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The ~ている form has several uses.

  • Progressive
  • Completed actions
  • Stative
  • Habitual
  • Incomplete actions



While Japanese grammar doesn't always correspond to what we know from English, they both use auxiliary verbs in many circumstances.

Continuous tenses in English use the auxiliary verbs am, are, is, was and were.

past/non-past Tense Continuous past/non-past tense
I ride the train. I am riding the train.
I rode the train. I was riding the train.
He talks to a friend. He is talking to a friend.
He talked to a friend. He was talking to a friend.

The Japanese language has a similar auxiliary verb いる with the ~て form of the verb.

Politeness of the 〜て form
Non-past tense Past Tense
Polite +います +いました
Plain +いる +いた



Continuous actions


When speaking of continuous actions that occur in the present or occurred in the past, the form has the same meaning as the English continuous tense.

past/non-past tense English
Plain Polite
テレビを()ている。 テレビを()ています。 I am watching television.
音楽(おんがく)()いている。 音楽(おんがく)()いています。 I am listening to music.
雑誌(ざっし)()んでいる。 雑誌(ざっし)()んでいます。 I am reading a magazine.
宿題(しゅくだい)をしていた。 宿題(しゅくだい)をしていました。 I was doing my homework.
友達(ともだち)()べていた。 友達(ともだち)()べていました。 I was eating with a friend.

Incomplete tasks


When いる is used in the present-negative conjugation, it conveys a sense of action not taken.

past/non-past tense English
Plain Polite
テストの勉強(べんきょう)をしていない テストの勉強(べんきょう)をしていません I haven't done any studying for the test.
宿題(しゅくだい)をしていない まだ宿題(しゅくだい)をしていません I haven't done the homework yet.



This form may also be used to describe a habitual activity.

USAトゥデーの新聞を読んでいます。 I read the USA Today newspaper.

Stative vs Non-stative verbs


Much like English, there are verbs that describe a state of the subject, rather than an action. These type of verbs are called stative verbs. You may want to think of these as actions that started in the past, arrived to a state, and this state persists to the present.

図書館は今、開いています。 The library is open.

くる, いく, and かえる


When the verbs くる, いく, and かえる are used in the ~て in conjunction with the auxiliary verb いる, they are translated as has come, has gone, and has returned, respectively.



There are some irregular cases with this form.

  1. You can use the word 知っています, but not 知っていません. Instead, you'll use the negative form of masu - 知りません.
  2. You also can't use ある, いる, and 要る in the ~ている form at all. The same can be said with potential forms of verbs (e.g., 話せる).

Colloquial Variations


When speaking at a high speed, sometimes syllables are dropped from words to make them easier to say. Colloquial variations of the continuous forms exist and are recognized in the Japanese language. While they are not used in proper writing, these forms are used in every day conversation, especially among friends and family.

Standard Colloquial variation
Plain 電車(でんしゃ)()っている 電車(でんしゃ)()ってる
Polite 電車(でなしゃ)()っています 電車(でんしゃ)()ってます

All the sentences mean "I am riding the train." Notice that the two sentences on the right have simply dropped the い from いる/います. By dropping the い, the sentence becomes easier to say quickly. This is a standard colloquial form of the continuous tense, and it works with the non-past continuous and the past continuous. The above example is the present continuous, so let's see an example of the past continuous:

Standard Colloquial variation
Plain (いもうと)(あそ)んでいた (いもうと)(あそ)んでた
Polite (いもうと)(あそ)んでいました (いもうと)(あそ)んでました

Once again, the い was dropped, which forms the colloquial variation. Just remember to use the standard form when writing, but when speaking, the colloquial version will be OK when speaking among friends. However, when speaking to someone of higher status, you may wish to use the standard polite form.