Japanese Te Form: A Complete Guide

Te-Form, Part I: Putting It All Together

How do you go from the short, choppy sentences found in your first-year Japanese textbook to longer, more complex statements?

If I had to name the single element of Japanese grammar that is most important to moving past the beginner level, it would have to be the te-form. Functioning somewhat like grammatical glue that holds everything together, the te-form is nearly ubiquitous in both written and spoken Japanese.

Put simply, the te-form binds together clauses, allowing you to get your point across with conversational fluidity. As a result, it is highly important that you grasp all of the potential uses of this powerful conjunctive conjugation.

Almost every sentence you string together that expresses intricate ideas, provides detailed information, or contains nuanced statements will require one or more te-form conjugations.

 

 

What’s in This Guide?

There is a lot to go over with the te-form, so this article is broken into two parts; in part I, we will introduce the te-form, examine how to conjugate various types of verbs and adjectives, and list a dozen of its most common uses.

In part II, we will dive deeper into the practical application of the te-form through a series of sample sentences and detailed explanations of the many uses of te.

 

Part I:  A List of Uses for the Te-Form

Before we wade into the technical realm of conjugation, let’s look ahead to Part II of this article with a quick overview of how and when the te-form is most commonly used.

In this section, we will forego detailed explanations in favor of simple, real-world examples. We want to dive in head first, because you have probably already learned to put together some of the following types of phrases, and might be using the te-form already without knowing it!

As the conjunctive form of Japanese grammar, te-form allows the speaker to connect clauses, ask questions, make apologies and requests, form lists, provide complex descriptions, express completed/ongoing/future states, express prohibition, and describe giving and receiving. This is an incomplete list, but if you can master these common applications of te-form, you will be well on your way to fluid, advanced Japanese.

Let’s move on to some short sample sentences using te-form. The following examples are only meant to get your feet wet; if they are unclear, don’t worry about it! We will go over similar ones in more detail in Part II of this article. In each case, the use of te-form is important, and is highlighted in red.

 

1.  Connecting Verb Phrases or Sentences

デートの時、私はよくレストランでご飯をたべ、映画館にいきます。

De-to no toki, watashi wa yoku resutoran de gohan o tabete, eigakan ni ikimasu.

Translation:  When I go on dates, I often go to a restaurant to eat, then head to a movie theater.

For more information:  Connecting Verb Phrases & Sentences Explanation

 

2.  Making Casual or Polite Requests of Others

英語で話さないで、日本語だけで話して (ください)*。

Eigo de hanasanaide, Nihongo dake de hanashite (kudasai)*

Translation:  Don’t speak in English, and only speak in Japanese (please)。

*Note that the above sentence can either be polite or casual, depending on whether or not the polite ending word “kudasai” accompanies the te-form request.

For more information:  Making Casual or Polite Requests Explanation

 

3.  Expressing Prohibition or Strong Objection

あぶないから入っはいけません。

Abunai kara haitte wa ikemasen.

Translation:  Danger! Do not enter.

For more information:  Expressing Prohibition or Objection Explanation

 

4.  Asking Permission to Have or Do Things

このビール、飲んもいいですか。

Kono bi-ru, nondemo ii desu ka.

Translation:  Is it alright if (I) drink this beer?

For more information:  Asking Permission Explanation

 

5.  Apologizing and Expressing Humility

Example 1

昨日は寝坊 (ねぼう)してすみません。

Kinou wa nebou shite sumimasen.

Translation:  Sorry I overslept yesterday.

 

Example 2

昨日は飲みすぎてすみませんでした。

Kinou wa nomisugite sumimasen deshita.

Translation:  Sorry for drinking too much (alcohol) last night.

For more information:  Apologizing or Expressing Humility Explanation

 

6.  Giving and Receiving (Objects and Actions)

田中さんは(私に)日本の歴史について教えくれました。

Tanaka-san wa (watashi ni) Nihon no rekishi ni tsuite oshiete kuremashita.

Translation:  Tanaka-san taught (me) about Japanese history.

For more information:  Giving and Receiving Explanation

 

7.  Expressing Desire for Things or Actions

Example 1

その本を読ん欲しい。

Sono hon o yonde hoshii.

Translation:  I want you (or someone else) to read that book (to me).

 

Example 2

10,000円貸してほしい。

Juu-man en kashite hoshii.

