Not to be confused with the present participle, this structure combine the te form with the verb “to exist” for inanimate objects.

【Verb: te Form】ある

Whereas the te form and the verb いる creates the present participle, the te form with ある expresses that an action has been completed. In other words, you’ve done the action and then it exists.

準備している。
Preparing.
準備してある。
The preparation is done [the preparation is in a state of completion].

This is not to be confused with the simple past tense of the verb; although very often the meaning is essentially the same. There are two important difference.

  1. This structure can only be used with transitive verbs because it expresses a state of completion regarding an action that someone has taken (not necessarily yourself).
  2. Because we are using the verb “to exist” we must use が as the object particle.
鞄をデスクの上に置きました。
I put the bag on top of the desk.
鞄がデスクの上に置いてあります。
The bag is on top of the desk.

This structure is often used with the verb “to put” (as above) and the verb “to write” as below:

「立入禁止」と書いてある表示を掛ける。
Hang up a sign saying, “Do not enter”.

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