One of the most important conjugations in the Japanese language is the te (て) form. You need it for a lot of other conjugations. So if you don’t master the te form, you can’t really get into a lot of other grammar points.
In our Season 4 Episode 13 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we decided to break down the basics of the te-form. When I was studying Japanese on my own, I remember this being one of the most difficult points to wrap my head around. But hey, my past struggle is now for your benefit, because I’ll break it down nice and easy for you!
The way this recap article, as well as the original podcast episode, is structured is exactly like Nihongo Master’s online learning system – grammar point explanation and breakdown, a few example situations (only on the podcast), and ending it off with a very handy list of all the vocabulary words we used. So if you like our breakdowns on the blog and podcast, sign up for our program now!
Oh, the te-form, my old friend. This is without a doubt one of the most important conjugations in Japanese grammar. Without the te-form, you won’t be able to really grasp some of the other Japanese grammar. It’s kind of like a level up token. As soon as you master this, you go from speaking short simple sentences to flawlessly and fluidly expressing your thoughts in clauses.
Let’s first take a look at how to conjugate the te form.
Te Form Format
The te form has a different format for different types of words. We’ll take a look at verbs first.
For ru (る) verbs, they’re pretty simple. You first remove the ending ru (る) and then add te (て). The format is:
Ru verb (minus る) + て
Let’s use “taberu” (食べる) which is a ru verb. All you have to do is switch the ending ru with te:
食べる = 食べ = 食べて
How about u () verb conjugations then? U verbs can be a little confusing, so we’ll take it slow here. I’ll make the breakdown simple:
U-verb that ends with ru (る), tsu (つ) and u (う), you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (って). The format is:
U verb (minus ending う sound) + って
乗る (noru) = 乗 (no) = 乗って (notte)
待つ (matsu) = 待 (mat) = 待って (matte)
会う (au) = 会 (a) = 会って (atte)
U-verb that ends with nu (ぬ), bu (ぶ) and mu (む), you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (んで). The format is:
U verb (minus ending う sound) + んで
死ぬ (shinu) = 死 (shi) = 死んで (shinde)
遊ぶ (asobu) = 遊 (aso) = 遊んで (asonde)
飲む (nomu) = 飲 (no) = 飲んで (nonde)
U-verb that ends with ku (く), you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (いて). The format is:
U verb (minus ending う sound) + いて
書く (kaku) = 書 (ka) = 書いて (kaite)
U-verb that ends with gu (ぐ), you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (いで). The format is:
U verb (minus ending う sound) + いで
泳ぐ (oyogu) = 泳 (oyo) = 泳いで (oyoide)
U-verb that ends with su (す), you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (して). The format is:
U verb (minus ending う sound) + して
話す (hanasu) = 話 (hana) = 話して (hanashite)
There are exceptions known as irregular verbs:
To do: する(suru) =して (shite)
To come: くる(kuru) = きて (kite)
To go: 行く (iku) = 行って (itte)
Conjugating i-adjectives to its te-form is simple. You take the ending i (い) and add kute (くて). The format is:
I-adjective (minus い) + くて
美味しい (oishii) = 美味し (oishi) = 美味しくて (oishikute)
Nouns & な Adjectives
Getting the te form for nouns and na-adjectives are the same. You just add de () after the word. The format is:
Noun + で
Na-adjective (without な) + で
日本人 (nihonjin) = 日本人で (nihonjin de)
簡単な (kantanna) = 簡単 (kantan) = 簡単で (kantan de)
Ways of using the te form
So what exactly does the te-form do? There are five ways:
The first way is to ask and give permission with te mo ii (てもいい). It’s like saying “is it okay to…?” Check out our recap article or Season 4 Episode 11 of the podcast to learn more. In short, the format is:
Verb te form + もいい
The next way of using the te form is by using it as a simple conjunction. Instead of saying “I did A. I did B”, you’ll be able to say “I did A and B” with the te-form.
Let’s have an easy example: “I ate pizza and drank coffee.”
