Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Beyond The Basics
To talk about things you do only on occasion, you can use the phrase 〜ことがある.
For example, if you only speak Japanese some of the time instead of regularly, you can use 〜ことがある and say:
- There are times I speak in Japanese.
In the same way, if you already knew the phrase 〜ことがある and actually use it from time to time, you can say:
- There are times I use this phrase.
Just like that, you attach the phrase 〜ことがある to a word or a sentence in the present tense to talk about things you do occasionally.
〜ことがある can be broken up into three elements — こと, が, and ある — though you'll often encounter the が being omitted or replaced with another particle like は or も. But don't worry too much about that yet. We'll cover all these scenarios with or without different particles later on.
Note: 〜ことがある can also be used to talk about an experience you've had when used after a word in the past-tense. This usage will be discussed on a separate page.
Breakdown of ことがある and its Conjugations
First, こと is a versatile noun which in this case means "time(s)" or "occasion(s)." It can also serve the function of converting what comes before it into a noun and the meaning becomes "times when…". が marks the grammatical subject of the sentence, and ある is a verb that indicates the existence of something (thus, it is commonly translated as "there is…"). All combined, 〜ことがある directly translates to "There are times I do…" and can be used to talk about what you occasionally do, or something that occurs from time to time.
Since 〜ことがある ends with the verb ある, it follows the verb's conjugation pattern. Here are some basic conjugations:
The particle が can often be omitted in conversation, and in the case of 〜ことがある can be replaced with a different particle, such as は or も. The choice of particle will convey a certain nuance depending on the situation you're describing. Keep an eye out for the different particle uses in the sections below.
Patterns of Use
As long as you're talking about something that's not in the past, 〜ことがある can be attached directly to the plain form of verbs or い-adjectives. Let's check out how it works.
Verb + ことがある
In its most common use, 〜ことがある attaches to the dictionary form of a verb. For example, let's say you work for a multinational corporation and occasionally travel to Japan on business. You can combine 行く (to go) and 〜ことがある like this:
- I sometimes go to Japan on business.
い-adjective + ことがある
〜ことがある can also directly follow an い-adjective. For instance, if you want to say the plane can occasionally be stinky, you can combine 臭い (stinky) and 〜ことがある:
- The inside of the plane is sometimes stinky.
な-adjective + ことがある
When using 〜ことがある with a な-adjective, don't forget to keep the な at the end. For example, if your in-flight experience is usually noisy but can sometimes be quiet, you might use 静か (quiet) with な to say:
- The plane is sometimes quiet.
Noun + の・である + ことがある
To connect 〜ことがある with a noun you'll need to add either the particle の or である between the noun and 〜ことがある. For instance, if you want to say that on occasion there's a double-booking on your flight, you can use the noun ダブルブッキング and say:
- There's sometimes a double-booking.
Either の or である technically work in this case, but the particle の is more commonly used, as である is declarative and generally considered to be more formal.
ことがある For Occasionally Experienced Things
You've learned that 〜ことがある, when it follows the plain, non-past form of word describes something you do occasionally. For example, if you don't normally use a paper dictionary but there are still times where you refer to one, you can say:
- 時々、紙の 辞書を使うことがある。
- Sometimes, I use a paper dictionary.
The key point to remember is that the action 〜ことがある is describing has to be something you have "occasion to do." This is why 時々 (sometimes) and 〜ことがある go well together. 〜ことがある may still be used with よく (often) or 結構よく (quite often) as it's possible that some occasions pop up frequently, but 〜ことがある never works with いつも (always) because then it's just something that happens all the time.
While 〜ことがある is often employed to talk about things you do, it can also describe the occasional condition or state of something. For instance, say you think that Japanese grammar is difficult, but it can also be interesting at times. In this case, you might say:
- Japanese grammar can be interesting.
Notice that the particle in this example changed from が to も, which indicates "also." も is the more appropriate choice here because it expresses the nuance that while "it's often challenging, Japanese grammar can also be interesting." If you used が here instead, you would lose the implication of it also sometimes being challenging, as が does not imply a comparison; it would simply indicate that you believe Japanese grammar is occasionally interesting, and nothing more.
Let's take a look at another example. Assume you have a habit of opening the egg carton to ensure that all the eggs are in good shape before purchasing. In this case, you can say:
- Sometimes they're cracked, so I always check inside.
In this case, either が or も will suffice. the difference being that が makes it sound like you're simply expressing the fact that you sometimes find broken eggs inside, whereas the nuance of も is that most of the time the eggs are all fine, but there are also times when some eggs are broken. As you can see, they both work great in this context, and switching them doesn't impact the meaning significantly at all; the choice between the two will simply be based on personal preference.
