Using the Verb "Te" in Japanese

Urban reflection at Tokyo Tsukishima at night
Photography by ZhangXun / Getty Images

The ~ te form is an important Japanese verb form to know. It does not indicate tense by itself, however, it combines with other verb forms to create other tenses. Additionally, it has many other unique usages, such as speaking in the present progressive, connecting successive verbs or asking for permission.

How to Use ~Te

To make the ~ te form, replace the final ~ ta of the informal past tense of the verb with ~ te, and ~ da with ~ de.

Here are some examples:

nonda (飲んだ) "drank" - nonde (飲んで) "drink"
tabeta (食べた)"ate" - tabete (食べて)"eat"
kita (来た)"came" - kite (来て)"come"

~Te Form: To Request

As mentioned earlier, the ~ te form has other functions besides indicating verb tense. 

One example of a unique function of the ~te form is when it is used to request an action. This happens when a ~te form of a verb is combined with "kudasai" (ください). Here are a couple of examples:

Mite kudasai. (見てください。) - Please look.
Kiite kudasai. (聞いてください。) - Please listen.

~Te Form: Present Progressive

The ~te form is also used when speaking in the present progressive. The present progressive is used when conveying that present action is currently in progress. In Japanese, the present progressive is expressed using the ~te form. Specifically, the ~te form of a verb is combined with the formal "iru" or "imasu". For example:

Hirugohan o tabete iru. (昼ご飯を食べている。) - I am having lunch.
Terebi o mite imasu. (テレビを見ています。) - I am watching TV.

~Te Form: Connecting Verbs 

Additionally, the ~ te form is used in Japanese to connect verbs in a sentence in order to list out successive actions. Used to connect two or more verbs, the ~ te form is used after all but the last sentence in a sequence. The following are examples of this particular ~te usage in a sentence.

Hachi-ji ni okite gakkou ni itta. (八時に起きて学校に行った。) - I got up at eight and went to school.
Depaato ni itte kutsu o katta. (デパートに行って靴を買った。) - I went to department store and bought shoes.

~Te Form: Asking Permission the ~ te form mo ii desu ka

The ~te form is also used in scenarios when one has to ask for permission to do an action. In order to ask for permission, the ~te form of a verb is combined with "mo ii desu ka". For instance:

Terebi o mite mo ii desu ka. (テレビを見てもいいですか。) - May I watch TV?
Tabako o sutte mo ii desu ka. (タバコを吸ってもいいですか。) - May I smoke?
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Abe, Namiko. "Using the Verb "Te" in Japanese." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Abe, Namiko. (2023, April 5). Using the Verb "Te" in Japanese. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "Using the Verb "Te" in Japanese." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).