Translation:  I want you to lend me 10,000yen.

For more information:  Expressing Desire Explanation

 

8.  Preparing Something or Doing Something in Advance

料理を作る前にスーパーで卵を買っおきます。

Ryōri o tsukuru mae ni su-pa de tamago o katte okimasu.

Translation:  Before cooking, I will buy eggs from the supermarket.

For more information:  Preparing or Doing Something in Advance Explanation

 

9.  Expressing Current and Ongoing States

雨がまだ降っいます。

Ame ga mada futteimasu.

Translation:  It is still raining.

For more information:  Expressing Current and Ongoing States Explanation

 

10.  Expressing Completed Actions (Including Mistakes):

先週、今村さんは日本に帰国ししまいました。

Senshū, Imamura-san wa Nihon ni kikoku shite shimaimashita.

Translation:    Last week, Imamura-san returned to Japan.

For more information:  Expressing Completed Actions Explanation

 

Conjugating the Te-Form and Verb/Adjective Types

As you can imagine, the te-form can be a bit complicated to sort out because of all of its different uses, but don’t worry! Across all of the cases above, the way the te-form is put together is actually fairly uniform.

In this section, we will sort out the rules (and exceptions) that you need to be aware of when putting verbs and adjectives into te-form.

Below is a short explanation and chart of commonly used verbs and adjectives in te-form, sorted by type. For those of you who are already familiar with the basics of conjugation, you can use this as a quick refresher before moving on to more detailed te-form examples in Part II of this post.

 

 

Conjugating Verbs

First, the good news: when using the polite –masu form, all verbs simply change to -mashite in their te-form conjugations. Easy, right? Unfortunately, in the plain form, things get a bit more complicated.

Japanese has two main verb categories, often called “Group/Class 1” and “Group/Class 2,” as well as a smaller third set of irregular verbs.

The following table includes a set of common verbs from each group in its dictionary, polite, and plain te-form. You can use this chart as a quick cross-reference in your own compositions, and as a source of comparison for other verb conjugations.

For a more complete guide to verb conjugation, be sure to take a look at our Beginner’s Guide to Conjugation.

 

 

Group 1 Verbs

These verbs generally (though not always) end in “u” sounds other than “ru” in their dictionary forms.There are multiple conjugative rules for these verbs depending on the last sound of their polite and plain forms. (Note that iku is a slight exception, as it behaves differently than other –ku verbs, like “kaku.”) Here are a few examples:

 

Group 1 Verbs

Dictionary FormTe-Form (Plain Form) Te-Form (Polite Form)Meaning
話す(はなす)はなしてはなしましてto speak
読む(よむ) よんでよみましてto read
書く(かく)かいてかきましてto write
行く(いく) いっていきましてto go
買う(かう) かってかいましてto buy
帰る(かえる) かえってかえりましてto return
分かる (わかる) わかってわかりましてto understand
取る(とる) とってとりましてto take

 

The last two verbs on the list, kaeru and wakaru, are Class 1 verbs even though they end in –ru. Unfortunately, as is also the case with adjectives, these cases do not follow a strict rule, so you just have to do your best to remember the Class 1 verbs that end in -ru sounds so that you can conjugate them correctly.

 

 

Group 2 Verbs

These verbs mostly end in “-iru” or “-eru” in their dictionary forms. They are much easier to conjugate, as you simply change the ­-ru sound to –te in the plain form.

 

Group 2 Verbs

Dictionary FormTe-Form (Plain)Te-Form (Polite)Meaning
食べる(たべる) たべてたべまして to eat
見る(みる) みてみましてto watch
寝る(ねる) ねてねましてto sleep
上げる(あげる) あげてあげましてto raise, increase / *to give
生きる(いきる) いきていきまして to live
比べる(くらべる) くらべてくらべましてto compare
助ける(たすける) たすけてたすけましてto help
開ける(あける) あけてあけまして to open

*Note:  The verb, あげる (ageru) has many meanings.  It is usually written with kanji (上げる) when it’s used with the meaning “to raise or increase” something.

However, it is usually written in hiragana (あげる) when using it with the meaning of “to give.”

Example 1:  給料を上げる。(Kyuuryou o ageru):  To increase salary.

Example 2:  お金をあげる (Okane o ageru):  I’ll give (you) money.

