Japanese te-form is one of the most common Japanese verb conjugations because it turns a normal verb into an “-ing” form verb.
In English, te-form Japanese would be called the “present progressive.” Think about how often we talk about “doing” something in English. It’s a lot! The same is true for Japanese.
This verb conjugation pattern is pretty versatile, too. It not only helps describe what you’re doing right now, but what you plan to continue to do. It can connect two verbs together, and combine with other grammar patterns to express a lot of thoughts with fewer words.
So today we’ll learn:
- What is te-form, and what it can do in Japanese
- Japanese verb conjugation for te-form
- Japanese te-form uses and combinations with other verb forms
A note here: It’s very important that you already know how to conjugate Japanese present and past tense, both formal and informal. You also should have a solid understanding of how to read the kana chart, because it’s helpful in understanding how to conjugate て-form.
Let’s dive right in.
Te-Form Verbs: What is Te-Form?
So as I mentioned above, “te-form” is the Japanese present progressive. It’s called te-form because you change the verbs to end with the Japanese “te” (て) or “nde” (んで). We’ll get to that in a moment.
Te-form is used to turn a verb from infinite (or dictionary) form to “-ing” form, like this:
食べる → 食べて (taberu → tabete) “I eat” / “I will eat” → “I’m eating”
Because Japanese doesn’t have a future tense, only a present tense, it can be a bit confusing as to whether you mean “I eat (right now)” or “I will eat (in the future)”. That’s what makes te-form so powerful.
Te-form makes it crystal clear that you’re doing the action right now, or continuously. It’s not in the future, but an action you’re working on at this moment.
Te-form can also combine with other verbs to create other verb tenses. For instance, the difficult English perfect progressive tense can be formed with te-form.
“I had been reading the book.” (English perfect progressive tense.) その本を読んでいた。 Sono hon wo yonde ita.
Here we’re using present tense te-form with the past tense helping verb いる (iru).
Really, it’s easier to form these kinds of tenses in Japanese… All from knowing just ONE grammar pattern.
Japanese Verb Conjugation for Te-Form
Japanese conjugation for te-form depends on the type of verb you’re using.
In Japanese, there are two types of Japanese verbs: る-verbs and う-verbs.
This is where understanding how to conjugate past and present tense, and knowing kana, comes in handy.
Japanese る-verbs are those verbs that end in る (ru). When you conjugate them, the る gets dropped, and the new ending gets added on to the verb stem. These are the easiest verbs to conjugate.
Japanese う-verbs are verbs that end with a consonant + う (u). For example, words that end in く (ku), す (su), or む (mu). Because the ending of these verbs isn’t consistent, they conjugate differently based on how they end.
We’ll look at る-verbs first.
る-verbs are super easy to conjugate. You simply drop the る (ru) at the end of the word and add て (te).
食べる → 食べて taberu → tabete “to eat → eating”
見る → 見て miru → mite “to see → seeing”
止める → 止めて yameru → yamete “to stop → stopping”
Here’s where it gets more complicated. But even still, it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.
う-verbs can end in ku, su, bu, mu, nu, gu, tsu, u, or… ru.
Yes, sometimes verbs ending in る are actually う-verbs. There’s not really a rhyme or reason to this. It’s something you have to learn as you come across the verb. But they will most often fall under the る-verb category, so don’t worry about that too much for now.
The verbs can be categorized like this:
- く (ku) : Drop く, add いて
- す (su): Drop す, add して
- ぶ (bu), む (mu), ぬ (nu): Drop ぶ, む, or ぬ, add んで
- ぐ (gu): Drop ぐ, add いで
- う (u), つ (tsu), る (ru): Drop う, つ, or る, add って
Here are some examples of conjugating these verbs.
く (ku): 書く → 書いて kaku → kaite “to write” → “writing”
There is one exception to this conjugation, and it’s 行く (iku). It becomes 行って (itte) instead of *iite, because it’s easier to pronounce.