You can say it as “ピザを食べた。コーヒーを飲んだ。” (piza wo tabeta. Kōhī wo nonda.) But this translates to “I ate pizza. I drank coffee. To have the “and” in the middle, you use the te-form to get: ピザを食べてコーヒを飲んだ。(piza wo tabete kōhī wo nonda.)
The third way to use the te-form is by using it as a simple command. If you want to politely command someone to sit, like “hey, sit down”, just conjugate the word for “to sit” (座る) into its te-form: 座って (suwatte).
But a command to not do something gets tricky: you first have to change the word to its negation and then add a “de”. The format is:
Negative verb (without い) + で
To say “don’t sit down”, you say it as 座らないで (suwaranaide)
It’s different from the negative form of the te-form, which can’t be used as a command. For the negated te-form, whether it’s verbs or adjectives, all you have to do is negate the word first, then change the ending nai (ない) to nakute (なくて).
Negative verb (minus い) + くて
食べる (taberu) = 食べない (tabenai) = 食べなくて (tabenakute)
Express reason or a means
The fourth way to use the te form is to express a reason or a means. It’s like saying “so” or “because”. While you can use the particle kara (から) for “because”, this is another way to say it.
Let’s have this example: “I saw some really cheap shoes, so I bought them.”
You could use “kara”, like 靴が安いから買った。(kutsu ga yasui kara katta). But you could also conjugate the i-adjective: 靴が安くて買った。(kutsu ga yasukute katta).
Our final way of using te-form is by combining it with iru (いる) to make te iru(ている) , the present participle.
Verb (て form) + いる
To say “I’m watching TV”, you say it as “テレビを見ている。”(terebi wo miteiru)
In the podcast episode, we have roleplaying scenarios that exemplify this grammar point. Since we used a lot of new words, here’s a list for your reference:
Noru (乗る) – to ride
matsu (待つ) – to wait
au (会う) – to meet
kaku (書く) – to write
oyogu (泳ぐ) – to swim
hanasu (話す) – to speak
kutsu (靴) – shoes
yasui (安い) – cheap
yu-mei (有名) – famous
miru(見る) – to see
hima (暇) – free time
eigakan (映画館) – cinema. eiga (映画) is movie, kan (館) is building
kaimono (買い物) – shopping
mise (店) – shop
Nanji (何時) – what time
Ame ga furu (雨が降る) – to rain
Kasa (傘) – umbrella
Motsu (持つ) – to bring
tatsu (立つ) – to stand up
suwaru (座る) – to sit
sugu (すぐ) – immediately
shigoto (仕事) – work
taihen (大変) – difficult
hirugohan (昼ごはん) – lunch
isogashii (忙しい) – busy
nomisugiru (飲みすぎる) – to drink a lot
ochitsuku (落ち着く) – to calm down
yameru (止める) – to stop
hanasu (話す) – to speak
shuumatsu (週末) – weekend
Conjugate the Te Form Like A Pro!
Okay, that’s pretty loaded. So, can we all agree that the te-form is one of the most useful grammars in Japanese? Let’s have a short recap to conclude what was discussed in the article and podcast episode:
Te form is used in 5 ways:
- to give and ask permission by adding もいい to make てもいいi
- As a simple conjunction
- As a simple command (for the positive te-form only)
- To express a reason
- To form present participle by adding いる to make ている
To conjugate verbs into te-form, figure out if its a ru or u verb.
With る-verbs, the ending る is replaced with て.
Those ending with る, つ or う have their final syllable replaced with って.
Those ending with ぬ, ぶ and む have their final syllable replaced with んで.
Those ending with く have their final syllable replaced with いて.
Those ending with ぐ have their final syllable replaced with いで.
Those ending with す have their final syllable replaced with して.
To conjugate adjectives, i-adjectives just have the い change to くて, and な-adjectives have the な changed to で.
To conjugate nouns, add で.
The negated te-form is achieved just by negating the word (both verb and adjective) and then having the ない changed to なくて.
Phew. What’s the toughest part of this conjugation for you? If you need a bit more practice, check out the full podcast episode on the Nihongo Master Podcast! Or even better, get a subscription with us and you can practice the te form as much as you want!