Introduction to Japanese: Volume 1

Chapter 11

Connective form and how to do requests

Last chapter, we learned a lot about how to conjugate and use the plain form of the verbs – thank you very much for persevering through it with me!

In this chapter we start to reap some benefits from that study, as learning the plain form paves the way for us to learn the “te form”, and with it, how to make requests and talk about things in progress, in other words, talk about what you are or were doing now.

The “te form”

The “te form” is one of the most useful and used forms in Japanese. It is not a proper tense in the sense you normally do not use it by itself, but it can combine with other verb forms to create many tenses and expressions. I have seen being called the gerundive form of Japanese (similar to English -ing) or the connective form of the verb. To keep grammatical lingo to a minimum, though, we will call it simply the “te form”.

One of the functions of te-form is to connect sentences, especially ones depicting serial actions. We can connect any number of sentences taking place in succession in the order of their occurrence by using the te-form, like in the example below:

ヒロキ: 私はあさ6じおきて、かおをあらって、ふくをきて、あさごはんを食べて、うちを出ます。
(Hiroki: I wake up at 6am, wash my face, change clothes, eat breakfast, and leave home.)

As you can see, the last verb of the sentence is not used in its te form. Since the te form is not properly a tense, it conveys no information about time; there is no “present” or “past” tense for te-form. The tense form of the last verb – in our example, 出ます – indicates the tense of the sentence.

One hint about speaking: when talking about serial actions, Japanese speakers tend to stress the て, inserting a brief pause between each phrase (when you are just beginning to learn Japanese and cannot quite follow what people are saying, you will often hear something like “…て, …て, …て, …ます).

Of course, you do not need to necessarily build long sentences to use the te form. As long as there are at least two actions being taken, you can use it.

かよこ:;電車にのって、うちへかえりました。
(Kayoko: I boarded the train and went home.)

How to make the te form?

Remember we studied the plain form or the dictionary-form last chapter, paying attention how to conjugate each of the three verb groups? Well, good thing you learned it last time, because the make the “te form” is pretty much the same (and if you did not learn it previous time, lucky you – here is another chance to learn it).

Specifically, we create the “te form” from the past affirmative tense of the plain form. If you remember, all verbs in the past affirmative tense end in た (some even call them the “ta form”). Well, to find the te form of a verb, simply substitute that final た of the past affirmative tense for て and you’re done!

In other words, recapping our studies last chapter:

Group 2 Verbs
Polite Present affirmative Plain Present affirmative Plain Past affirmative Te form
食べます 食べる 食べ 食べ
見ます 見る 見べ
出ます でる 出べ
います いる

 

Ichidan (Group 2) verbs, always simple and reliable. Just like you change the る for た to obtain the past affirmative, you simply substitute it for て for the te form.

Group 3 (Irregular) verbs
Polite Present affirmative Plain Present affirmative Plain Past affirmative Te form
します する
きます くる きべ

 

Again, group 3 verbs offer us no difficulty this time. Despite being highly irregular, their te form conform to the rules this time – simply substitute た for て.

Group 1 verbs
Polite Present affirmative Plain Present affirmative Plain Past affirmative Te form
かいます かう かった かって
言います 言う いった いって
まちます まつ まった まって
もちます もつ もった もって
入ります 入る 入った 入って
つくります つくる つくった つくって
あります ある あった あって
かきます かく かいた かいて
ききます きく きいた きいて
およぎます およぐ およいだ およいで
いそぎます いそぐ いそいだ いそいで
話します 話す 話した 話して
しにます しぬ しんだ しんで
よびます よぶ よんだ よんで
あそびます あそぶ あそんだ あそんで
飲みます 飲む 飲んだ 飲んで
よみます よむ よんだ よんで
行きます 行く 行った* 行って*

 

Finally, the godan (Group 1) verbs and their five different possible verb endings. At least they all follow the same pattern, which means that verbs that in the plain past affirmative end in った become って, いた becomes いて, and so on. Even the irregular verb 行くadheres to this pattern. Finally, note that despite the name “te form”, the verbs that ended in いだ or んだ become いで and んで, respectively.

