~ていく & ~てくる

第148課: ~ていく & ~てくる

These patterns are a little easier than the ones from the last lesson, but these are easier to confuse with each other. So, 注意してください!

~ていく & ~てくる

     行く (to go) and 来る (to come) with て creates constructions that are not as straightforward as one would expect. What dictates the usage of ~ていく and ~てくる is highly context driven. It’s rather impossible for even the best linguists to properly define all of the possible situations these phrases can be used in. “Highly context driven” refers to the fact that how you interpret them is not just determined by the transitivity of the verb phrase but by what exactly it is “semantically”.

Categorical properties of what exactly the verb means is very important to keep in mind, and this also means that you can’t just assume that English and Japanese match perfectly on a word-by-word basis. Usually, even this is never the case. After all, the two languages are NOT related to each other. 

When physical action is involved, ~ていく and ~てくる show action away and action towards the speaker’s current location respectively. In this case, the verbs are typically written in 漢字, but this is not always the case. At times, these phrases result in sentences that do not sound quite like anything one would say in English. In such cases, think really hard about the real world context in which they are used to better understand the semantic properties at work. 

1. ちょっとかけてます。
     I’m going out for a bit (and will come back).

2. 公園に歩いて行った。
    I went to the park by foot.

Grammar Note: Remember that some て phrases act like adverbs in Japanese, which then can then like in this sentence equate to a prepositional phrase, in this case 歩いて = by foot.  

3. 朝ご飯を食べて行きました。
    I went having eaten breakfast.  

4. 行ってます。
    I’m going and coming back.

Usage Note: The above phrase is used when leaving your residence, knowing that you will be coming back. Though the plain form is acceptable with those you are close to, given its status as a set phrase, the polite form is also used without any repercussions.  

    I’m going to get a chair from the kitchen. 

6. 10分もすれば、帰ってくる。
     If I have but 10 minutes, I’ll come home.

When there is no physical motion involved, ~ていく indicates disappearance whereas ~てくる indicates a process of emergence. Both can show a process of change or continuation, but they are different in this manner. ~ていく would indicate something that will change and continue on into the future whereas ~てくる would represent that has been happening for something and extends to the present.

7. ミルズさんは日本語がうまくなってきましたね。
    Mr. Mills has been getting better in Japanese, hasn’t he?

8. 君英語はきっと上手うまくなっていくでしょう。(Familiar)
    Your English will surely get better!

9. 自分勝手じぶんかって選択せんたくしたいよくは、かならえていくのであろう。
    Your desire to want to selfishly choose will surely disappear.  

10. 囚人達しゅうじんたち洞窟どうくつからぞろぞろとてきた。
      The prisoners came filtering out of the cave.  11. その木は、芽が出てきた。
      The tree has begun to sprout. 12. 最後の希望が消えていく。
      There goes our last hope. 


~てくる can also indicate the inception of a process. As this section will show, understanding this can get really tricky. So, pay attention to detail and be open to differences between Japanese and English grammar. 

13a. 雪ってきた。
13b. 雪めた。
        It started to snow.

 ~てくる・~ていく Interchangeability 

Tense can be problematic in making ~てくる and ~ていく seem interchangeable. The semantic differences between the verbs of these phrases and differences in the main verbs used are important. For instance, the fact that 消える is used below is very important.  

14. 暖炉の火が消えて{きた・いく}。
      The fire in the fireplace is about to go out.

The first option indicates inception of a change. The status of the fire gets changed, and the process is “going out”. With ~た, you indicate that the process has just started. A strong wind, cutting off of fuel source, or lots of water put on it would determine how quickly it goes out. Nevertheless, the English can be used in the same situations. The second option indicates a process of disappearance. The flame will shortly start to fade and then go out. In a real world situation, it would be very hard to tell all these details, especially because these judgments are all subjective to what the speaker feels.  

When considering the English equivalent, you should be able to see how it could be used for both. For brevity, more literal/less natural English equivalents are not shown. With the information given thus far, you should be able to construct more literal interpretations at your own will. 

Consider a less puzzling example. Here we have a sentence in reference to the weather. This,again, is an important detail to keep in mind. 

15. 段々暑くなって{くる・いく}。
      It will become gradually hotter.

In this case, you could say that the former indicates an inception of a process that is to happen. It’s more vivid and doesn’t feel that it’s going to take long for this change to occur. Once it has become quite hotter, it could just reach a point and stay that way. The latter option doesn’t imply this. Rather, the latter shows a slower, gradual change that will occur and continue on that way. So, even if both sentences were used in the context of the temperature reaching 100F, with the latter, it could just continue to steadily get higher.   

 More Examples

Variant Note: It is also important to realize that ~ていく is often contracted to ~てく in casual speech in the same way ~ている is contracted to ~てる. Be sure to recognize it in different conjugations. For example, ~てった = ~ていった. However, this contraction is avoided in conjugations in which it might get confused with ~てくる. For instance, ~ていきなさい would accidentally become ~てきなさい if you dropped い. 