す (su): 話す → 話して hanasu → hanashite “to speak” → “speaking”
ぶ (bu), む (mu), ぬ (nu): 遊ぶ → 遊んで asobu → asonde “to play” → “playing”
飲む → 飲んで nomu → nonde “to drink” → “drinking”
死ぬ → 死んで shinu → shinde “to die” → “dying”
ぐ (gu): 泳ぐ → 泳いで oyogu → oyoide “to swim” → “swimming”
う (u), つ (tsu), る (ru): 歌う → 歌って utau → utatte “to sing” → “singing”
待つ → 待って matsu → matte “to wait” → “waiting”
帰る → 帰って kaeru → kaette “to go home” → “going home”
This last group (u, tsu, and ru) make up the largest group of う-verbs. In fact, there aren’t many verbs ending in ぶ, and the ぬ verb I used as an example — 死ぬ (shinu, “to die”) — is the only ぬ verb still used in regular Japanese speech.
So, while it seems like a lot of conjugation to memorize, there are several te-form rules you’ll only have to remember for a handful of common verbs.
Conjugating Irregular Verbs
There are only two irregular verbs in Japanese: する (suru, “to do”) and 来る (kuru, “to come”). And, as mentioned above, 行く is the only “normal” verb that is irregular only for this specific grammar pattern.
When conjugating する to te-form, it changes like this: する → して suru → shite “to do” → “doing”
And here’s how 来る changes: 来る → 来て kuru → kite “to come” → “coming”
Japanese Te-Form Uses
Te-form doesn’t just help us creating the present progressive in Japanese. It plays a big role in connecting other grammar functions together to create more complex thoughts.
There are actually around a dozen uses of te-form with other grammar patterns. But many of them start to get a bit advanced. So we’re going to cover the three most common and helpful uses for beginners. Here are a few ways to can use te-form:
To Make a Request
If you need someone to do something for you, or to ask for a favor, you use て + ください (te + kudasai).
片付けてください。 katazukete kudasai “Tidy up please.”
Linking Two Verbs or Verb Phrases Together
If you’re doing two actions at the same time, you change the first verb to te-form, and the second verb to whatever tense it needs to be in (past, present, or negative).
晩ご飯を作って音楽を聴いています。 Bangohan wo tsukutte ongaku wo kiite imasu. “I’m cooking dinner and listening to music.”
歩いて話している。 Aruite hanashite iru. “I’m walking and talking.”
Asking If It’s Okay to Do Something
The grammar pattern てもいいですか (te mo ii desu ka) is a polite way to ask if it’s okay to do something.
これを食べてもいいですか。 Kore wo tabete mo ii desu ka “Is it okay if I eat this?”
Japanese Te-Form Cheatsheet
Phew! That was a lot of grammar to review, wasn’t it? Don’t worry about memorizing it all in one go. I’ve made this Japanese te-form cheatsheet to help you out.
|Rule:||Drop る, add て|
|Ex:||見る → 見て|
|く||Rule:||Drop く, add いて|
|Ex:||書く → 書いて|
|す||Rule:||Drop す, add して|
|Ex:||話す → 話して|
|ぶ, む, ぬ||Rule:||Drop ぶ, む, or ぬ, add んで|
|Ex:||遊ぶ → 遊んで|
|飲む → 飲んで|
|死ぬ → 死んで|
|ぐ||Rule:||Drop ぐ, add いで|
|Ex:||泳ぐ → 泳いで|
|う, つ, る||Rule:||Drop う, つ, or る, add って|
|Ex:||歌う → 歌って|
|待つ → 待って|
|帰る → 帰って|
|行く → 行って|
|する → して|
|来る → 来て|
Get Going with Your Japanese Studies!
You’ve conquered te-form Japanese! That’s a big step toward expressing tons more thoughts in your target language.
I know learning such a big grammar pattern can be a bit overwhelming, but take it one step at a time. And rest assured, the more you practice with it (and you’ll get plenty of practice), the easier it gets. It’ll be second nature in no time.
Try out some te-form practice: leave me a comment below using te-form to describe something you’re doing!
頑張ってね！ (Ganbatte ne, “Good luck!”)
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.