 

 

Group 3 – Irregular Verbs

Modern Japanese only includes suru and kuru as irregular verbs:

 

する —> して / しまして (to do)

くる —>    きて / きまして (to come)

These two are very useful, so try to remember them!

 

 

Conjugating Adjectives

Though most of our focus in this article is on conjugating verbs, you can also conjugate adjectives using te-form.

Adjectives also come in two types, called i-adjectives and na-adjectives, though some na-adjectives end in “i” sounds, which can make the two hard to distinguish in those cases.

I have deliberately included a few of these confusing adjectives in the table below to keep things as clear as possible. The basic rules for conjugating the two adjective types into te-form are as follows:

 

  1. I-adjectives lose their “i” ending in favor of –kute.
  2. Na-adjectives are left in their plain form with –de added.

 

I - Adjectives    

Plain Form Te-FormMeaning
明るい(あかるい) あかるくてbright
甘い(あまい) あまくてsweet
良い(よい) よくてgood
軽い(かるい) かるくてlight
強い(つよい) つよくてstrong
若い(わかい) わかくてyoung
細い(ほそい)ほそくてthin
早い(早い) はやくてfast
長い(ながい)ながくてlong
危ない(あぶない) あぶなくてdangerous

 

Na-Adjectives

Plain Form Te-FormMeaning
好き(すき) すきでto like
便利(べんり) べんりでconvenient
暇(ひま) ひまで(to have) free time
普通(ふつう)ふつうでnormal, ordinary
静か(しずか) しずかでquiet
綺麗(きれい) きれいでpretty
失礼(しつれい) しつれいでrude
幸い(さいわい) さいわいで(good) fortune

 

Again, note the last few examples of na-adjectives, which end in “i” sounds but conjugate differently than i-adjectives. Unfortunately, there is no hard rule for determining the difference between the two, so you will just need to memorize the na-adjectives that carry this irregularity in their conjugation.

 

Part II: Detailed Examples and Applications of the Te Form

Now that we can put verbs and adjectives into te-form, it is time to get our hands dirty with some more varied examples. In Part II of our adventure in te-form, we will look more closely at the ways complex sentences are constructed.

These samples are intended to give more detail and variety than those in the Part I and to provide further reading for the particular areas you want to work on. Be sure to refer back to the tables in this article when you want to practice constructing your own te-form statements, and use Part II as a source to work from.

 

 

1.  Connecting Verb Phrases or Sentences

As we saw in Part I, the most common use for te-form is to connect sentences. It can be used to connect more than two things together, and can thus form a sort of list of sequential activities.

Because te-form by itself does not indicate a verb tense, in such cases all of the activities are understood to take place in the same tense as the last verb, while the earlier verbs should be in plain te-form. Here is a past tense example:

 

わたしは本をよん、作文を書い、テストを受けました。

Watashi wa hon o yonde, sakubun o kaite, testo o ukemashita.

Translation:  I read the book, wrote an essay, and took the test.

 

The te-form also helps when making smaller related comments about something, especially when related to cause and effect:

 

そのアイスは美味しく安いので、よく買います。

Sono aisu wa oishikute yasui node, yoku kaimasu.

Translation:  That ice cream is delicious and cheap, so (I/we) buy it often.

 

Of course, the te-form also works with negative conjugations, and this is often seen when making comparisons between different things, or when stating preferences:

 

一番好きな動物は猫じゃなく、ゾウです。

Ichiban sukina dōbutsu wa neko janakute, zōdesu.

Translation:  (My) favorite animal isn’t cats, its elephants.

 

 

2.  Making Casual or Polite Requests of Others

The following form is extremely common. In this case, the verb “ganbaru,” which is often seen conjugated as “ganbatte,” forms a te-form request.

 

田中さん、頑張っ(下さい)!

Tanaka-san, ganbatte (kudasai)!

Translation:  Tanaka, (please) do your best!

 

You will also see some positive requests formatted with or without the te-form, using -nasai instead of kudasai. The meaning is essentially the same, though it is often said that –nasai sounds like a slightly more forceful request.

 

野菜を食べ

Yasai o tabete.

Translation:  Eat your vegetables.

 

野菜を食べなさい。

Yasai o tabenasai.  

Translation:  Eat your vegetables.

 

野菜を食べ下さい。

Yasai o tabete kudasai.

Translation:   Please eat your vegetables

 

It should be noted that in negative cases -nasai cannot be used, especially when stating prohibitions, as we will see in #3.

