The Conjunctive Particle て I: The Affirmative

第32課: The Conjunctive Particle て I: The Affirmative

The particle て is the most important conjunctive particle in Japanese, and the resulting conjugation known as the “te-form” (て形), is arguably the most important grammar structure in Japanese. 

A conjunctive particle (接続助詞) is a particle that connects two clauses together. In the case of ~て, it most closely relates to “and/then” in sentences like:

i. I ate at a restaurant, and I thought to myself how expensive that place was.

ii. I studied Japanese for two hours, then I went to work. 

iii. The cat scratched me, and I cried. 

iv. I ate and swam. 

v. The shirt was red, long, and had stains on the sleeves.
vi. The dog was a chihuahua and it was a tiny one at that. 

The parts in bold correlate to how the particle ~て functions to create compound sentences. It is not not the “and” between two nouns. That role is handled by case particles such as  and . Rather, it only connects clauses created with verbs, adjectives, adjectival nouns, or the copula. 

To make learning this particle easier, we will be learning the basics in the span of three lessons. In this first installation, we will learn how ~て is used in affirmative sentences. Next, we’ll learn about the two negative “te forms” that exist. Then, to conclude we will look more closely at how て ought to be interpreted. 

Curriculum Note: The conjunctive particle ~て is used in array of complex grammatical structures other than its role of connecting two clauses. These patterns will be covered individually over the span of IMABI.

Notation Note: When deconstructing grammar points, romanization will be used to facilitate the breakdowns. 

Conjugating with the Particle て in the Affirmative

Conjugating with the particle ~て in the affirmative (a positive sentence) is actually really easy because you have already learned about all the sound changes and exceptions made with it already when you learned about the auxiliary verb ~た (past tense marker). This is because the two words are closely related. 

To make things easier, we will study how the て形 is made with the various parts of speech it attaches to separately. 

With Verbs: ~て・で

The particle て follows the continuative form (連用形) of verbs. To recap, this form is as follows for the four verb classes:

Ichidan Godan Sahen  Kahen
Stem + ØEx. Miru (to see): Mi  Stem + /i/Ex. Kaku (to write): Kak– + /i/ → kaki–   Shi  Ki

Linguistic Note: Ø stands for naught, indicating that you don’t place anything after the stem of Ichidan verbs to create the continuative form (連用形). Some might argue, though, that /i/ does attach itself to them – as it does with the other verb classes – but because all Ichidan verb stems end in either /i/ or /e/, it would naturally become absorbed by the stem, making this unclear.

To streamline the learning process, each verb class’ て形 will be studied separately. Every section will have its own set of verbs showcased with a sentence or two showing them in action. Because the て形 is best understood in context, we’ll shift to learning how to interpret it properly once we’re done learning the conjugations. 

Ichidan Verb + て

To conjugate an Ichidan verb into the て形, all you have to do is drop the final /ru/ and add ~て. This line of thought does not contradict with using the “continuative form” as all you are doing is swapping one affix (ending) for another. 

In reality, Japanese grammar builds verb phrases from the stem onwards, but it is okay to dissect things from the end and go backwards if that makes it easier to remember how to conjugate. 

Without further adieu, though, let’s see the て形 of several useful Ichidan verbs. 

Basic Form  Conjugation Process て形
見る (to see)  Miru + -te → Mite 見て
食べる (to eat) Taberu + -te → Tabete 食べて
開ける (to open) Akeru + -te → Akete 開けて

1. テレビを見て食事をする。
To watch TV and eat dinner. 

2. ご飯を食べてすぐ寝ました。
I ate my meal, then went straight to bed.

3. ドアを開けて部屋を出て行った。
I opened the door, then left the room.

Godan Verbs + て

The Godan verb class is particularly harder to conjugate than all the other ones because in addition to having to learn how to get to the stem of the verb, that stem sometimes undergoes sound changes when certain bases (forms) are combined with certain endings. 

Just as we did in Lesson 18, we’ll learn how to make the て形 for each sub-type. First, let’s look at the rules that we learned about for ~た which we’ll be using the exact same way with ~て.

Sub-Type Rule
K-Type Drop the /k/ in the stem, attach /i/, then add て.
G-Type Drop the /g/ in the stem, attach /i/, then add で.※て becomes voiced to compensate for /g/ being voiced.
S-Type Conjugate to the continuative form, then add て. 
N/B/M-TypeChange the /n/, /b/, or /m/ in the stem to [n], delete the /i/ in the base, then add で.※て becomes voiced to compensate for /g/ being voiced.
T/R/W-TypeChange the /t/, /r/, or /w/ in the stem to a double t, delete the /i/ in the base, then add て.

