ていく (Te Iku) & てくる (Te Kuru) in Japanese: More Than Just Coming and Going

Te iku and te kuru can express:

  • A physical movement in space;
  • Consistency within an ongoing process;
  • A change of state.

Sounds hard? Don’t worry, we’ll break this down step by step!

The Basics

  1. Iku means “to go,” and kuru means “to come.” 
  2. We use the “te form” to connect two verbs (two actions) done one after the other.
VerbTe-Form+ いく (iku) / くる(kuru)Te Iku / Te Kuru Verb Form
食べる (taberu)
To eat
食べて (tabete)いく (iku) / くる(kuru)食べていく/くる
(tabete iku/kuru)
飲む (nomu)
To drink
飲んで (nonde)いく (iku) / くる(kuru)飲んでいく/くる
(nonde iku/kuru)

Let’s talk about each one more in detail!

1. ていく (Te Iku) (Motion)

Using a verb with te iku means “to do [verb] and go somewhere.” The subject does [verb] and then moves away from his or her current location. It expresses the subject’s physical movement.

Examples:

1. 午後に雨が降るようなので傘を持って行きます。
(Gogo ni ame ga furu yō nanode, kasa o motte ikimasu.)
Since it seems it’s going to rain in the afternoon, I will take an umbrella. = I’m going out taking an umbrella with me.

2. 朝ごはんを食べて行く。
(Asagohan o tabete iku).
I’m going to eat breakfast and then go.

3. 帽子をかぶって行く。
(Bōshi o kabutte iku.)
I’ll put on a hat and go.

4. 小さいころから両親がいつも旅行に連れて行ってくれました。
(Chīisai koro kara ryōshin ga itsumo ryokō ni tsurete itte kuremashita.)
My parents have brought me with them traveling since I was a little kid.

In the examples above, the final destination or the point towards which the subject is moving is rarely specified. Te iku is simply used to express the action of moving away from the present location to somewhere else.

2. ていくTe Iku (Time)

Besides expressing a physical movement in space, te iku can be used to describe a process or a change that has just started at a point in time we’re considering, in the present or the future.

We can use “from … on” in English to enhance the nuance expressed by the Japanese te iku.

Examples:

1. もう6月だね! これからどんどん気温が上がっていくね。
(Mō roku gatsu da ne! Korekara dondon kion ga agatte iku ne.)
It’s already June! Temperatures are going to be rising for sure from now on! 

2. 今年はやっと感染者が減っていくんだろうか。
(Kotoshi wa yatto kansensha ga hette ikun darō ka.)
I wonder if the number of infected people will finally go down this year?

3. 年末に向けて仕事が忙しくなっていきます。
(Nenmatsu ni mukete shigoto ga isogashiku natte ikimasu.)
Toward the end of the year, my job is going to get busier. 

By using teiku, the speaker implies that the action or process is supposed to go on consistently for a while.

て行った(Te Itta)

行った (itta)is the past form of いく(iku). 

Te itta is used:

  • To express an action and a motion from the current location, referring to the past.

Example:

ケーキを作ってパーティーに持って行った。
(Kēki o tsukutte pātī ni motte itta.)
I made a cake and I brought it to the party.

  • When the speaker imagines a point in the past and wants to describe a process that started at that moment and kept going on.

6月から浴衣の売り上げが伸びていった。
(Rokugatsu kara yukata no uriage ga nobite itta.)
Sales of yukata (kimono for summer) have increased since June.

Te Iku Polite Form and Negative Form

We can also use te iku in the negative form te ikanai, te ikanakatta, and polite form (both affirmative and negative)te ikimasu, te ikimasen, te ikimashita, te ikimasen deshita.

Examples:

1. 夏になると一日が長くなっていきます。
(Natsu ninaru to ichinichi ga nagaku natte ikimasu.)
When summer comes, the days will get longer and longer.

