LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Other uses of the te-form

Posted by Tae Kim

The te-form is incredibly useful as it is used widely in many different types of grammatical expressions. We will learn about enduring states with the 「~ている」 and 「~てある」 form. Even though we have learned various conjugations for verbs, they have all been one-time actions. We will now go over how one would say, for example, "I am running." We will also learn how to perform an action for the future using the 「~ておく」 expression and to express directions of actions using 「~ていく」 and 「~てくる」.

Using 「~ている」 for enduring states

Vocabulary

  1. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  2. 読む 【よ・む】 (u-verb) - to read
  3. 友達 【とも・だち】 - friend
  4. 何【なに】 - what
  5. する (exception) - to do
  6. 昼ご飯 【ひる・ご・はん】 - lunch
  7. 教科書 【きょう・か・しょ】 - textbook
  8. 話 【はなし】 - story
  9. 聞く 【き・く】 (u-verb) - to ask; to listen
  10. ううん - casual word for "no" (nah, uh-uh)

We already know how to express a state-of-being using 「です」, 「だ」, etc. However, it only indicates a one-time thing; you are something or not. This grammar, however, describes a continuing state of an action verb. This usually translates to the progressive form in English except for a few exceptions, which we will examine later. We can make good use of the te-form we learned in the last section because the only thing left to do is add 「いる」! You can then treat the result as a regular ru-verb.

This 「いる」 is the same ru-verb describing existence, first described in the negative verb section. However, in this case, you don't have to worry about whether the subject is animate or inanimate.

Using 「~ている」 for enduring states
  • To describe a continuing action, first conjugate the verb to the te-form and then attach the verb 「いる」. The entire result conjugates as a ru-verb.
    Examples
    1. 食べ食べ食べている
    2. 読ん読んでいる

The result conjugates as a ru-verb regardless of what the original verb is
Positive Negative
Non-Past 読んでいる reading 読んでいない is not reading
Past 読んでいた was reading 読んでいなかった was not reading

Example 1

A:友達ているの?
A: What is friend doing?

B:昼ご飯食べている
B: (Friend) is eating lunch.

Note that once you've changed it into a regular ru-verb, you can do all the normal conjugations. The examples below show the masu-form and plain negative conjugations.

Example 2

A:読んでいる
A: What are you reading?

B: 教科書読んでいます
B: I am reading textbook.

Example 3

A: 聞いていますか
A: Are you listening to me? (lit: Are you listening to story?)

B: ううん聞いていない
B: No, I'm not listening.

Since people are usually too lazy to roll their tongues to properly pronounce the 「い」, it is often omitted in conversational Japanese. If you are writing an essay or paper, you should always include the 「い」. Here are the abbreviated versions of the previous examples.

Example 4

A:友達てるの?
A: What is friend doing?

B:昼ご飯食べてる
B: (Friend) is eating lunch.

Example 5

A:読んでる
A: What are you reading?

B:教科書読んでいます
B: I am reading textbook.

Example 6

A:聞いていますか
A: Are you listening to me? (lit: Are you listening to story?)

B:ううん聞いてない
B: No, I'm not listening.

Notice how I left the 「い」 alone for the polite forms. Though people certainly omit the 「い」 even in polite form, you might want to get used to the proper way of saying things first before getting carried away with casual abbreviations. You will be amazed at the extensive types of abbreviations that exist in casual speech. (You may also be amazed at how long everything gets in super polite speech.) Basically, you will get the abbreviations if you just act lazy and slur everything together. Particles also get punted off left and right.

For example:

  1. しているの?(Those particles are such a pain to say all the time...)
  2. しているの? (Ugh, I hate having to spell out all the vowels.)
  3. してんの? (Ah, perfect.)

Enduring state-of-being vs enduring state of action

Vocabulary

  1. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) - to know
  2. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) - to understand
  3. 今日 【きょう】 - today
  4. この - this (abbr. of これの)
  5. 歌 【うた】 - song
  6. 道 【みち】 - road
  7. はい - yes (polite)

There are certain cases where an enduring state doesn't translate into the progressive form. In fact, there is an ambiguity in whether one is in a state of doing an action versus being in a state that resulted from some action. This is usually decided by context and common practices. For example, although 「結婚している」 can technically mean someone is in a chapel currently getting married, it is usually used to refer to someone who is already married and is currently in that married state. We'll now discuss some common verbs that often cause this type of confusion for learners of Japanese.