Next, to put this into perspective, we’ll look at these conjugation processes in action with several useful Godan verbs. 

Type Basic Form Conjugation Process て形
K聞く (to hear)Kik- + /i/ → Kiki → Kii- + -te 聞いて
G 泳ぐ (to swim)Oyog– + /i/ → Oyogi– → Oyoi– + /te/ → [de] 泳いで
S 話す (to talk)Hanas– /i/ → Hanashi– + –te 話して
N 死ぬ (to die)   Shin– + /i/ → Shini + – /te/ → [de] 死んで
B 呼ぶ (to call)   Yob– + /i/ → Yoni + -/te/ → [de] 呼んで
M 読む (to read)Yom– + /i/ → Yoni + -/te/ → [de] 読んで
T 勝つ (to win)Kat– + /i/ → Kachi– → Kat– + –te 勝って
R 帰る (to return)Kaer– + /i/ → Kaeri– → Kaet– + –te 帰って
W 買う (to buy)Kaw– + /i/ → Kawi– → Kat– + –te 買って
K※ 行く (to go)Ik– + /i/ → Iki– → It– + –te 行って
W※ 言う (to say)Iw– + /i/ → Iwi– → It-/Yut– + –te 言って

※The verb 行く is irregular and conjugates like a T/R/W-type Godan verb with the particle て.

※The verb 言う is irregular not because of how て combines with it, but because the initial mora be pronounced as /yu/ instead of /i/ in this conjugation, especially in casual speech. 

4. わたしは昼ご飯を食て、テレビを見て、音楽をいて、帰りました。
I ate lunch, watched TV, listened to music, and came home.

5. 試合に勝って勝負に負けた。
I won the match, then I lost the battle.

6. 野菜を買ってスープを作った。
I bought vegetables and made a soup.

7. 公園に行って遊びました。
I went to the park and had fun.

8. すぐに駅員さんに言って戻りました。
I immediately told the station staff, then I returned.

9. 自分だけが死んで、ほかの者はすべて生き残る。
Only you die, and all the others survive.

10. パパと話して決めた。
I talked to my dad and made the decision.

Sahen & Kahen Verbs

Conjugating sahen and kahen verbs, a.k.a, する and 来る, is a matter of matching their continuative form (連用形) with the conjunctive particle て.

Basic Form Conjugation Process て形
 する  Suru → Shi-/ + –te して
 来る  Kuru → Ki-/ + –te きて

11. 話を終えた後、1人の生徒が来て質問をした。
After finishing the talk, one student came and asked a question.

12. きょうは図書館で勉強してピザ屋さんで美味しいピザを食べました。
Today, I studied at the library and ate delicious pizza at a pizza place. 

With Adjectives: ~くて

In Lesson 14, we learned that adjectives actually have two continuative forms. The basic one is formed by adding –ku to the stem and the second one is formed by further adding the existential verb ari (the original form of ある) to –ku to make –kari.

In traditional Japanese grammar, there is such thing as ku-type conjugations and kari-type conjugations, and in terms of the て形, adjectives can technically make it with either. For the purpose of this lesson, however, we’ll only study the ku-type て形 and leave the kari-type て形 for a future lesson (to be constructed). 

All being said, the ku-type て形 is made by adding –ku to the stem of the adjective, which involves dropping the final /i/, then following the ku-type continuative form with the particle ~て.

Basic Form Conjugation Process て形
 新しい (new) Atarashii → Atarashi– → + –ku + –te  新しくて
 赤い (red) Akai → Aka– + –ku + –te 赤くて
 大きい (big)   О̄kii  → О̄ki– + –ku + –te  大きくて
 美しい (beautiful) Utsukushii → Utsukushi– + –ku + –te 美しくて

13. そのリンゴはくて、大きいです。
The apple is red and big.

14. あの人はしくて頭がいいです。
That person is kind and smart.    

15. 世界はくて、面白おもしろい。
The world is beautiful and interesting.

16. 新しくて便利です。
It’s new and convenient.

With Adjectival Nouns/Copula

Knowing how to create the て形 of an adjectival noun is the same thing as knowing how to create the て形 of the copula because you need the copula to conjugate adjectival nouns in the first place. The continuative form of the copula だ is で, with ~て being voiced for the same principle that is for certain Godan verbs. 

