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:

  • Part I: How to conjugate verbs, adjectives, and noun into the te-form and it’s common uses.
  • Part II: How to use the te-form naturally- Example sentences and detailed explanations of the many uses of te.


Part I:  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!  It doesn’t take that long to master since there are only a few conjugation rules to master.

In this section, we’ll show you how to conjugate verbs, adjectives, and nouns into the te-form.


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.”)


Verbs ending in す (su): Remove the final す and replace it with して (shite):

  • (kesu): to erase, to turn off, to extinguish –> 消して (keshite)
  • (yurusu): to forgive, to permit –> 許して (yurushite)
  • (sagasu): to search for –> 探して (sagashite)


Verbs ending in う (u), つ (tsu), or る (ru): Remove the finalう, つ, or る and replace it with って (tte):

  • (kau): to buy –> 買って (katte)
  • (tatsu): to stand –> 立って (tatte)
  • (hairu): to enter, to join –> 入って (haitte)


Verbs ending in く (ku): Remove the final く and replace it with いて (ite):

  • (kiku): to listen –> 聞いて (kiite)
  • (aruku): to walk –> 歩いて (aruite)
  • (hataraku): to work, to commit a crime/evil act –> 働いて (hataraite)


Verbs ending in ぐ (gu): Remove final ぐ and replace it with いで (ide):

  • (sosogu): to pour –> 注いで (sosoide)
  • (isogu): to hurry, to rush –> 急いで (isoide)
  • (oyogu): to swim –> 泳いで (oyoide)


Verbs ending in む (mu)、ぶ (bu)、ぬ (nu): Remove the final む, ぶ, or ぬ and replace it with んで (nde):

  • (nomu): to drink –> 飲んで (nonde)
  • (asobu): to play –> 遊んで (asonde
  • (shinu): to die –> 死んで (shinde)


Exception: The verb 行く (iku), meaning “to go,” is an exception. According to the rules, the te-form of 行く should be 行いて (iite). However, this is NOT correct. The correct te-form would be:

行く (iku): to go –> 行って (itte)


Here are some more 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 three verbs on the list, kaeru, wakaru, and toru 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

Conjugating group II verbs (also known as ichidan verbs), are simple. All group II verbs end with る (ru). To change it into the te-form, just remove the final る and replace it with て (te).

  • 食べ (taberu): to eat –> 食べ (tabete)
  • 起き (okiru): to wake up, to occur –> 起き (okite)
  • (miru): to see, to look –> 見 (mite)


Here’s more examples:

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。(Kyūryō 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.



To change i-adjectives into their te-form, just drop the final い (i) and replace it with くて (kute).

  • (samui): cold (weather) –> 寒くて (samukute)
  • (atsui): hot (weather) –> 暑くて (atsukute)
  • 面白 (omoshiroi): interesting –> 面白くて (omoshirokute)

Exception: The word we are studying in this article いい (ii), is an exception to this rule. The te-form is NOT いくて (ikute). Insteada, you will use the alternate reading よい (yoi) and conjugate this into the te-form.

(yoi): good, nice –> よくて (yokute)


Here are some more examples:

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
早い(はやい) はやくてfast
危ない(あぶない) あぶなくてdangerous



Na-Adjectives conjugate through the use of the copula だ (da). The te-form of だ is で (de). So for na-adjectives, all you need to do is remove the な (na) at the end and replace it with で(de):

  • 綺麗 (kirei na): pretty, clean –> 綺麗で (kirei de)
  • 元気 (genki na): lively, energetic –> 元気 (genki de)
  • 静か (shizuka na): quiet –> 静か (shizuka de)


Here are a few more examples:


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.



Nouns will conjugate the same as na-adjectives. Just put で (de) after the noun like this:

  • 学生 (gakusei): student –> 学生 (gakusei de)
  • 日本 (Nihon): Japan –> 日本 (Nihon de)
  • 勝ち (kachi): win, victory –> 勝ちで (kachi de)


A List of Uses for the Te-Form

Here’s 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 written in bold.


1.  Connecting Verb Phrases or Sentences


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 or Sentences Explanation


2.  Making Casual or Polite Requests of Others

英語で話さない、日本語だけで話し (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


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


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)しすみません。

Kinō wa nebō shite sumimasen.

Translation:  Sorry I overslept yesterday.


Example 2


Kinō wa nomisugite sumimasen deshita.

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

For more information:  Apologizing and Expressing Humility Explanation


6.  Giving and Receiving (Objects and Actions)


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


Sono hon o yonde hoshii.

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


Example 2


Ichi-man en kashite hoshii.

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

For more information:  Expressing Desire Explanation


8.  Preparing Something or Doing Something in Advance


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


Ame ga mada futteimasu.

Translation:  It is still raining.

For more information:  Expressing Current and Ongoing States Explanation


10.  Expressing Completed Actions (Including Mistakes)


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

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

For more information:  Expressing Completed Actions Explanation


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:



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:



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:



Ichiban sukina dōbutsu wa neko janakute, zōdesu.

Translation:  (My) favorite animal isn’t cats, it’s 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.



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.



Yasai o tabete.

Translation:  Eat your vegetables.



Yasai o tabenasai.  

Translation:  Eat your vegetables.



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


Densha de denwa o kakete wa ikemasen.

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


Example 2


Kodomo wa unten shite wa ikenai ne.

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


Example 3


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


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


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

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


Example 2


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


Okurete sumimasen.                 

Translation:  Sorry for being late.


遅れ申し訳ありません (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 mōshiwake arimisen, you can also put an apology in plain form, and it is used as such regularly in daily conversation:



Sanka dekinakute mōshiwake nai.                                          

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



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)


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)


Tomodachi ni se-ta- o kashite agemashita.

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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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.



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.



Okāsan 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.



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:



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) for karaoke.



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


Neko ga mado kara tori o mite imasu.

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


Example 2


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:



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:



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:



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:



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

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



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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I am a historian with a specialty in premodern Japanese social and environmental history. I have studied and worked in Japan for a total of seven years, including four years as a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo, and hold a PhD in Japanese history from the University of Michigan.

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