2. 何もしないと、問題が解決していかないでしょ。
(Nani mo shinai to, mondai ga kaiketsu shite ikanai desho.)
If you don’t take action, the problem is not going to solve itself.

1. てくる (Te Kuru) (Motion)

Te kuru means:

  • to go and do [verb] and then come back to the speaker’s current location.
  • doing an action moving towards the speaker’s current location.

One of the most common examples used in everyday conversation is 行ってきます!(itte kimasu!). When you leave the house to go somewhere and you say goodbye to your family, ittekimasu means “I’ll go and come back.” You are going out to do [verb] but you’re then coming back [home].

Examples:

1. 昼ごはんを買ってきます。
(Hirugohan o katte kimasu.)
I’m going to buy lunch (and then come back here).

2. 彼女は来週名古屋から帰ってくる。
(Kanojo wa raishū Nagoya kara kaette kuru.)
She is coming back (here) from Nagoya next week.

3. お弁当を持って来てください。
(Obentō o motte kite kudasai.)
Please bring a lunch box. 

2. てくる (Te Kuru) (Time)

Te kuru can also be used when talking about an ongoing process or change of conditions. It indicates a process that started in the past and is still going on (during the speaker’s conversation) and might continue in the future.

Examples:

1. その商品は今から人気が上がってくると思う。
(Sono shōhin wa ima kara ninki ga agatte kuru to omou.)
I think that the popularity of that product will keep rising from now on.

2. その商品は今から人気があがっていく。
(Sono shōhin wa ima kara ninki ga agatte iku.)
The popularity of that product is going to rise from now on.

3. てきた(Te Kita)

By using the past tense of the verb kuru, te kita indicates:

  • An action and a motion towards the speaker’s current location, in the past;

Example:

彼は素敵なプレゼントを持って来た。
(Kare wa suteki na purezento o motte kita.)
He came by bringing a lovely present.

  • A process that has started in the past and has been steadily ongoing until the present. We don’t know how the situation will develop in the future. Therefore we use te kita to describe how it has been until now.

Example:

最近、景気が良くなってきた。
(Saikin, keiki ga yoku natte kita.)
The economic situation has been getting better (until now, but we don’t know how it will develop in the future).

  • Te kita is also used to express a sudden change in a situation that was steady or continuous.  

Examples:

1. 雨が降ってきた。
(Ame ga futte kita.)
It started raining.

2. 寒くなってきたね。
(Samukunatte kita ne.)
It’s getting cold.

Te Kuru Plain and Negative Form

Just as for te iku, te kuru can be used in the negative form te konai, te konakatta and in the polite form te kimasu, te kimasen, te kimashita, te kimasen deshita.

Examples:

1. 筆記試験だったのに、ペンを一本も持ってきませんでした。
(Hikki shiken datta noni, pen o ippon mo motte kimasen deshita.)
Even though it was a written exam, I came without even bringing a single pen.

2. そのトピックについては、あまり研究されてこなかった。
(Sono topikku ni tsuite wa, amari kenkyū sarete konakatta.)
Not much research has been done on that topic until now.

Te Iku and Te Kuru vs Plain Form Verbs

Teiku and te kuru are not strictly necessary to build a sentence. Still, they are useful and will make your Japanese sound natural. Try to use them in your conversations when you describe a movement, the continuity of a process, or a transformation.  

Examples:

1a. おにぎりを買いに行くね。
(Onigiri o kai ni iku ne.)
I’m going to buy a rice ball, okay?

1b. おにぎりを買ってくるね。
(Onigiri o katte kuru ne.)
I’ll buy a rice ball and come back.

2a. 最近、暑くなったね!
(Saikin, atsukunatta ne!)
It got hot recently, huh!

2b. 最近、暑くなってきたね!
(Saikin, atsuku natte kita ne!)
It’s getting hot lately!

All four sentences are grammatically correct and can all be used in everyday conversation, but the second example of each set sounds more natural. If your goal is to speak natural Japanese, you should consider mastering te iku and te kuru!

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