberu) which means “to eat” and change it to its te-form which is 食べて (tabete) and then add on います to create the following:

  • 食べています。
  • tabete imasu.
  • (I’m) eating.

The main hurdle that you will have to overcome with this one is learning how to conjugate any other verb into the te-form first so that you can construct the sentence correctly.

But at least you should understand any new ones that you run into right away. Also, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that you will see it used with the casual form as well.

  • 何言っているの?!
  • nani itte iru no?!
  • What are you saying?!

A Very Useful Word

There are a lot of words out there that are only applicable in certain contexts, such as the vocabulary you run into when playing a lot of online games.

Luckily for us, います is not one of those low frequency words, but is actually a really common one that gets used all over the place.

After going through today’s lesson, you should have a pretty solid idea of when to use this word and how to understand it when you hear or read it.

But as always, if there was anything that didn’t make sense, or if you just have a question in general, then please feel free to let me know by leaving it in the comment box down below.

6 thoughts on “What Is Imasu In Japanese?”

  1. Hi,
    How can I differentiate saying:
    “Are you home?” and “Are (you) staying home?”

    It seems like I would use 家にいるの for both sentences?

    • Yeah, since Japanese doesn’t really have a future tense, you could use the same sentence for both.

      What I would do is to add in some word that indicates a time later in the day. So for example if it were morning or afternoon you could say 今夜は家にいる in order to emphasize that it is going to happen later.

      I would translate the above example as “I’m staying home tonight” or “I’ll be (at) home tonight”

      Hope that helps!

  2. Yes, I have a question for the “Are you staying at home?” one. It’s asking a question, so why doesn’t it end with an “ka”. Which is usually there if the sentence is a question. Or is it just using a “no” cause the sentence is written in the casual form. And why is there a “no” anyways


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