ことがない For Things That Never Happn
So now you know how to talk about things that happen occasionally. But what about things that never happen? You can use the 〜ことがある pattern to express this too, but in the negative form. For example, if you know a ramen shop that never serves bad ramen, you can use the negative 〜ことがない to say:
- The ramen here is never bad.
In this use, ことがない literally expresses that there has never been an occasion where the ramen wasn't good. In fact it implies that "their ramen is always wonderful," and emphasizes that you'll never be disappointed by it.
Let's consider another scenario. Say you're out with a friend who brought some cookies with intricate icing designs. "You should try making iced cookies, it's fun," they say. But you respond with:
- For starters, I never make cookies.
In this example, 〜ことがない indicates that you never have the urge to bake and stresses that you aren't a baker in the least.
You can place even more emphasis on this fact by added an adverb between ことが and ない, as in:
- I don't make cookies at all.
- I rarely make cookies.
In this case, 全然ない conveys that you don't have the opportunity at all and ほとんどない indicates that while you may have the opportunity it is only on rare occasions, or almost never.
〜ことがある？ For "Do You Ever Do…?"
With 〜ことがある, you also can ask if someone else ever has any occasion to do something. 1 For example, if you want to ask if someone is a fan of anime you coild say:
- Do you ever watch anime?
However, the above sentence with the particle が can come off as unnatural in regular conversational — it sounds like the opening line of a presentation or an introductory phrase for an article because the subject marker が indicates a new piece of information. It works well when formally introducing a topic for occasions like giving a presentation, but it can sound out of the blue in normal conversation.
For that reason, note that in conversations where you are simply asking about whether someone you’re talking to has a specific experience or not, が is commonly replaced with は or って, or completely omitted, like:
- Do you ever watch anime?
Note that out of the three options, は is neutral but って and the no-particle option are colloquial.
In the same way, you want to ask your colleague if they've been to Japan, so you might say:
- Have you ever been to Japan?
Again, using the particle が sounds a little overly-dramatic and could come across a bit odd in ordinary conversation. This version sounds more natural.
Beyond The Basics
〜こともあれば、〜こともある For "Sometimes…, sometimes…"
You already learned that 〜こともある can be used to express that you sometimes do something in addition to doing something else. If you want to say "sometimes…, sometimes…," you can connect two 〜こともある statements with the conditional 〜ば form.
For example, to describe a situation in which you sometimes call your girlfriend and other times she calls you, you could say:
- Sometimes I call my girlfriend, and sometimes she calls me.
Similarly, if your girlfriend is sweet at times yet intimidating to others, you could say:
- Sometimes my girlfriend is nice, but other times she's scary.
Note that 〜こともあれば、〜こともある can also be used to talk about two different aspects of something. For example, if someone spreads rumors about you, and some of the reports are true and others are untrue, you can also use this phrase and say:
- Some things are true, but some are false.
ないことがない vs ないことはない
Remember that 〜ことがない is used to talk about things that never happen. But what would happen if you attached the negative form to it, as in 〜ないことがない? In this case, if you keep the particle が, it would become a double negative, as in "there's never a time when X doesn't happen." For example, if your pet enjoys taking a bath everyday and never misses it, you can say:
- He never misses a bath.
However, if you switch が to は, it changes the meaning significantly. Check this out:
- It's not that he doesn't take a bath…
Because of this nuance change, 〜ないことはない is frequently followed by けど and a contradictory remark, such as:
- It's not that he doesn't take a bath, but he resists it.
It's also typical to simply end the sentence with けど and leave the rest to the listener's interpretation, like: 2
- It's not that he doesn't take a bath, but….
So, why does this nuance change happen? As a quick refresher, が implies that what comes before it is the primary focus, while indicating that part is directly associated with the following statement. On the other hand, は shows the は-marked part as an introduction to the subsequent part.
To break it down, お風呂に入らないことがない directly translates to "not taking a bath does not exist. (He never miss a bath.)" On the other hand, お風呂に入らないことはない can be more nuanced, like "Not taking a bath…it never happens. (It's not that he doesn't take a bath)." This could imply that something, while not entirely impossible, will take some work or effort to accomplish, and create the ambiguous nuance that would lead into "but…"
こと can mean "thing," so 〜ことがない might also refer to a situation in which there's nothing to do. For example, することがない means "nothing to do," 言うことがない means "nothing to say," and できることがない means "nothing I can do." ↩
Note that ending a sentence with けど is extremely common in Japanese. If you'd like to learn more about it, check out Kanae's article けど: Why Are Japanese Speakers Always Ending Their Sentences With "But"? ↩