知る

知る」 means "to know". English is weird in that "know" is supposed to be a verb but is actually describing a state of having knowledge. Japanese is more consistent and 「知る」 is just a regular action verb. In other words, I "knowed" (action) something and so now I know it (state). That's why the English word "to know" is really a continuing state in Japanese, namely: 「知っている」.

知る」 vs 「分かる

分かる」 meaning "to understand" may seem similar to 「知る」 in some cases. However, there is a difference between "knowing" and "understanding". Try not to confuse 「知っている」 with 「分かっている」. 「分かっている」 means that you are already in a state of understanding, in other words, you already get it. If you misuse this, you may sound pompous. ("Yeah, yeah, I got it already.") On the other hand, 「知っている」 simply means you know something.

Examples

  1. 今日知りました
    I found out about it today. (I did the action of knowing today.)
  2. この知っていますか?
    Do (you) know this song?
  3. 分かりますか。
    Do you know the way? (lit: Do (you) understand the road?)
  4. はいはい分かった分かった
    Yes, yes, I got it, I got it.

Motion Verbs (行く来る、etc.)

Vocabulary

  1. 鈴木 【すず・き】 - Suzuki (last name)
  2. どこ - where
  3. もう - already
  4. 家 【1) うち; 2) いえ】 - 1) one's own home; 2) house
  5. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) - to go home
  6. 先 【さき】 - before
  7. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  8. 美恵 【み・え】 - Mie (first name)
  9. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) - to come

It is reasonable to assume the actions 「行っている」 and 「来ている」 would mean, "going" and "coming" respectively. But unfortunately, this is not the case. The 「~ている」 form of motion verbs is more like a sequence of actions we saw in the last section. You completed the motion, and now you exist in that state. (Remember, 「いる」 is the verb of existence of animate objects.) It might help to think of it as two separate and successive actions: 「行って」、and then 「いる」.

Examples

  1. 鈴木さんはどこですか。
    Where is Suzuki-san?
  2. もう帰っている
    He is already at home (went home and is there now).
  3. 行っているよ。
    I'll go on ahead. (I'll go and be there before you.)
  4. 美恵ちゃんは、もう来ているよ。
    Mie-chan is already here, you know. (She came and is here.)

Using 「~てある」 for resultant states

Vocabulary

  1. 準備 【じゅん・び】 - preparations
  2. どう - how
  3. もう - already
  4. する (exception) - to do
  5. ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)
  6. 旅行 【りょ・こう】 - travel
  7. 計画 【けい・かく】 - plans
  8. 終わる 【お・わる】 (u-verb) - to end
  9. うん - casual word for "yes" (yeah, uh-huh)
  10. 切符 【きっ・ぷ】 - ticket
  11. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) - to buy
  12. ホテル - hotel
  13. 予約 【よ・やく】 - reservation

Appropriately enough, just like there is an 「ある」 to go with 「いる」, there is a 「~てある」 form that also has a special meaning. By replacing 「いる」 with 「ある」, instead of a continuing action, it becomes a resultant state after the action has already taken place. Usually, this expression is used to explain that something is in a state of completion. The completed action also carries a nuance of being completed in preparation for something else.

Since this grammar describes the state of a completed action, it is common to see the 「は」 and 「も」 particles instead of the 「を」 particle.

Example 1

A:準備どうですか。
A: How are the preparations?

B:準備は、もうしてある
B: The preparations are already done.

Example 2

A:旅行計画終わった
A: Are the plans for the trip complete?

B:うん切符買ったし、ホテル予約してある
B: Uh huh, not only did I buy the ticket, I also took care of the hotel reservations.

