Pretty Please! The Guide to the Japanese Te Form

Please listen up!

Are you trying to sound more natural in Japanese?

Then it’s time to tackle the Japanese 〜て (te) form.

If you’ve heard Japanese spoken beyond the most basic constructions, then you’ve probably heard the form many times.

The て form isn’t only a useful and versatile conjugation pattern to learn on its own merits, but you’ll find that it’ll increase your overall Japanese speaking skills exponentially.

Its most basic use? To ask someone to do something in a pretty please polite sort of way (like, well, “please listen up”).

But there are many other reasons you’d use this versatile form, and the problem with learning it is that lessons are often spread throughout textbooks instead of all being presented together.

By looking at the various て forms all in one place (such as this article), you can get a head start in practicing the various usages and modeling your own sentences.

Below is a quick rundown of the various ways to form the て conjugation of various verb endings, followed by a list of the different usages.

Read this article through once in its entirety, then go back and practice each usage separately until you’ve got them down.

The Guide to the Japanese Te Form

How to Conjugate the Japanese て Form

The て form takes the dictionary form of the Japanese verb and substitutes the ending る syllable with て. For instance:

食べ (たべる) — to eat → 食べ (たべて)

(みる) — to see → 見 (みて)

Simple, right?

However, not all dictionary forms end in る. Here’s a breakdown of how other verbs convert to the て form:

Verbs ending in す have their final syllable replaced with して:

わかりま — to understand → わかりまして

(はなす) — to speak → 話して (はなして)

Verbs ending in く have their final syllable end in いて:

(かく) — to write → 書いて (かいて)

(やく) — to bake → 焼いて (やいて)

Verbs ending in う, る or つ have their final syllable end in って:

使 (つかう) — to use → 使って (つかって)

(のる) — to ride → 乗って (のって)

(まつ) — to wait → 待って (まって)

Some versions of the て form will end with んで or いで. Verbs ending in む, ぶ and ぬ have their final syllable replaced with んで.

(よむ) — to read → 読んで (よんで)

(あそぶ) — to play → 遊んで (あそんで)

(しぬ) — to die, → 死んで (しんで) (Note that 死ぬ is the only common modern Japanese verb that ends with ぬ, so you won’t really come across this last example much, if at all.)

Verbs ending in ぐ have their final syllable replaced with いで.

(およぐ) — to swim → 泳いで (およいで)

(かぐ) — to smell → 嗅いで (かいで)

Still with me? Great!

It’s not that difficult once you remember which versions of the て form go with which dictionary form endings. Mind you, there are still the irregular verbs to contend with. Fortunately, there are only three to deal with:

する — to do → して

来る (くる) — to come → 来て (きて)

行く (いく) — to go → 行って (いって)

Despite being labeled “irregular,” these are such common verbs in Japanese that I doubt very much that you’ll have trouble remembering them.

Uses of the て Form

Now that we’ve handily covered how to express the て form of a Japanese verb, the next thing to learn is how and when to use it.

Asking someone to do something

The most recognizable usage for beginning students is when someone’s asking someone else to do something, and it’s followed by ください:

待ってください。(まって ください。) — Please wait.

助けてください。 (たすけて ください。) — Please help.

読んでください。 (よんで ください。) — Please read.

You don’t always need to use ください at the end if you’re being less formal. Likewise, don’t mistake ください for the word “please” as it only comes at the end of sentences.

Linking two phrases

When building a complex sentence, you usually need to link two phrases. This is another popular use for the て form. A commonly recognized usage you’ve probably heard on a Japanese television show would be someone announcing that they were leaving, but with the intention of returning as in “行ってきます!(いってきます!)” — “I’m leaving!”

Other examples would be:

本を買って家に帰る。(ほんを かって いえに かえる。) — Buy the book and go home.

地図を読んでそこに行く。(ちずを よんで そこに いく。) — Read the map and go there.

Requesting permission to do something

This is another usage that may be familiar to beginning students who’ve had exposure to conversational examples found in popular anime or dramas. It’s the way Japanese speakers may express a desire or ask for permission.

これを食べてもいいですか? (これを たべても いい ですか?) — Can I eat this?

この本を読んでもいいですか? (この ほんを よんでも いい ですか?) — May I read this book?

It’s not uncommon to have the ですか portion dropped in informal Japanese if the meaning is understood contextually.

