ている, what is it all about

And what 食べてんの and 食べとる mean.

Hey and Good luck on JLPT everybody! And if you are after, then this might be a fun read to get read of stress.

Have you been confused by all the ている functions? Well then, you are not alone! And this short article will be perfect for you, explaining its basic functions.

What is ている?

Well, ている is composed of て form and いる – which original meaning was ‘to sit’ or ‘to stay in the spot’. This to ‘stay in the spot meaning’ got eventually extended to various uses. The meaning of ている might depend on the verb it is used with, adverbs, or context.

By the way, verbs indicating state like いる (to exist), ある (to exist), 要(い)る (to need, by the way, while in modern Japanese ‘to exist’ and ‘to need’ are homophones, in the past they weren’t and ‘to exist’ was pronounced ‘wiru’) and all potential forms with exception of できる are not used with ている。

The first usage that comes to mind is indicating that some action continues (similar to English present continuous tense – ‘to be ~ing’). This use can be easily recognized when expressions like 今 are used.

彼女は今マフィンを食べている

She is eating a muffin right now.

メアリーは今自分の部屋でテレビを見ている

Mary is watching TV in her room right now.

Of course, indicators like 今 are not always present, so we have to depend on context, or if no context is present (like in some grammar books) we can assume this or another meaning.

彼らは天気について話しています

They are talking about the weather (right now).

They (often) talk about the weather. (another use of ている which will be explained below).

Not complicated so far right?

Well, the problem is the other use of ている when it indicated a continuation of state. In my Japanese teaching career, I’ve noticed that this causes the most problems for the students, so I will share some tips.

In this use, ている indicates a state left after the action of a verb that indicates change. In other words, the change already happened at some point, and its result still remains to the present moment.

This use can be indicated with an expression indicating completion like ‘もう’, ‘すでに’ meaning ‘already’.

This can be translated to English ‘to be…’ or to (present perfect tense) ‘has…, have’.

Example:

死ぬ – ‘to die’

お前はもう死んでいる。

You are already dead. (Someone died at some point and the result remains).

腐る – ‘to go bad’ (indicates change)

オレンジは腐っている

The orange is rotten. (The orange went bad at some point and the result remains (is rotten).

結婚する – ‘to get married’ (indicates change)

メアリーは結婚している。

Mary is married. (She got married at some point and the result remains)

知る – ‘to get to know

道はよく知っている

I know the path well. (I got to know it at some point in time and the result remains – I know it)

This also applies to verbs indicating movement from one position to another – 行く、来る、帰る。

So if someone says:

ジョンは駅に来ている**。**

It will mean that:

John has come to the station. (John is in the station) and not ‘is coming to the station

So if you want to indicate ongoing movement, you should use a different expression – ‘向かう’ – ‘to head to…’

ジョンは駅に向かっている。

John is going to the station (right now).

You can do some ‘thought’ experiments to check if the verb is an ‘action’ or ‘change’ verb.

Simply check if the verb allows duration, or if the verb can be repeated.

Usually, if it’s the case, then the verb belongs to the ‘action’ group and with ている, it will indicate ongoing action. Otherwise, it indicates a continuation of state.

Example:

トシさんは昨日二時間テレビを見た。

Toshi watched TV for two hours yesterday. (sounds natural with duration, so it’s an action verb)

たけしさんは二時間死にました。

Takeshi died for two hours. (Sounds odd, so it’s a ‘change’ verb).

Also, 見る can be repeated and 死ぬ (for the same person, at least in theory) cannot. This is another way to tell.

Or if this sounds complicated just memorize this list of verbs indicating change:

知る – to get to know

腐る – to rot

結婚する – to get married

行く – to go

来る – to come

帰る – to return

持ってくる – to bring (something)

連れてくる – to bring (a person)

出かける – to go out

なる – to become

乗る – to get on

座る – to sit down

死ぬ – to die

消す – to erase

忘れる – to forget

借りる – to borrow

降りる – to get off, to get down

太る – to get fat, to gain weight

痩せる – to become thin, to lose weight

着る – to put on

始まる – to start

閉まる – to close

並ぶ – to line up

怒る – to get angry

持つ – to hold

You probably noticed that many of those verbs are intransitive, another indicator.

(in short, intransitive verb is verb happening by itself, verbs that do not take direct objects like

ている can also indicate unchanging facts, often shape, color or appearance like:

オレンジは丸い形をしている。

Oranges are round.

氷山はどうして青い色をしているのでしょう?

Why are icebergs blue?

The last use of the ている indicates repeating an action, habit, or occupation.

This is easily recognizable with phrases indicating frequency like 毎日、毎晩、毎週、よく and so on or by context. If no context is present, the meaning might be unclear between the first use and this one.

A: お仕事はなんですか?

B: スーパーで売っています。

A: What is your occupation?

B: I sell at the supermarket.

彼は毎日走っています。

He runs every single day.

さかもとは本を読んでいる。

Sakamoto reads books. OR Sakamoto is reading a book (right now).

But in real life, sentences without context are almost nonexistent, so this should not be a problem!

But, what about stuff like てる、てて 、とる or てん?

Well, those are all contractions of ている。 The most common contraction is skipping い, which gives us

ている→てる

ています→てます

ていて→てて

ていた→てた

And so on.

死んでいる→お前まえはもう死しんでる

You are already dead.

続けていて→続けてて下さい

Keep on working.

Another common contraction is とる which comes from ておる, where おる is a humble word meaning ‘to exist’. とる is simply the contraction of that:

ている→ておる→とる

でいる→でおる→どる

Of course, those don’t sound humble at all!

私は毎日、お茶を飲のんど

I drink tea every day.

The last one is てん。This is so called nasalized sound change (because n is a nasal sound).

The る is changed to ん when followed by explanatory の or なら。

何やってるの?→

何やってんの? — region neutral

何やっとんの?– 関西弁

What are you doing?

思っているのだけど →

思ってるのだけど →

思ってるんだけど →

思ってんだけど

I think but…

足が腫れているなら医者に行くべきだ →

足が腫れてんなら医者へいけよ

If your feet are swollen you should go to the doctor.

(This is what my friend told me a few days ago after he has seen my broken leg).

I hope it helps,

Cheers!

I am mrnoone, and this was Brief Japanese.

If you are curious about more posts like this, you can follow me on reddit :>

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