If there are any of you who would like another table to wrap-up the Group 1 verbs, feel free to use the one below, slightly modified from our previous chapter.

Group 1 conjugation – te form
If the plain form verb ends in..

…replace it with… って かう → かって
まつ → まって
ある → あって
いて かく → かいて
いで およぐ → およいて
して 話す → 話して


んで しぬ→ しんで
あそぶ→ あそんで
よむ→ よんで

 

Other uses of the te form

As we said in the beginning, the “te form” is one of the most commonly used verb forms in Japanese. Let’s explore some of the expressions we will be using it from now on.

First, the te form is often used to make requests. In those cases, we add the word ください (please) after the te form of the verb.

ごはんを食べてください。(Please eat rice.)

としょかんに行ってください。(Please go to the library.)

たすけてください!(Please help!)

Please note that ください is not used to make questions, so if you would like to say something like “Could you please do this for me?”, there is a different expression to use – one that we will study in the next chapter.

Second, the te form can be used to express continuous actions, such as “I am studying” or “She is swimming”. Just like we need the verb “to be” in English to form the continuous tense, in Japanese we connect the te form verb to います (to be), or simply put, ~て+います.

ヒロキ:みどりはいますか?
ドウドウ:いますが、田中先生と話しています。
ヒロキ:ああ、そうですか。
ドウドウ:うん、私もまっていますよね。

Hiroki: Is Midori here?
Doudou: She is, but she is talking to Tanaka-sensei.
Hiroki: Oh, is that so?
Doudou: Yeah, I am also waiting, you see.

みどり:かよこ、げんき?何をしている?
かよこ:いま?ラーメンを食べている。みどりは?
みどり:えいごをべんきょうしていた。

Midori: Kayoko, how are you? What are you doing?
Kayoko: Right now? I am eating ramen. And you?
Midori: I was studying English.

Note in the last sentence above that just like in English, you can say something in the past continuous by simply conjugating the います in the past.

Third, in addition to the continuous tense, you can also use the combination て+います to express the state or situation of someone or something, or to tell what you or someone else does. Please note that differently from the previous examples, the following sentences are not a perfect Japanese – English match, in other words, you would not necessarily use the continuous tense if translating the sentences to English.

みどり:ドウドウのおとうさんは何をしていますか?
ドウドウ:おとうさんはエンジニアです。
みどり:おかあさんは?
ドウドウ:おかあさんもエンジニアです。
みどり:そうなんですか。いいですね。
ドウドウ:みどりのおかあさんは何をしていますか?
みどり:しゅふです。
ドウドウ:おかあさんはけっこんしていますか?
みどり:もちろんけっこんしていますよ。

Midori: What does your father do, Doudou?
Doudou: My father is an engineer.
Midori: What about your mother?
Doudou: She is also an engineer.
Midori: Really? That is nice.
Doudou: What does your mother do?
Midori: She is a housewife.
Doudou: Is she married?
Midori: Of course she is married!

かよこ:ヒロキ、サンパウロにすんでいましたね。
ヒロキ:うん、そうです。
かよこ:いま、どこにすんでいますか?
ヒロキ:私はおおさかにすんでいます。

Kayoko: Hiroki, you lived in São Paulo, right?
Hiroki: Yeah, that is right.
Kayoko: Where do you live now?
Hiroki: I live in Osaka.

ドウドウ:明日は先生のたんじょうびですね。
ヒロキ:うん、しっています。

Doudou: Tomorrow is the teacher’s birthday, right?
Hiroki: Yeah, I know.

As you can see, when translated to English, none of the verbs above use the present or past continuous tense. For example, the last sentence in the last example is translated simply as “I know”, not as “I am knowing”. This is because the ています construction can indicate not only one is doing right now but also one’s state or situation, such as “I am married” or “I am an engineer”. In that last sentence, one could think that Hiroki expresses that he is currently in the “state of knowing”. By the way, because the verb to know basically implies to either be in a state of knowing or not, it is often used in the ています form.