 

3.  Expressing Prohibition or Strong Objection

Example 1

電車で電話をかけはいけません。

Densha de denwa o kakete wa ikemasen.

Translation:  You cannot talk on the phone on the train.

 

Example 2

子供は運転しはいけないね。

Kodomo wa unten shite wa ikenai ne.

Translation:  Children shouldn’t drive (a car), right?

 

Example 3

友達のロッカーからものを盗んはだめだよ。

Tomodachi no rokka- kara mono o nusunde wa dame da yo.

Translation:  It is wrong to steal things from (your) friend’s locker.

 

Example 4

ここで写真を撮ってはならない。

Koko de shashin o totte wa naranai..

Translation:  (You) must not take pictures here.

 

These forms of prohibition and/or objection are each common, but there are subtle differences between them. –Te wa ikemasen is the most common, and can also be conjugated in the more casual -te wa ikenai form.

Dame da is the most conversational, and it often heard between people making strong spoken objections to the actions of others, including friends chiding each other.

Te wa naranai is generally a written, more formal form of strong prohibition. All of the above have roughly the same meaning, though the severity of these statements is largely dependent on the specific people or contexts involved.

 

4.  Asking Permission to Have or Do Things

Example 1

テレビを見ながら、夕ご飯を食べもいいでしょうか?

Terebi o minagara, yūgohan o tabete mo ii deshō ka?

Translation:  Is it alright if (I/we) watch T.V. while eating dinner?

 

Example 2

発表する時、ノートを読んでもいいですか?

Happyō suru toki, no-to o  yonde mo ii desu ka?

Translation:  Can (we) read from (our) notebooks when giving (our) presentations?

 

Example 3

部屋に入っ (も) いい?

Heya ni haitte (mo) ii?

Translation:  Is it OK if I come into the room?

 

As you can see in the third example, in casual conversation, the particle “mo” can be dropped, as can the copular end of the sentence and question particle (desu ka). This is a common conversational way to ask for permission, and when spoken, the “ii” at the end of the sentence works like a question mark when given a rising intonation.

 

5.  Apologizing and Expressing Humility

遅れすみません。

Okurete sumimasen                 

Translation:  Sorry for being late.

 

遅れもうしわけありません

Okurete mōshiwake arimasen.

Translation:  Sorry for being late.

 

These two statements are somewhat equivalent, but the second is very formal and is often used with teachers, superiors at work, or when the speaker has made a critical mistake.

To soften the formality of mōshi wake arimisen, you can also put an apology in plain form, and it is used as such regularly in daily conversation:

 

参加できなく申し訳ない。

Sanka dekinakute mōshiwake nai.                                          

Translation:  Sorry that I can’t participate/join in.

 

行けなく申し訳ない。

Ikenakute mōshiwake nai.

Translation:  Sorry that I can’t go.

 

 

6.  Giving and Receiving (Objects and Actions):

Giving and receiving verbs each have honorific and humble (keigo) forms, a full explanation of which would require another article entirely. However, let’s cover the basics, then look at how these giving and receiving words are often conjugated using te-form:

 

やる(Yaru) / あげる(Ageru) / さしあげる (Sashiageru):  To Give

1.  やる(Yaru):  To Give to an Inferior (Lower Social Status Than the Speaker)

私は犬に水をやった。

Watashi wa inu ni mizu o yatta.

Translation:  I gave the dog water.

 

2.  あげる(Ageru):  To Give to an Equal (Equal Social Status as the Speaker)

友達にセーターを貸し上げました。

Tomodachi ni se-ta- o kashite agamashita.

Translation:  I lent my friend a sweater.

 

3.  さしあげる (Sashiageru):  To Give to a Superior (Higher Social Status Than the Speaker)

先生にカードを作っさし上げました。

Sensei ni ka-do o tsukutte sashiagemashita

Translation:  I made a card and gave it to my teacher.

 

 

くれる (Kureru) & くださる (Kudasaru): To Give / To Be Given

1.  くれる (Kureru): To Give (People of Equal Social Status as the Speaker)

友達は私にカメラを買っくれました。

Tomodachi wa watashi ni kamera o katte kuremashita.

Translation:  My friend bought me a camera.

 

2.  くださる (Kudasaru):  To Give (People of Higher Social Status Than the Speaker)

社長は私達にパーティーを開い下さいました。

Shachō wa watashitachi ni pa-ti- o hiraite kudasaimashita.

