Wild Nihongo!


ことがある Japanese Grammar Lesson

Grammar Type: Phrase

Essential Meaning: There are times when / There was a time when


  • “There was a time when” (i.e. past tense)
    • Sentence informal past + ことがある
      • E.g. べたことがある [There was a time when X ate]
      • E.g. はなしたことがある [There was a time when X spoke]
      • E.g. たかかったことがある [There was a time when X was expensive]
      • E.g. しずかだったことがある [There was a time when X was quiet]
      • E.g. 先生せんせいだったことがある [There was a time when X was a teacher]
  • “There are times when” (i.e. nonpast tense)
    • (Verb / い-Adjective) informal nonpast + ことがある
      • E.g. べることがある [There are times when X eats]
      • E.g. はなすことがある [There are times when X speaks]
      • E.g. たかいことがある [There are times when X is expensive]
    • な-Adjective Stem + なことがある
      • E.g. しずかなことがある [There are times when X is quiet]
    • Noun + [の / である] + ことがある
      • E.g. 先生せんせいのことがる [There are times when X is a teacher]
      • E.g. 先生せんせいであることがある [There are times when X is a teacher]


  • ことがある is a very common phrase that means “There are times when” or “There was a time when“, depending on whether the preceding predicate is in the past or nonpast tense. ことがある can also be used negatively as ことがない.
  • With a past-tense sentence, ことがある indicates that there were one or more instances in the past when the state or action described by the sentence was the case. Past tense +ことがある is an extension of the possessive expression XはYがある, where the “possession” in question is a personal experience. For example, the sentence わたしはアメリカにったことがある。[There was a time when I went to America.] indicates that there were one or more prior instances of the speaker going to America. In more natural terms, it means “I’ve been to America before.” or “I possess the personal experience of going to America.” Adverbial phrases (e.g. 五年前ごねんまえ [5 years ago]) may be used in conjunction with ことがある to specify when in the past the action took place, but the time must be in the relatively distant past. Keep in mind that the main verb takes the past tense form and ことがある always remains in the nonpast tense.
    • E.g. わたし中学校ちゅうがっこう英語えいごおしえたことがありいます。[I have taught English at junior high school before.]
    • E.g. わたし五年前ごねんまえ日本にほんったことがある。[There was a time five years ago when I went to Japan.]
    • E.g. *わたし昨日きのうさしみをべたことがある。[There was a time when I ate sashimi yesterday.] Yesterday is too close to the present for ことがある to make sense. It would make more sense to simply say 昨日きのうさしみをべた。[I ate sashimi yesterday.]
  • With a nonpast tense sentence, ことがある indicates that the state or action described by the sentence is the case from time to time. It can express a personal experience or a more general occurrence. Adverbs of frequency (e.g. よく [Often] or たまに [Occasionally]) may be used to indicate how frequently the action or state in is the case.
    • E.g. わたしあさ風呂ふろはいることがある。[There are times when I take a bath in the morning.]
    • E.g. このみせのミルクはたまにふるいことがある。[When it comes to this store’s milk, there are occasional instances when it is old.] This is an example of ことがある being used with a general rather than personal experience.

Example Sentences:

わたしはヨーロッパへったことがある。[I’ve been to Europe before.]

レタスがとてもたかかったことがある。[There has been a time when lettuce was very expensive.]

大川おおがわさんはまだゴルフをしたことがない。[Ogawa-san hasn’t played golf yet.]

わたし日本にほん小説しょうせつをよくんだことがある。[There have been many times when I have read Japanese novels.]

スーザンは一時いちじジャズがとてもきだったことがある。[There was a time when Susan really liked jazz.]

わたしはプロ野球やきゅう選手せんしゅだったことがあります。[There was a time when I was a pro baseball player.]

マークはあさごはんをべずに学校がっこうくことがある。[There are times when Mark goes to school without eating breakfast.]

アメリカで日本にほんへのみやげをうとそれが日本製にほんせいであることがよくある。[There are times when you buy a souvenir in America to bring to Japan, and it turns out to that it is made in Japan.]

最近さいきんのいわゆる自然しぜん食品しょくひん本当ほんとう自然しぜん食品しょくひんじゃないことがある。[Recently, there are instances when a so-called natural foods is not actually a natural food.]

WILD Examples:

Listen for this line at 0:45: ぼくたことはないんだ、あちらこちろの絵画かいがるんだ [I’ve never see it before, but I’ve sen it in various paintings]
Listen to this line at 2:00: ずっとわすれたことがあるんだ [It’s because there were constantly times when I forgot to say it.]

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