～てしまう is an extremely important ending. It is often described as showing perfected actions or things done on accident, but what does this actually mean and is there more to it? This lesson will discuss the nuances that it has as well as important variants used in every speech of it.
Spelling and Other Meanings
The verb しまう either means “to end” or “to keep/put back”. In 漢字, you might see it spelled as 仕舞う, 終う, or 了う. As you can imagine, the latter two spellings are perfect fits for its meaning of “to end”. The only time when you should take this verb literally when after て is when there is an intentional pause. Then, you have to be careful about what other possible homophonous phrases fit–especially when listening.
Take for instance this classic demonstration in Japanese linguistics concerning this very thing.
I read a perverted book, and (then) I put it up.
I accidentally read a perverted book.
The 3 Nuances of ～てしまう
So, what is ～てしまう? It sadly doesn’t have one meaning. There are basically three ways it is used. Intonation plays a role in discerning whether しまう is supplementary or not. When supplementary, you get the pattern ～てしまう, which has one of the three meanings below.
1. To show a sense of regret/surprise when you did have volition in doing something, but it turned out to be bad to do. This can also be sarcastically and cleverly used in a positive attitude while still being natural. Sexual relations come to mind.
2. To show perfective/punctual achievement. This shows that an action has been completed. It should not be used with something like ～そうだ, which is a nonfactual speech modal.
3. To show unintentional action–“accidentally”. Often used with adverbs like うっかり (absentmindedly) and ぐうぜんに (unexpectedly).
1. Statives (verbs that show state not action) can be used with ～てしまう too. However, they are not perfective in any sense. When put together, the perfective is never expressed. Rather, it goes back to point 1.
2. It’s important to view these usages as instances of the same thing interpreted differently in context because there are cases where more than one reading is possible. At times, all three can be meant together. In “うっかり花瓶を割ってしまった”, the act of breaking the vase is perfective. It could have been accidentally broken. Plus, you could feel regret over having broken it.
My soup has gotten cold.
That kid over there suddenly collapsed after he rose up sluggishly from the chair.
The couple ended up not dancing the samba together.
I accidentally broke the vase, and I hope I don’t get punished.
More literally: I accidentally broke the vase, and I want to escape punishment.
I didn’t close the window, and so I caught a cold.
I put my summer clothes in the closet.
I’ll finish writing the report by tomorrow.
I regrettably used the money.
Practice: Translate the following.
2. I ate them all.
5. To keep information back.
～ちゃう & ～じゃう
～てしまう may be contracted to -ちゃう (playful) or -ちまう (vulgar/mature men). These forms are voiced as ～じゃう and ～じまう respectively when て is used with certain 五段 verbs.
|食べてしまう → 食べちゃう||見てしまう → 見ちゃう||呼んでしまう → 呼んじゃう|
|読んでしまう → 読んじゃう||死んでしまう → 死んじゃう||ばれてしまう → ばれちゃう|
|着てしまう → 着ちゃう||切ってしまう → 切っちゃう||してしまう → しちゃう|
Grammar Note: The use of slang and polite speech is usually improper, but there are times when these casual forms are used in familiar polite speech, but this would be most common by children and women than men.
In the blink of an eye, I turned into an old person!
I ran out of gas. Could you tow me to the nearest gas station?
I finished reading that book.
The dog went crazy.
I mistook it for Chinese.
I forgot my wallet.
Why won’t they make it into an empty lot?
I accidentally spilled the cup due to carelessness.
Because it was very hot, I accidentally scalded my mouth.
The 関西弁 version is so commonly seen in manga and anime that not mentioning it would do you a disservice. しまった and しもた share the same origin. ～た instead attached to the 終止形. This produced しまうた. The vowel sequence au simplified to a long o in Western dialects, and this was then shortened in this phrase and many others. The し is then dropped in even more colloquial speech.
I completely forgot!
I accidentally bought it.
関西弁の音便 (Kansai Dialect Sound Change): かって → こうて.
This phrase is equivalent to “end up; wind up; (come down) to”. はめ may be written in 漢字 as 羽目 or 破目. はめ in this case actually means “bind” as in an awkward situation.
He ended up giving in to him.
I ended up paying a fine.
The mouse ended up drowning.
To come to suspect.
1. I (have) completed by homework.
3. My car broke down.
4. I accidentally slept.