Translation:  Our boss threw us a party.

 

もらう (Morau) / いただく (Itadaku):  To Receive

1.  もらう (Morau):  To Receive (From Someone of Equal Social Status to the Speaker)

私は友達にキャメラを買っもらった。

Watashi wa tomodachi ni kamera o katte moratta.

Translation:  I received a camera that my friend bought for me.

 

2.  いただく (Itadaku):  To Receive (From Someone of Higher Social Status Than the Speaker)

私達は社長にパーティーを開いいただいた。

Watashitachi wa shachō ni pa-ti- o hiraite itadaita.

Translation:  Our boss threw a party for us.

 

 

7.  Expressing Desire for Things or Actions

For things that you want to try out, you can use the te-form with mitai, which literally translates to “seeing” whether or not you like something (to try). This form is often used to describe experiences or actions that the speaker has never done before.

 

私は日本で本物のお寿司を食べてみたい。

Watashi wa Nihon de honmono no osushi o tabete mitai.

Translation:  I would like to try eating real sushi in Japan.

 

For physical goods that one wants to do something with, -te hoshii is another common way of expressing desire.  However, with -te hoshii, you are expressing a desire for someone else to do something for you.

 

お母さんは着物を買って欲しいと言いました。

Okaasan wa kimono o katte hoshii to iimashita.

Translation:  Mom said she wants you (or someone else) to buy her a kimono.

 

 

8.  Preparing Something or Doing Something in Advance

Often, actions expressed with –te okimasu need to be done ahead of time. For example, preparing for events, going places, etc. often requires some form of preparation that can be best expressed with –te oku.

 

夏の前に飛行機の切符を買っ置いた方がいいと思います。

Natsu no mae ni hikōki no kippu o katteoita hōga ii to omoimasu.

Translation:  I think it is best to buy plane tickets before summer.

 

Sometimes, a request will follow the same pattern when the speaker needs someone to do something for them in advance:

 

来週のパーティーのためにカラオケの予約をしておくべきでしょう。

Raishū no pa-ti- no tame ni karaoke no yoyaku o shite oku beki deshō.

Translation:  For next week’s party, (we) must make a reservation (in advance).

 

 

9.  Expressing Current and Ongoing States

The first of two ways to express an ongoing condition is using te iru, which is a simple conjugation for any active, ongoing action:

 

Example 1

猫が窓から鳥を見います。

Neko ga mado kara tori o miteimasu.

Translation:  The cat is looking at birds from the window.

 

Example 2

ドアが開いているので、風が家を吹き抜けていきます。

Doa ga aiteiru node, kaze ga ie o fukinukete ikimasu.

Translation:  The door is open, so wind is flowing through the house.

 

For continuing passive states, te-aru carries out a similar function, and can be used together with te-iru:

 

あの窓は開けてあります。

Ano mado wa akete arimasu.  

Translation:  That window is open (someone opened the window).

 

To be technical, iru is used to make verbs intransitive and thus naturally ongoing (such as rain falling), while aru makes verbs transitive, indicating that a continuing state was caused by a particular actor (who opened a door).

 

 

10.  Expressing Completed Actions (Including Mistakes)

For completed actions, often the speaker will describe finishing something exhaustible like food or drinks using –te-shimau:

 

私は田中さんと酒を全部飲んでしまいました。

Watashi wa Tanaka-san to sake o zenbu nonde shimaimashita.

Translation:  Tanaka-san and I drank all of the sake.

 

Te-shimau can also be used when finishing projects or completing activities. In the following case, the speaker might be talking about one book in particular, or that they had read everything Murakami had ever written, depending on the surrounding context:

 

村上春樹の本を読んでしまいました。

Murakami Haruki no hon o yonde shimaimashita.

Translation:  I read all of Haruki Murakami’s book(s).

 

Finally, to express a regrettable action or mistake, the same format also applies:

 

(私は)水をこぼして、コンピューターを壊してしまいました。

(Watashi wa) mizu o koboshite, konpu-ta- o kowashite shimaimashita.

Translation:  (I) spilled water, and broke the computer.

 

Conclusion

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg that is te-form, but they should give you a solid foundation from which to start using it to develop complex, nuanced sentences that will allow you to express yourself much better in Japanese!

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