16. ひとりで子供こどもそだててきました。
      I have brought up my children alone.

17. 帰ってくるまでここでっててね。(Casual)
      Just wait here until I come back.

18. 先生はいってくるのをつ。
      To wait for the teacher to come in.

19. 氷がどんどんとせまってきた。
      The ice steadily approached and came (here).

20. 彼は新聞ってくるのをれた。
      He forgot about bringing the newspaper. 

21. 寒くなってきたみたいだ。
      It looks like it’s becoming colder.

22. ガスが(まわって)た。
      Gas came.

Word Note: 回る in this context emphasizes the circulation of gas. 

23. カーテンのうしろからづいてくるなんてこわい。
      Approaching from behind the curtain like that is scary.

24. 時のようにぎていきました。
      Time started to pass by like an arrow.

25. 彼までいていきました。
      He walked to the station through the rain.

26. 持ってきてください。
      Please bring it.

27. 持っていってください。
      Please take it (away).

28. ペン一本も持ってきませんでした。
      I didn’t bring a single pen. 

29. プレゼントに銀ドルを持っていきました。
      I took a silver dollar as a gift. 

30. ちょっとお金を忘れてきちゃった。貸してくれない。(Casual)
      I forgot to bring some money. Could you lend me some?

31. 雪ってきたかとうともうやんだ。
      Just as I thought it had started to snow, it had already stopped. 

Phrase Note: かと思うと = “just as I thought”.

32. 彼れてきてください。
      Please bring him.

33. 彼れていきなさい。
      Take him away.

34. 今夜は岡田さんを連れてきました。
      I brought Mr. Okada along tonight.

35. シネコンに行くんだったら、僕も連れて行ってくれない。
      If you’re going to the cinema complex, can’t you take me along too? 

Word Note: Notice the contrast in definitions between 連れて[いく・くる] and 持って[いく・くる] 

36. 彼東京ってから五日後ってきた。
      I came back home after five days after he left Tokyo.

     Normal daily life problems will pile on.

38. ヒマワリの種をまいてから、一週間とたたないうちに芽が出てきました。
      After I planted the sunflower seeds, they sprouted in no less than a week.

39. 彼女に(っ)していきました。
      She moved to Kobe last month.

40. これからも頑張っていきたいと思います。
      I’d like to continue to do my best from now on. 

41a. 彼部屋へやんできました。
41b. He rushed into my room.  

~ていく → ゆく

~ゆく may seldom follow the stem of verbs in a poetic fashion. This is in fact the original form the pattern took, which is why it is deemed poetic/nostalgic. ~てゆく also exists, which is quite nostalgic and is very common in songs and literature. 

42. 大事な思い出も記憶から消え(て)ゆくのであろう。
      Even important memories will slip from your memory.  

43. 花燃えゆく。
      Flowers, burn away. 

44. 死にゆく。
      To be dying.

なってくる VS なっていく 

Although the previous information may be sufficient enough to make the differences between these two phrases easy enough to ascertain, given that they are still often misunderstood, it’s best to go through this as an independent point of discussion. First, consider the following.

48. こちらも、こんなに寒くなって{きた・いったX}のですから、そちらは、これからますます寒くなって{いく・くるX}ことでしょうね。
Since it has become cold like this here, it will definitely get steadily cold there after this.

This is a wonderful example of how the two can even be seen in the same complex sentence but yet have zero interchangeability. The first part states the change that it has become cold and still is cold at the speaker’s location. In saying so, the speaker makes a conjecture that it will get cold somewhere else away from the speaker. These distinctions are crucial to keep in mind. Here are some more sentences to consider.

49a. 10月だ。故郷は、もう寒くなってきただろうか。 〇
49b. 10月だ。故郷は、もう寒くなっていっただろうか。X
         It’s October. Hasn’t it already gotten cold at our hometown?

50. 5月も半ばだから、そろそろ暑くなってくるね。梅雨が明けると、それこそ、ますます暑くなってくるんだろうけど。
Since it’s already the middle of May, it should be getting hot soon, right? Once the rainy season lifts, that alone should make it get hotter gradually. 

51. 6ヶ月もダイエット続けてるのに、太ってくばかりで、ちっともやせてこないんだよ。
Although I’ve been on this diet for 6 months, I’ve only continued to gain and haven’t gotten a bit skinnier!

Though the last may be harder to follow from the free translation, it would be a great mistake to change the speech modals to one or the other. When used with intransitive verbs that express change, you are showing a natural change of events by a given process. When you use ~ていく, you say that at the time the change starts, there will continue to be change from that point onward. ~てくる gives a more punctual feel to the instant of change. So, ~ていった would be like “had been getting…” whereas ~てきた would be like “got”.