Lastly, remember that because Japanese does not have something corresponding to the participle of the verb, a sentence like リンゴを食べています could be interpreted as both “I am eating an apple” and “I have eaten apples”, or even “I have been eating apples”, depending on context.

Shukudai section

Rewrite the dialogues below, using the te form.

かよこ:すしを食べますか?
みどり:いいえ、すしを食べません。うどんを食べます。

ドウドウ:なにをよみますか?
かよこ:私はざっしをよみます。

ドウドウ:田中先生、どこにすみますか?
田中:私はとうきょうにすみましたが、いまおおさかにすみます。

ヒロキ:きのう、何をしたか?
ドウドウ:私はテレビを見た。ヒロキは?
ヒロキ:私はべんきょうした。

Kanji

We will again try a learn-by-pattern approach to Kanji in this chapter. Some students really appreciate this method because it helps them to make connections between characters and to memorise the Kanji. Others feel overwhelmed by the amount of similar looking Kanji and may get intimidated. What type are you? Let us know through your messages!

This regal-looking Kanji means “king” “ruler” (by the way, is it really regal-looking, or it is just how I came to see it?). There is basically only one reading for it, おう, appearing in words such as 王子おうじ (prince), 女王じょおう (queen), and – early spoiler – 王国おうこく (kingdom). In any case, we are learning this Kanji here as it will be the stepping stone for the next ones.

Sample sentence: イギリスは王国おうこくだ. (England is a kingdom.)

This very similar-looking Kanji originally meant “jade”. When I first learned it, I was told that jade symbolised power and wealth, being therefore the “jewel of kings”. I was later told that this story is apocryphal, but that did not stop me connecting the words.

In any way, today in addition to jade (ぎょく), this kanji is most commonly used to refer to ball (たま), globe, beads or egg, being used in words such as たまねぎ (onion) , 目玉めだま (eyeball), お年玉としだま (New Year’s money gift) and, somewhat unavoidably, 金玉きんたま (testicles). Yes, Japanese calls its testicles “golden balls”.

Sample sentence: 日本にほんこどどもはお年玉としだまをもらう. (Japanese children receive New Year’s gift money.)

Now we are progressing to a very commonly used Kanji. If 王 means king and 玉 symbolically means power, what do we have when we put borders on power? A “country, state” – in Japanese, くに. If you ever go to Japan and you are not of East Asian ancestry, one of the questions you will hear the most is おくにどちらですか?, which means “where/what is your country?” (where do you come from?).

The Chinese reading, こく, appears in many very common words, such as 国際こくさい (international), 国民こくみん (citizen), 外国人がいこくじん (foreigner), 国連こくれん (United Nations) and 国家こっか (state, nation).

Sample sentence: ヒロキは外国人がいこくじんだ。かれのくにはブラジルだ. (Hiroki is a foreigner. His country is Brazil.)

If we add a small tick to “king” character, we end up with this Kanji, that means “master” or “lord”, in Japanese, ぬし. Another common Japanese reading of this word is おも, mainly appearing in the adverb 主に (mainly, primarily – you see what I did there). The Chinese reading is しゅ, appearing in words such as 主食しゅしょく (staple food), 民主 (みんしゅ, democracy) or 主義 (しゅぎ, doctrine, -ism as in capitalism or communism).

Particularly contentious today is the word 主人しゅじん, meaning “master” as well as “husband”, especially when contrasted to 主婦しゅふ (housewife), whose second Kanji, 婦, is basically the Kanji for “woman” (女) and “broom” (帚) together. Some people point to words like this to argue that Japanese is an intrinsically chauvinist language; I prefer to believe that the permanence of Kanji (words change, Kanji remain) helps to make these power relations more obvious and therefore easier to fight against.

Sample sentence: みどりのおかあさんは主婦しゅふです. (Midori’s mother is a housewife.)

By adding the radical for person next to the character for master, we get this Kanji means “to dwell, to live” as well as “dwelling” – and after all, isn’t every man and woman a master in their own house? The verb “to live” is む, while dwelling or residence is まい.