Using the 「~ておく」 form as preparation for the future

Vocabulary

  1. 晩ご飯 【ばん・ご・はん】 - dinner
  2. 作る 【つく・る】 (u-verb) - to make
  3. 電池 【でん・ち】 - battery
  4. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) - to buy

While 「~てある」 carries a nuance of a completed action in preparation for something else, 「~ておく」 explicitly states that the action is done (or will be done) with the future in mind. Imagine this: you have made a delicious pie and you're going to place it on the window sill for it to cool so that you can eat it later. This image might help explain why the verb 「おく」 (置く), meaning "to place", can be used to describe a preparation for the future. (It's just too bad that pies on window sills always seem to go through some kind of mishap especially in cartoons.) While 「置く」 by itself is written in kanji, it is customary to use hiragana when it comes attached to a conjugated verb (such as the te-form).

Examples

  1. 晩ご飯作っておく
    Make dinner (in advance for the future).
  2. 電池買っておきます
    I'll buy batteries (in advance for the future).

「ておく」 is also sometimes abbreviated to 「~とく」 for convenience.

  1. 晩ご飯作っとく
    Make dinner (in advance for the future).
  2. 電池買っときます
    I'll buy batteries (in advance for the future).

Using motion verbs (行く来る) with the te-form

Vocabulary

  1. えんぴつ - pencil
  2. 持つ 【も・つ】 (u-verb) - to hold
  3. いる (ru-verb) - to exist (animate)
  4. 学校 【がっ・こう】 - school
  5. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  6. 家 【1) うち; 2) いえ】 - 1) one's own home; 2) house
  7. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) - to come
  8. お父さん【お・とう・さん】 - father (polite)
  9. 早い 【はや・い】 (i-adj) - fast; early
  10. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) - to go home
  11. 駅 【えき】 - station
  12. 方 【ほう】 - direction, way
  13. 走る 【はし・る】 (u-verb) - to run
  14. 冬 【ふゆ】 - winter
  15. 入る 【はい・る】 (u-verb) - to enter
  16. コート - coat
  17. 着る 【き・る】 (ru-verb) - to wear
  18. 増える 【ふ・える】 (ru-verb) - to increase
  19. 一生懸命 【いっ・しょう・けん・めい】 - with all one's might
  20. 頑張る 【がん・ば・る】 (u-verb) - to try one's best
  21. 色々 【いろ・いろ】 (na-adj) - various
  22. 人 【ひと】 - person
  23. 付き合う 【つ・き・あ・う】 (u-verb) - to go out with; to keep in company with
  24. いい (i-adj) - good
  25. まだ - yet
  26. 見つかる 【み・つかる】 (u-verb) - to be found
  27. 日本語 【に・ほん・ご】 - Japanese (language)
  28. ずっと - long; far
  29. 前 【まえ】 - front; before
  30. 勉強 【べん・きょう】 - study
  31. する (exception) - to do
  32. 結局 【けっ・きょく】 - eventually
  33. やめる (ru-verb) - to stop; to quit

You can also use the motion verbs "to go" (行く)and "to come" (来る) with the te-form, to show that an action is oriented toward or from someplace. The most common and useful example of this is the verb 「持つ」 (to hold). While 「持っている」 means you are in a state of holding something (in possession of), when the 「いる」 is replaced with 「いく」 or 「くる」, it means you are taking or bringing something. Of course, the conjugation is the same as the regular 「行く」 and 「来る」.

Examples

  1. えんぴつ持っている
    Do (you) have a pencil?
  2. 鉛筆学校持っていく
    Are (you) taking pencil to school?
  3. 鉛筆持ってくる
    Are (you) bringing pencil to home?

For these examples, it may make more sense to think of them as a sequence of actions: hold and go, or hold and come. Here are a couple more examples.

  1. お父さんは、早く帰ってきました
    Father came back home early.
  2. 走っていった
    Went running toward the direction of station.

The motion verbs can also be used in time expressions to move forward or come up to the present.

  1. 一生懸命頑張っていく
    Will try my hardest (toward the future) with all my might!
  2. 色々付き合ってきたけど、いいまだ見つからない
    Went out (up to the present) with various types of people but a good person hasn't been found yet.
  3. 日本語ずっとから勉強してきて結局やめた
    Studied Japanese from way back before and eventually quit.