Stating an “even if” conditional

Sometimes, you’ll need to express the concept that even if one thing happens, something else won’t. Usually, the context is that the outcome is the opposite of what’s expected. Here’s how you’d say that:

冗談を言っても、彼は笑いません。(じょうだんを いっても、かれは わらいません。) — Even if you tell a joke, he won’t laugh.

たくさん食べても、太りません。(たくさん たべても、ふとりません。) — Even if I eat a lot, I won’t get fat.

Expressing that something is forbidden

When trying to state that something isn’t possible or allowed, you’d pair the て form of the verb with は いけません or, if being more casual, は いけない.

Saying that something “won’t go” in Japanese can be seen as somewhat analogous to the colloquial English phrase “that doesn’t fly,” indicating that something isn’t allowed or acceptable.

これを食べてはいけません。(これを たべては いけません。) — Don’t eat this.

その本を読んではいけない。(その ほんを よんでは いけない。) — Don’t read that book. [casual]

Oops! Expressing regret

Placed before the word しまいました, the Japanese te form can express the meaning that something happened that one didn’t intend or has regrets about. It’s related to the common exclamation しまった! that you might hear in some television shows or movies—often translated as “Darn it!” in English.

While you can use て しまった in less formal settings, the て しまいました usage is more appropriate for polite company.

テレビを買ってしまいました。(てれびを かって しまいました。) — I didn’t mean to buy that TV.

鍵が壊れてしまった。(かぎが こわれて しまった。) — The key is broken. [informal]

Oops! Saying sorry

When you make an error or do something you regret, you’d often say すみません (Sorry!). If you want to be specific about what it is you’re apologizing for, you’d state that using the て form.

鍵を壊してすみません。(かぎを こわして すみません。) — I’m sorry I broke the key.

テレビを落としてすみません。(てれびを おとして すみません。) — I’m sorry I dropped the television.

Still with me? I know there are a lot of forms to deal with here. We only have a few more to go. They’re all worth it!

Giving it a try

This is another useful combination pattern. By placing みます after the て form, you can say that you’re willing to try something. Note that when using this form of the verb 見る (みる) — to watch or see, you don’t write it out with the kanji, but only use the hiragana.

これを食べてみます。(これを たべて みます。) — I’ll try to eat this.

本を書いてみます。(ほんを かいて みます。) — I intend to write a book.

Giving or being given something

In Japanese, there are two distinct ways to express the act of giving. When it’s you giving something to someone else or doing someone else a favor, you’d use あげる. If you’re on the receiving end of the giving, you’d use くれる.

君に本を買ってあげます。(きみに ほんを かって あげます。) — I’ll buy you a book.

妹は私にプレゼントを買ってくれた。(いもうとは わたしに ぷれぜんとを かって くれた。) — My sister bought me a present.

Doing one thing, then another

When you’re stringing together two consecutive actions, that is, doing one thing and then, after that, doing another, you can connect them with the て form. Sometimes, you insert から (after, since) in between if you feel it needs to be specified, but you can often leave it out if the context is already clear.

先生を手伝ってから、家に帰りました。(せんせいを てつだってから、いえに かえりました。) — After helping the teacher, I came home.

林檎を買って、食べました。(りんごを かって、たべました。) — I bought an apple and ate it.

Currently doing something or being something

To simply state that you’re doing something this very moment, you can connect the て form with the verb います (to be). You use this when making use of a transitive verb in which someone or something is doing the action and the object of that action is denoted by を:

妹はパンを焼いています。(いもうとは ぱんを やいて います。) — My sister is baking bread.

兄が水をこぼしています。(あにが みずを こぼして います。) — My brother is spilling water.

When using an intransitive verb in which the action has occurred and is now simply expressing a state of being, you use the same form but make sure that the subject of the verb is noted with the particle が:

パンが焼けています。(ぱんが やけて います。) — The bread is baked.

水がこぼれています。(みずが こぼれて います。) — The water is spilled.


And that’s pretty much it.

Yes, that was a lot to cover. The best thing to do with this information would be to take each example that we’ve gone through one at a time and practice making some sentences based on that pattern. Check to see how correct your practice sentences are by either showing them to an experienced Japanese speaker or, at least, plugging them into Google Translate to see if what you’ve come up with makes sense.

When creating your practice sentences, choose from a variety of verbs with different endings. If all you practice are verbs ending in す, you’re going to find yourself in trouble when you suddenly have to come up with a verb ending in ぶ.

Do this with each usage until you’re comfortable not only with the construction of the て verb phrases, but with their meanings and uses as well.

Soon, you’ll be using the Japanese te form like a native!

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