The Chinese reading is じゅう, appearing in very common words such as 住所じゅうしょ (address), 住宅じゅうたく (residence), 住民票じゅうみんひょう (certificate of residence, a very important document if you ever live in Japan) and 永住者えいじゅうしゃ (permanent resident of a country).

Sample sentence: あなたはどこにんでいますか? (Where do you live?)

Now we start the second group of characters we will study in this chapter. This Kanji means “temple”, in Japanese, てら. It is also used in some surnames, such as 寺田てらだ (Terada). As a suffix, it is normally read as じ, such as in world-famous 金閣寺きんかくじ (Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion Temple in Kyoto). Note that the top part of this Kanji is basically 土 (land, earth).

Sample sentence: 明日、金閣寺あした、きかくじきます. (Tomorrow, I will got to Kinkaku-ji.)

By adding the radical for “person” next to the character for temple you would be excused to think priest or monk, but actually, this is the Kanji for samurai. As such, you already know its Japanese reading – さむらい. The Chinese reading is also じ, but today it only appears in rarely used words (we are talking about “acolyte”, “lady-in-waiting”, etc.). This will not be a Kanji you will normally see, but at least you can now read all those tattoos and shirts around the world.

Devilishly similar to the previous character – but notice there is now a second stroke on top of the “person” radical –, this Kanji means “to wait”. It makes some sense if you think that samurai were expected to wait upon their masters. In any case, we use this Kanji in some verbs, like (to wait), たせる (to keep someone waiting) and あわせる (to rendezvous).

It is also used in some set phrases, like おたせしました (sorry to keep you waiting) and おちしております (I am looking forward to it). The Chinese reading, differently from the previous characters, is たい. Finally, we use it in some common words, like 待合室まちあいしつ (waiting room), 期待きたい (hope, anticipation) and 招待しょうたい (invitation).

Sample sentence: 待合室まちあいしつで1じかんをちました. (I waited for one hour in the waiting room.)

This Kanji means “to hold, to have”. Not only it is very similar to the previous character (we swap the “person” radical for the “hand” one), the Japanese reading is also almost the same: (to carry, to possess, to keep). The Chinese reading is, again, じ.

Common words and expressions with this character include 金持かねも (rich person, literally “person holding money/gold”), 興味きょうみつ (to have an interest), ぬし (owner), and the ubiquitous 気持きもち (feeling, sensation; often spoken as an interjection, meaning “nice!” or “this feels good”).

Sample sentence: 田中先生たなかせんせいはお金持かねもちですね. (Tanaka-sensei is rich, isn’t she?)

Our next Kanji means “time, hour”. This time, left to the temple radical we have the sun (日); just like sun can also mean day, here it indicates the passage of time. The Japanese reading – and the Japanese word for “time” – is とき. This reading also appear in the adverb 時々ときどき (sometimes; the “々” indicates repetition of the previous character).

Its Chinese reading, once again, is じ; we use this reading when we want to mean hour, such as 1時いちじ, 4時よんじ or 9時くじ.

When you are referring to length of time rather than an specific moment in time (in other words, when you want to say “I studied for one hour” rather than “I studied from 1pm), we add the Kanji かん: 3時間さんじかん, 7時間ななじかん. Finally, other words using this Kanji include 時期じき (season, period), 時代じだい (epoch, era), and 同時どうじ (simultaneous).

Sample sentence: いまは何時なんじですか? (What time is it now?)

Our final Kanji means “special”. The radical to the left of temple, this time, means “cow”; and no, I have no idea of why cow + temple means special (I once saw a “special sacred cow at the temple” mnemonic, which I believe to be trying too hard. Not everything has to make sense, I guess).

This Kanji is special, though, in the sense that it has but one reading: とく. We commonly use this character in the adverb とくに (particularly, especially), but you might also see the words 特別とくべつ (special), 特徴とくちょう (feature, trait), 特大とくだい (extra-large), and, if you ever get a train in Japan, 特急とっきゅう (limited express train) – but in this case, be aware you might need to pay for a 特急券とっきゅうけん (limited express ticket) separately.

Sample sentence: 今日きょう特別とくべつです. (Today is a special day.)