What Exactly is “Te Form” in Japanese
If you watch J-dramas or listen to Japanese music, you have definitely heard Te Form used before! Te Form is an extremely useful conjugation pattern, and learning to use it can greatly expand your Japanese speaking ability.
However, many textbooks explain the many uses of Te Form over the course of many chapters, with no way to reference them all at once.
That’s why we decided to make this handy Te Form reference article! Here we have compiled a list with examples of all the most common uses of Te Form.
(Also, make sure to visit our Library to learn some additional Te Form uses that we didn’t have room for in this article!)
First, let’s take a look at how to make Te Form.
Te Form is the dictionary form of a verb with a modified ending. Note that not all Te Form verbs actually end with “te” – some end with “de” (the dakuten* version of “te”).
Any verb that is a Ru Verb is quite simple to turn into Te Form. All you have to do is remove the final “ru” syllable and replace it with “te”:
食べる → 食べて (Taberu → Tabete)
Anything that does not end with a “ru” syllable is a U Verb. Different U Verb endings become Te Form in different ways:
|“ru,” “tsu,” or “u” ending||replace final syllable with “tte”||Noru → Notte|
|“ku” ending||replace final syllable with “ite”||Kaku → Kaite|
|“su” ending||replace final syllable with “shite”||Hanasu → Hanashite|
|“bu,” “mu,” or “nu” ending||replace final syllable with “nde”||Asobu → Asonde|
|“gu” ending||replace final syllable with “ide”||Oyogu → Oyoide|
(Note: In the case of U Verbs that end with “tsu” or “u,” that final “tsu” or “u” counts as the final syllable, even though in ro-maji it is a different number of letters than the endings of the other verbs).
There are only three common verbs which have an irregular Te Form.
|Suru → Shite|
|Kuru → Kite|
|Iku → Itte|
A cautionary note:
Some verbs that end with a “ru” syllable are U Verbs in disguise! Sadly there is no surefire way to know whether verbs like “Noru” and “Kariru” are U Verbs or Ru Verbs other than to look them up, but as you study you will eventually gain a feeling for which are which.
One way to check is to run a verb through a few conjugations. For example, the polite conjugation of “Noru” is “Norimasu” because it is an U Verb. If we try conjugating it as “Nomasu” instead (as we would if it were a Ru Verb), it just does not sound quite right.
*Dakuten are the small lines (resembling an English quotation mark: “) to the top right of kana such as de (で). Another word for these small lines is Tenten. The literal meaning of Dakuten is “voiced marks/dots,” and the literal meaning of “Tenten” is “dot dot.”
Uses for Te Form
By itself, we can use Te Form to link two thoughts or phrases together, or to let a sentence trail off without finishing it. When combined with other auxiliary verbs and patterns, Te Form can do anything!!
To link two phrases together using Te Form, simply put the first phrase into Te Form and follow it with a second phrase:
Neko o tasukete, ie ni kaerimasu
(I will help the cat and go home).
Asking someone to do something
Neko o tasukete kudasai
(Please help the cat).
Note that “Kudasai” cannot be used as a general word for “Please” – it can only come at the end of a phrase.
Saying “even if”
Kare no neko o tasukete mo, atashi to de-to ni ikimasen
(Even if I help his cat, he won’t go on a date with me).
Asking permission to do something
Neko o tasukete mo ii desu ka?
(Is it OK if I help the cat?)
This pattern is an expansion of the “even if” pattern, so the literal meaning is: “even if I ___, is it OK?” The “mo” and “desu ka” are sometimes left off if speaking very casually.
The real question is, when would it not be OK to help someone’s cat? Perhaps the cat was placed in a tree on purpose. Perhaps it is a lookout for enemy spies sneaking onto the premises.
Saying that something is forbidden
Neko o tasukete wa ikemasen
(You must not help the cat).
“Ikemasen”’s literal translation is “cannot go.” You can think of it as being similar to the English phrase “that won’t fly” – flying is not actually involved, just as going somewhere is not actually involved with “te wa ikemasen.” It just means something is not an option – it’s a “no go” situation.
It looks as though the hypothesis in example 3 was correct – the cat is definitely a secret agent.
Saying that you will do A to prepare for B
Jaketto o nuide okimasu
(I will take off my jacket [so I can help the cat]).
The portion of the sentence in parenthesis is implied and not stated. You may state or not the reason implied by adding “te okimasu,” depending on whether you think stating the reason is necessary for clarification. The dictionary form of “okimasu” is “oku.”
Saying that you will give something a try
Neko o tasukete mimasu
(I will give helping the cat a try).
The dictionary form of “mimasu” is “miru,” the same as the verb “to watch” or “to see” (the difference is that when used in combination with Te Form, “miru” is not written in kanji).
Saying that you did something by accident
Neko o tasukete shimaimashita
(I ended up accidentally helping the cat).
If you watch J-dramas or anime, you have probably heard someone exclaim “Shimatta!!” This is often translated as “Darnit!!” or something along those lines, but the literal meaning is the same as the “shimaimashita” in the example: I ended up doing something, either accidentally or despite not wanting to.
The dictionary form of “shimaimasu” is “shimau.”
Apologizing for something
Neko o tasukete sumimasen
(I am sorry I helped the cat).
“Sumimasen,” unlike “kudasai,” can be used as “I’m sorry” or “excuse me” in almost any situation.
Expressing giving or receiving favors
Neko o tasukete agemasu
(I will help the cat for you).
The dictionary form of “agemasu” is “ageru.” “Ageru” is for an expression of an action for someone as a favor, or that someone (not you) does something for someone else. Note that if someone does an action for you, you will need to change the arrangement of your sentence slightly, and you will need to use the verb “kureru” rather than “ageru.”
Saying that you do A after doing B
Neko o tasukete kara, ie ni kaerimashita
(After I helped the cat, I went home).
Saying that you are currently doing an action
Neko o tasukete imasu
(I am currently helping the cat).
The dictionary form of “imasu” is “iru,” which is simply the verb for “to be.” Note that while verbs generally become “currently [verb]-ing” when in Te Form followed by “iru,” some verbs do not (notably “iku.” “Itteimasu” means something like “has gone” rather than “am going”). For more information on how to determine whether a verb in Te Form followed by “iru” will become “currently [verb]-ing” or not, please click here to see our article on Japanese Transitive and Intransitive Verbs.
And that’s it! Please leave us a comment below to tell us how you use Te Form the most! Also, if you have any questions about this article, we would love to hear from you!