Part of Speech Terminal Form て形
Adjectival Noun 簡単だ (it’s easy) 簡単で (it’s easy and…)
Noun 犬だ (it’s a dog) 犬で・・・(it’s a dog and…)

17. 山田さんはきれい優しいです。
Ms. Yamada is pretty and nice.

18. 日本語は簡単、面白いです。
Japanese is easy and interesting.

19. あっちは犬でそっちは猫だよ。
That over there is a dog, and that there is a cat.

Meanings of ~て When Connecting Clauses

As stated in the introduction, the primary function of the conjunctive particle て is to connect two clauses to create a compound sentence. When it does so, the relationship between the two clauses can vary depending on the circumstances. 

i. When ~て lists actions, actions occur in chronological order. This is why it may translate as “and (then).” However, tense is not inherent to ~て; thus, whether the sentence is in the present, past, or future tense must be determined at the end of the sentence.

20. スーパーで買い物をして料理を作りました。
I shopped at the supermarket, then I made food.

21. 魚を釣って食べた。
I caught a fish and ate it.

22. 銀座へ行って友達に会います。
I will go to Ginza and meet a friend.

If the agents (doers) of said actions are not the same in each ~て clause, then the actions are happening side by side each other.

23. 僕がポケモンをやってテイラー君がフォートナイトをやった。
I played Pokemon and Taylor played Fortnight. 

ii. Often times, there is a causal relationship between the two clauses. Meaning, the second clause happened consequently because of the first clause. In such situations, it is very similar to “and (so).” 

24. ニュースを聞いて、びっくりした。

I heard the news and was surprised.

25. 立ち止まって辺りを見回す。 

To stop and look around.

26. この日本語の文章が複雑で、よく分かりませんでした。

This Japanese passage was complicated, and so I didn’t understand it well. 

27. 彼は彼女の家に寄って、手紙を届けた。
He stopped by her house and delivered a letter.

In these situations, though, the causation is borne out by the sentence as a whole. To prove this, consider ニュースを聞いて in Ex. 23. Up to this point, the listener only knows that the speaker is talking about watching the news, and it’s only until the speaker says that they were surprised that the relationship becomes clear: the news must’ve been noteworthy to cause such a reaction. This, though, is not the same thing, per say, as saying “I was surprised because I saw the news.” 

28a. 健太君が猫に引っ掻かれて泣いた。
28b. 健太君が猫に引っ掻かれたので泣いた。
28a. Kenta-kun got scratched by a/the cat and cried.
28b. Kenta-kun cried because he got scratched by a/the cat. 

iii. When the second clause is made possible by the actions of the first clause, the particle ~て can be viewed as showing method. The means, though, is not a noun like it would be with the particle で – although it is this meaning from which で came about). 

29. 物に火をつけて燃やす。
To light something on fire and burn it.

30. 魔法のメガネをかけて読んだ。

I read it by putting on magic glasses.

31. 皿洗い機に塩を入れてタコのぬめりを取りました。
I put salt in the dishwater and removed the sliminess from the octopus. 

iv. Especially with adjectives and adjectival nouns, ~て may list qualities. This usage is often used in tandem with the other usages, sometimes even in the same sentence. It is also possible for an infinitely long ~て description to modify a noun, as the final verb’s attributive form is what glues it all to the noun. 

32. 川田さんの家は新しくて、きれいですね。
Mrs. Kawada’s house is new and pretty, isn’t it?

33. 東京は賑やかで面白い。
Tokyo is lively and interesting.

34. このクラスは宿題が多くて、試験も難しかったです。
The class had a lot of homework, and the exams were difficult.

35. 風が強くて寒い日
A cold day in which the wind is strong

36. 太陽の光に反射して本当にきれいでした。
It was reflected by the sun’s light and was really pretty.

37. 軽くて{かっこいい・スマート}なケータイがほしいです。
I want a light and stylish cell phone.

38. あれ、あの人は[札幌で女性を殺して海外に逃亡した]容疑者ではないか。
Huh, isn’t that person the suspect [who killed a woman in Sapporo and escaped overseas]? 

v. An offshoot of ii., sometimes the second clause conflicts with the first clause to create a contradictory statement. This translates to “and (yet).” 

39. 同じ状況でも男はわかっていて答えない。
Even in the same situation, men will know and yet won’t answer. 

40. 見て見ぬふりをする。
To turn a blind eye.

Phrase Note: This set phrase is the best example of v. “Seeing” yet “pretending not to see” is the literal meaning. The ~ぬ in this phrase is an older form of ~ない. 

Albeit unnatural in many cases, one could theoretically rewrite ~て out of these examples to be left with two (or more) independent clauses. Indeed, some meanings are lost if you do this. For instance…

41. 母は手袋をはめて食器を洗い始めました。
My mother put on gloves and began washing the dishes.

42. 母はあとで手袋をはめて食器を洗います。
My mother will later wash the dishes wearing gloves.

If you were to take out ~て from these sentences and rewrote them into two separate sentences, you could not get the meaning of “method” from the context. The actions would be chronological – subsequential at best. 

Yet, there is an array of sentences in which ~て attaches to an inexplicably dependent clause. In doing so, it usually marks the condition in which something occurs. 

43. 投票は議会において行われました。
The vote was held in the Diet. 

44. 「て形」の使い方について教えました。
I taught about the usages of the “te-form.”

In these situations, the verbs used with ~て often have lost their literal meanings to serve a more grammatical role. These usages will be studied individually from time to time as we progress. 

Similarly, it is also possible to see the first verb conjugated with ~て joined to the next verb in a compound verb expression in which the first verb sets the tone and the second hits the nail on the head. 

45. 真意を見て取る。
To grasp the real sense. 

46. 選挙に打って出る。
To make one’s debut in an election. 

47. 急いで取って返す。
To hurry and return back.

The Polite ~まして & ~でして

In very polite speech, it is also possible to see the conjunctive particle ~て attached to the auxiliary verbs ~ます and ~です to create a “politer” て形 for the respective parts of speech that they are used with. Because we already know how to conjugate with ~ます and ~です, the chart will only show the various politer て形.

Part of Speech + ~まして/~でして
Ichidan Verbs 見る (to see)  → 見まして
Godan Verbs 行く (to go) → 行きまして
Sahen する (to do)  → しまして
Kahen 来る (to come) → 来まして
Adjectives 新しい (to be new)  → 新しゅうございまして※
Adjectival Nouns簡単だ (to be easy) → 簡単でして
Nouns + Copula事故だ (to be an accident) → 事故でして

※Forcing this grammar onto adjectives is possible, but it requires more advanced grammar that has only been hinted at so far. So for now, we won’t be looking at any example sentences utilizing it. 

These politer て形 do not have the same versatility in usages as the standard て形. They cannot appear in set phrases (like in Ex. 40), situations in which ~て fuses two verbs (like in Exs. 45-47) , or before a noun within a complex modifier (like in Ex. 35, 38).  

48. アメリカのシアトルに引っ越してまいりまして早1か月!
It’s been a quick first month since I’ve moved to Seattle, U.S.A!

Grammar Note: 引っ越してまいる serves as the humble version of 引っ越してくる, which means “to move,” which is another example of ~て creating a compound verb. 

49. 事故で電車が遅れまして10分遅刻します。
The train was late due to an accident, and (so) I’ll be 10 minutes late. 

50. ただいま品切れでしてすみません。
I’m sorry, it’s out of stock right now. 

51. 状況を見ましてご連絡いたします。
I’ll look over the matter and get back to you.

The copula です, whether it be as a standalone verb or an auxiliary verb, has other politer forms that can also be conjugated into the て形, becoming “uber” polite て形 which other parts of speech lack. So as not to delve into too much honorific speech without having to get off topic into forbidden territory, we’ll leave off with just these two examples. 

52. 本日は休みでございまして申し訳ございません。

I am so sorry; I/we are off today. 

Pattern Note: でございまして comes from でございます, a humble/uber polite form of です.

53. 中村先生は、皆さんがよく御存知の、大変ご高名な先生でありまして、私も尊敬する獣医さんであります。
Nakamura Sensei is a renowned doctor whom everyone knows well and a veterinarian whom I also respect. 

Pattern Note: でありまして comes from であります, a very formal version of です.

Verb Deletion

One final grammatical feature of the conjunctive particle て that we will touch on is what happens when the same verb is being repeated over. Of course, there is nothing with listing out separate iterations of the same kind of action with it, but Japanese actually allows you to drop the ~て and its verb altogether, leaving only the final iteration for the end of the sentence. 

54a. ランスはフランスへ行って、セスは日本へ行って、サムは中国へ行きました。
54b. ランスはフランスへ、セスは日本へ、サムは中国へ行きました。
54c. ランスはフランス、 セスは日本、サムは中国へ行きました。
Lance went to France, Seth went to Japan, and Sam went to China.

As this example demonstrates, even the preceding case particle can be omitted. The prerequisite for this, of course, is that everything is internally phrased and structured the same way.